Where is Badlands National Park
South Dakota is home to Badlands National Park. The park is located in the east central part of the state. The region is known as the Badlands, an area of rugged terrain, canyons, and striped geological formations. The Pine Ridge Reservation is just south of the park. Custer State Park and the Black Hills National Forest are just a little over an hour west of Badlands. The same is true for Keystone, South Dakota. The closest town is Rapid City at just under an hour away.
How Big is Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park sprawls across more than 242,750 acres, or nearly 380 square miles. The landscape is a mix of otherworldly buttes and pinnacles, as well as rolling prairie. The lowest point in the park is near the Visitor Center at an elevation of 2,365 feet. The Red Shirt Table has the highest point at 3,340 feet. This desert was once an ancient seabed full of marine life. Today it's a rich paleontological site full of fossils, including Brontothere and Nimravid!
Badlands National Park Weather
The day to day weather in Badlands National Park is unpredictable and can vary greatly, especially between night and day. Dressing in light layers is recommended no matter the season. Temperatures in the park can reach over 115°F and drop to -40°F. Summers are hot and dry. You can expect the occasional thunderstorm. Hailstorms and tornadoes are also possible. June is the wettest month, receiving most of the annual 16 inches of rainfall. Spring and fall are cooler than summer. There is generally less precipitation during these seasons. Winter is the driest season. Despite being in the desert the temperatures are cold, dropping considerably more at night. Winter sees on average between 12 to 24 inches of snow each year.
When did Badlands become a National Park
Badlands is a rich source of archaeological and paleontological evidence. Native Americans inhabited the area more than 11,000 years ago. On May 2, 1922, South Dakota Senator Norbeck first introduced a bill to turn the area into "Wonderland National Park". Norbeck fought for years to establish a national park. The Badlands National Park was established on November 10, 1978.
Things to do in Badlands National Park
Our National Park Visitors Guide highlights a lot to see and do in Badlands National Park. Below is a short list of some of the most popular attractions in the park.
The Badlands Wall
The most iconic section of Badlands is known as “The Wall”. It’s a cluster of cliffs that stretch across more than 100 miles of the park, between the towns of Scenic and Kadoka. This area is rife with hiking trails, including the popular Door Trail.
Big Badlands Overlook
For one of the best views in the entire park, stop by Big Badlands Overlook. The sweeping panoramic views of jagged, striped geological formations are intimidating and breathtaking. See the Wall from the eastern side, lower badlands and Eagle Nest Butte on a clear day.
Fossil Preparation Lab
The lab is unique to Badlands National Park and is located in the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. Visitors can watch paleontologists identify fossils, remove them from rocks, and prepare them for cataloguing. Visitors can also ask the paleontologists and interns as many questions as they’d like.
Badlands Loop Road (Highway 240)
This road is the only paved road through the US National Park. It’s a 32 mile stretch that’s laid out for sightseeing. There are eight hiking trails, dozens of passes, and 15 spectacular overlooks along the way. The road is also popular among cyclists and dog walkers.
Sage Creek Rim Road
One of the best places to see wildlife is along the Sage Creek Rim Road. Birds, prairie dogs, bighorn sheep, and bison are often seen in the area, usually very close to the road. Sage Creek Rim Road also features several overlooks and backcountry access.
Yellow Mounds Overlook
The striped mounds are a stunning spectacle. The stone looks dyed yellow and red. The overlook is easily accessible from Badland Loop Road. There are a few paths to explore that wind through the mounds. You can even climb on the mounds if you’d like.
Animals in Badlands
Badlands is home to a thriving animal population, many species of which are endangered, like the Black-footed Ferret. At the park you are sure to see the massive herds of bison and skittish pronghorn. There are reptiles like rattlesnakes, turtles and lizards, and plenty of birds too.
Minuteman Missile Visitors Center
The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site is a fairly new development at the park. It was established in 1999 to mark the history and importance of the Cold War. It features exhibits on the arms race and preserves the last Minuteman II ICBM system in the country.
There are two front-country campgrounds at Badlands National Park. Cedar Pass Campground requires a reservation. It features sites that can accommodate RVs and trailers. Sage Creek Campground is a free, first-come first-served site. Horse trailers are allowed but RVs and motorhomes are not.
There are miles of trails to explore at Badlands. From easy to challenging and front-country to back, there is a trail for everyone. The Notch Trail, a moderate hike, features a waterfall. Medicine Root Loop is an easy trail where you’re likely to see bison.
When to go to Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park is open all year long. The best time to visit is completely up to you. Summer remains the most popular time to visit the park. Despite temperatures reaching over 110°F the crowds are thick. Spring and fall are relatively quiet compared to summer. The weather is still warm, the days are usually clear, and animal activity is high. There are parts of the park that close for fall and winter. Winter is cold and quiet. There are no crowds. Temperatures can range from 11°F to 40°F at the end of the season. Winds are high and snow, while rare, can fall. You can hike, camp or backpack, but use extra caution and prepare for inclement, cold weather.
Must-Have things to bring to Badlands
When you are packing for a trip to the Badlands, you might be wondering what the necessities are. Here’s a list of a few items not to leave out!
Reusable Bottle and Water
The Badlands are hot and dry. There are only a few facilities at the park that offer water. You’ll need to bring your own supply of water, especially while you’re out on the trails. Drinking from natural water sources at the park is not recommended.
There’s only one restaurant in the park. The best option is to bring your own meals and snacks for most of your stay. Nonperishable goods like jerky, nuts and bars are great for out on the trail. Cabins feature refrigerators. Campers will need a cooler.
Don’t get lost while you’re exploring the wonders of Badlands. Stop and pick up a park map from the visitors center before heading out, or print a copy ahead of time. It is also a good idea to get a trail map before going hiking.
The terrain around Badlands National Park is rugged and rough. You’ll want to wear proper hiking boots if you plan on doing any serious hiking. Hiking boots will save you from cuts and sprains on rocks as well as protect you from snakes and scorpions.
The sun is a serious factor to consider while enjoying Badlands. Not only is the sun hot, but the ultraviolet rays are damaging to skin and eyes. Protect yourself from burns, dehydration, overheating, or worse by wearing SPF 40+ sunscreen, sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat.
Light Layers plus Winter Accessories
The weather can change quickly and dramatically at the park. Shield yourself from the elements by bringing lots of light layers. Long Sleeve shirts and pants with zip off legs are recommended. You’ll want a rain coat as well as fleece gloves and a hat.
A day pack is great for carrying all the odds and ends you’ll need while you’re out on the trail. The pack should be able to hold your extra layers, water bottle, and snacks. It should also have a first aid kit and a compass.
During the heat of the day, you’re not likely to see any scorpion activity. Scorpions are active at night. The best way to spot them is with a blacklight. Their exoskeletons glow under ultraviolet rays.
Plastic Storage Bags
Pack out what you pack in is the motto at any park. The best way to keep all your stuff contained, especially trash, is with plastic bags. Little sealable lunch bags are perfect but larger grocery store bags will work too.
Winter time hiking can be a bit tricky in the ice or snow. Traction aids, like snowshoes or microspikes, can make all the difference between getting stuck or getting over slick and snow hills. You’ll probably only need traction aids if you visit in winter.
Where to stay in Badlands National Park
Staying overnight in the Badlands is a beautiful experience. There are three ways to stay in the park. You can rent a cabin at the Cedar Pass Lodge. The cabins are rustic but feature full amenities. You can camp at one of two front-country campgrounds, Cedar Pass or Sage Creek. If you want a cabin or campsite, reserve your spot early. You can also do some back-country backpacking for a truly rugged camping experience.
Food Nearby Badlands
The Cedar Pass Lodge, near the visitor center, is the only place in Badlands National Park where food is available. They offer snacks and full meals. Most people bring their own food to the park. There are several picnic areas here. Plus the park’s campsites feature covered picnic areas, and grilling on a camp stove or charcoal grill is permitted.
Airports near Badlands National Park
Rapid City Regional Airport is the closest air terminal near the park. It’s just a little over an hour away. The next closest is Western Nebraska Regional Airport in Scottsbluff, about 3.5 hours from the park. Sioux Falls Regional Airport, Bismarck Airport, and Denver International Airport are all popular choices as well.