With an arena of dusty orange-hued rock formations jetting into the sky, Badlands National Park in South Dakota, America, can’t help but mesmerize hikers, cyclers, and drivers passing by the supernatural spikes.

This ultimate guide for planning a trip to Badlands National Park will unveil how to get there, what to do, and more necessary information on this otherworldly park in South Dakota!

Table of contents

About Badlands National Park

Located approximately 104.6km east of Rapid City, South Dakota, Badlands is a 244,000-acre national park that features mesmerizing geological formations.

Badlands National Park is arguably one of the most intriguing landscapes in the United States national park system. The park features eroding buttes, pinnacles and spires, and grass plains that are home to bison, bighorn sheep, coyote, bobcat, swift fox, the endangered black-footed ferret, prairie rattlesnakes, and more.

Historically, the Badlands were hunting grounds for Native American tribes, and the land continues to hold significance for these tribes. Today the southern portion of Badlands National Park is partially managed by the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and several other tribes are associated with the park.

Badlands National Park is a relatively small national park and can be visited in one to two days, depending on your chosen activities.

Note: As of this writing, the southern portion of the park is closed due to COVID-19 under Oglala Sioux Tribe ordinances. Check the park’s website for current condition updates, and for now, map out your trip using the northern route.

Ready to plan your adventure in Badlands National Park? Read on for more tips on what to do, how to get there, where to stay, and what to eat!

Badlands NP

How to get to Badlands National Park

First things first: Badlands National Park sits in South Dakota, with the nearest city being Rapid City. Unless you fly into Rapid City Regional Airport, a trip to Badlands is essentially a road trip. There is plenty to see in the neighbouring lands, so enjoy it!

Per the Badlands National Park website, when mapping your trip, use the following addresses for GPS directions:

Park Headquarters: 25216 Ben Reifel Road, Interior, SD 57750
Northeast Entrance (I-90, Exit 131): 21020 SD Hwy 240, Interior, SD 57750
Pinnacles Entrance (I-90, Exit 110): 24240 Hwy 240, Wall, SD 57790
Interior Entrance: 20640 SD Hwy 377, Interior, SD 57750.

Park entry fees are as follows:

  • $30 per private car
  • $25 per motorcycle
  • $15 per individual (cyclists, hikers, etc.)

Visit the park website for commercial vehicle costs and information about annual passes.

Flying to Badlands National Park

Not into driving the entire way to Badlands National Park? Book a flight and fly! However, either way, you’ll have to drive for a portion of your travel time, and your choice of airport will determine how far you’ll have to sit behind the wheel. The nearest regional airports are Rapid City Regional Airport and Sioux Falls Regional Airport. You can also fly to Denver International Airport. Check out how far each airport is from the park:

  • Badlands National Park is 99.5km from Rapid City Regional Airport (mapped to the Pinnacles entrance).
  • Badlands National Park is 439.3km from Sioux Falls Regional Airport (mapped to the Northeast entrance).
  • Badlands National Park is 721.0km from Denver International Airport (mapped to the Pinnacles entrance).

Driving to Badlands National Park

You can easily reach Badlands National Park by car! Here’s some info to help put your drive time into perspective:

  • Badlands National Park is 717.8km from Denver, Colorado (mapped to the Pinnacles entrance).
  • Badlands National Park is 811.1km from Minneapolis, Minnesota (mapped to the Northeast entrance).
  • Badlands National Park is 452 from Omaha, Nebraska (mapped to the Northeast entrance).
Badlands NP

Best time to visit Badlands National Park

Mid-summer in Badlands National Park can be intensely hot and crowded. The weather and road conditions are unpredictable during the winter. Therefore, we recommend that the best time of year to visit Badlands National Park is in April, May, and early fall. The best time of day to visit Badlands National Park is when its unique structures are beautifully lit at sunrise and sunset.

How to get around Badlands National Park

The simplest way to get around Badlands National Park is to drive. You can also cycle the main roads or hike through the park using the 10 mile Castle Trail or head out on your own backcountry adventure.

Badlands National Park Map

Click on the image to open the PDF version of the map that you can download or print.

Badlands National Park Map
Badlands National Park Map

Where to stay in Badlands National Park

Do you want to stay in Badlands National Park longer than a few hours? You can look into two types of accommodation:

Hotels in Badlands National Park

Cedar Pass Lodge is the only accommodation in the park and hosts 26 log cabins that have WiFi, TVs and air conditioning. Book here.

Camping in Badlands National Park

There are two campgrounds located within the park:

  • Cedar Pass Campground – Cedar Pass Campground hosts 96 campsites within the park and accommodates both tent and RV camping. Reservations required.
  • Sage Creek Campground – Sage Creek Campground hosts 22 campsites within the park; they do not allow larger vehicles. This campground is first-come, first-served.

Accommodation near Badlands National Park

Prefer to stay in a hotel in a nearby location? You can look into staying in Wall, which is dubbed as the “gateway” for Badlands National Park. This quaint, rugged town, also offers typical hotel accommodations: Days Inn, Best Western, Travelodge, America’s Best Value Inn. You can also look into the Badlands Budget in Interior, South Dakota!

Not into any of the options mentioned? Perhaps, Circle View Guest Ranch will win you over! This cattle ranch, located in Interior, offers stunning views of the Badlands.

Badlands NP

Where to Eat in Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park only offers one restaurant, but don’t worry! It’s a good one: Cedar Pass Restaurant. Enjoy locally and regionally sourced delights, which also include gluten-free and vegetarian options. Try out the beef and buffalo burgers offered here. Yum!

Outside the park

Dining options in Wall, South Dakota

Wall Drug Cafe is a South Dakota institution. You’ll see signs along the freeway for miles before you arrive at Badlands National Park. Stop in for a donut or buffalo burger and see what all the fuss is about.

Red Rock Restaurant is a favourite for its locally raised beef and pork. You’ll find steak, chicken strips, burgers and a salad bar on their menu.

9 Juan Juan is a go-to food truck for delicious tacos and breakfast burritos.

Dining options in Interior, South Dakota

Wagon Wheel Bar & Grill: this no-frills joint with outdoor seating for burgers, pizza and beverages.

Badlands NP

Things to do in Badlands National Park

Visitors can access the park by foot via seven different hiking trails—these routes may be short, but the images will stick in your memory forever—or from three cycling trails. If you aren’t in the mood to exercise, hop in your car and drive around the Badlands Loop Road. Do yourself a favour and go to this park during sunset or sunrise no matter what you do.

Cycling in Badlands National Park

Let this park enchant you with supernatural views as you cycle or drive Badlands Loop Road! This 62.8km loop will have you stopping and marvelling at the scenic overlooks, the wildlife dotting the land, and the jetting rock formations.

If you want a more immersive experience, pedal through the soaring rock formations on one of the three partially paved, partially unpaved paths:

  • Sage Creek Loop (37.0km)
  • Northeast-Big Foot Loop (43.5km total)—bring spare tires for this trail!
  • Northeast Loop (27.4km)

Keep in mind that there is a bike repair station at the Ben Reifel Visitor Station.

Hiking in Badlands National Park

There are seven trails within Badlands National Park. Several are short boardwalks to stunning views, and a few are more challenging treks. The Notch Trail is a popular 1.5-mile hike. Badlands National Park also has an open hike policy, so you are free to explore the park off-trail with caution. Be sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen, and stay on alert for rattlesnakes.

Badlands NP

Other can’t-miss activities in Badlands National Park

While most people opt to do the activities mentioned above, you need to do the following in Badlands National Park:

  • You can’t go to Badlands National Park without admiring the vibrant-hues painting the sky at sunset and sunrise! The kaleidoscope of colours lighting the backdrop helps to highlight the wonderment of the towering rock formations.
  • View the stars! Escape the light pollution hiding the stars and watch them dot the sky above the park. Catch magnificent views of the milky way and beyond.
  • Head to the Fossil Exhibit Trail. This short boardwalk displays the array of fossils discovered in the area. This 0.6km, kid-friendly trail will please all ages!
Beautiful rock formations in South Dakota Badlands National Park
Beautiful rock formations in South Dakota Badlands National Park

Dangers in Badlands National Park

A trip to Badlands National Park is generally safe, especially if you plan to drive the loop, but there are a few dangers to be aware of out on the trail.

  • Heat. It can get very hot within the park, especially during the summer. Make sure to bring sunscreen, a hat, and lots of water, especially if you are hiking—plan to visit the park at sunrise and sunset or during the shoulder season to beat the heat.
  • Rattlesnakes. There are warning signs for rattlesnakes throughout the park. Stay on alert and if you do run into a rattlesnake, don’t panic and let them pass along. If you do get bitten, call 911.
  • Cell service. If you decide to hike off-trail, be aware that there is no reliable cell service within the backcountry and prepare accordingly.

Interesting Facts about Badlands National Park

  1. The name ‘Badlands’ is said to come from the Lakota Sioux name for the land ‘Mako Sica,’ which translates to ‘bad’ ‘lands,’ because it is challenging to traverse.
  2. Parts of the movies Dancing with Wolves and Thunderheart were filmed in Badlands National Park.
  3. Thought to be extinct in the 1980s, the black-footed ferret population is now thriving in Badlands National Park.