Kelsey is a freelance writer based in Southern Virginia. She enjoys traveling with her family to destinations from national parks to amusement parks and loves sharing tips and stories from along the way.
Badlands National Park is a must-visit destination for any traveler looking to experience the unique beauty of the American West. Located in South Dakota, the park boasts a rugged landscape of layered rock formations, deep canyons, and rolling prairies.
Visitors can explore the park’s many trails, take in breathtaking views from scenic overlooks, and encounter a variety of wildlife, including bison, bighorn sheep, and prairie dogs.
With so much to see and do, it can be overwhelming to plan a day trip to Badlands National Park. Plan your trip by choosing some of these top-notch experiences.
Drive Badlands Loop Road
Badlands Loop Road is a scenic drive that takes visitors through the heart of the park, showcasing its unique geology and views.
Also known as Highway 240, this loop is a 31-mile-long road that winds through the park’s rugged terrain. It offers visitors the chance to see a variety of landscapes and spot wildlife.
Along the drive, visitors can stop at several overlooks and picnic areas to take in the stunning views. Some of the most popular stops include the White River Valley Overlook, Panorama Point, and the Conata Basin Overlook.
Roberts Prairie Dog Town
Located along Sage Creek Rim Road, Roberts Prairie Dog Town is a must-visit destination that provides visitors with a perfect view of the largest prairie dog town in the accessible areas of the park.
Prairie dogs are the star attraction at Roberts Prairie Dog Town. Visitors can observe the playful antics and social behavior of these cute and furry creatures from a safe distance.
Aside from prairie dogs, visitors can also spot other wildlife in the area. Bison and antelope are common sights along Sage Creek Rim Road, and visitors can enjoy watching them roam freely in their natural habitat.
Take a Trip Down the Fossil Exhibit Trail
For those interested in history and paleontology, the Fossil Exhibit Trail at Badlands National Park is a must-visit. This self-guided, fully accessible boardwalk features fossil replicas and exhibits of extinct creatures that once lived in the area. Visitors can get up close and personal with the fossils and even touch them, as the exhibits are tactile and include braille.
The trail is only a quarter-mile long, making it a quick and easy stop for those short on time, and it’s an exciting and accessible activity for families with children. Visitors to the Fossil Exhibit Trail are sure to find it unforgettable.
Tackle the Challenge of Castle Trail
The Castle Trail is a 5-mile, point-to-point trail that winds through the backcountry of Badlands National Park. It is the longest trail in the park and is a good challenge for hikers, with a difficulty level ranging from moderate to difficult, depending on the route taken.
The trail has several different options for hiking, depending on interests and the amount of time and energy available. The trail takes visitors through a vast prairie dotted with buttes and spires of striped rock, providing a mesmerizing and unique view of the park.
Drive Sage Creek Rim Road
If you’re willing to navigate slightly rougher terrain, consider taking a drive on Sage Creek Rim Road.
There are three overlooks on this road offering views of the Badlands Wilderness Area: Hay Butte Overlook, Wilderness Overlook, and Sage Creek Basin Overlook. Each of these overlooks provides a unique perspective of the park’s rugged terrain.
Be sure to keep an eye out for wildlife like pronghorn deer, bison, and prairie dogs, as they often roam near the road.
Photograph the Sunset at Pinnacles Overlook
Pinnacles Overlook in Badlands National Park is a perfect spot to capture the stunning sunset. The overlook provides a panoramic view of the Badlands formations and the surrounding prairies, making it an ideal location for photography.
The sunsets at Pinnacles Overlook are particularly breathtaking, as the sun casts a warm glow over the rugged landscape, creating a dramatic contrast between the bright sky and the dark silhouettes of the rocks.
Photographers can capture the beauty of the Badlands at different times of the day, but the sunset is undoubtedly the most magical.
Badlands Astronomy Festival
Each July, visitors to Badlands National Park can enjoy the Badlands Astronomy Festival. This festival is a three-day celebration of space science, bringing together professionals, amateur astronomers, educators, and visitors.
During the festival, visitors can participate in a variety of activities related to astronomy and space science. These activities include solar observing, paper rocket launches, and night sky viewing.
One of the highlights of the Badlands Astronomy Festival is the night sky viewing events. These events take place at Cedar Pass Campground Amphitheater and are hosted by the National Park Service. Visitors can use telescopes to view stars, planets, and other celestial objects.
Badlands National Park has two visitor centers that provide information and exhibits about the park’s geology, wildlife, and history.
Both visitor centers have knowledgeable rangers who can answer questions and provide information on park activities, popular hiking trails, and camping. Visitors can also purchase park passes and souvenirs at the centers.
The Ben Reifel Visitor Center is located near the park’s Pinnacles Entrance and is open year-round. It has a bookstore, exhibits, and a 95-seat theater that shows a park orientation film. The center is named after Ben Reifel, a member of the Sioux tribe and the first Native American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The White River Visitor Center is located in the park’s South Unit and is co-managed by the Oglala Sioux Tribe. It has exhibits on the history and culture of the Lakota people, as well as information on the park’s geology and wildlife. The center is open seasonally from May to September.
Watch the Sunrise Over the Badlands
Watching the sunrise over the Badlands is a truly awe-inspiring experience. As the sun rises over the jagged rock formations and the colorful layers of sediment, the Badlands are bathed in a warm, golden light that highlights their natural beauty.
To make the most of this experience, visitors should plan to arrive at the sunrise viewing spots at least 30 minutes before sunrise. It’s also important to dress warmly, as temperatures can be chilly in the early morning hours. Visitors should also bring a camera to capture the stunning views and the natural beauty of the Badlands at sunrise.
Hike the Window and Door Trails
Two of the main attractions at Badlands National Park are the Window and Door Trails. The Window Trail is only 150 yards long and is rated as easy, making it a great option for families with children or those who are not experienced hikers.
The trailhead for the Window and Door Trails is located at the center of the Door and Window parking lot. The trail is a boardwalk that leads to a viewpoint with a dramatic view of the Badlands. The Door Trail is also located in the same parking lot and is a bit longer at 0.75 miles round trip. This trail takes hikers through a natural doorway in the Badlands Wall and offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
Both the Window and Door Trail are relatively easy hikes, but visitors should still come prepared with plenty of water and sturdy hiking shoes. The trail can get crowded during peak season, so it is recommended to arrive early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid crowds.
Badlands National Park is home to a wide variety of wildlife, making it a popular destination for wildlife enthusiasts. Visitors can spot bison, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, and buffalo, among other species, throughout the park.
The best way to view wildlife in the park is from the comfort of your car. Many overlooks and pull-outs offer excellent vantage points for spotting wildlife. Visitors are advised to stay on the designated roads and not approach or feed the animals, as they are wild and can be dangerous.
Visit Mount Rushmore National Memorial
While not located within the park, visitors to Badlands National Park should consider making the 90-minute drive to Mount Rushmore National Memorial while they’re in the area.
The memorial features the faces of four of the country’s most influential presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln – carved into the granite mountain.
Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the memorial, which includes a visitor center, museum, and a 0.6-mile Presidential Trail that offers stunning views of the sculpture.
Pay a Visit to Wall Drug
If you’re looking for a fun and unique attraction near Badlands National Park, then a visit to Wall Drug store in South Dakota is a must. This iconic roadside stop has been entertaining visitors since 1931 and offers a variety of activities, shopping, and dining options.
One of the main draws of Wall Drug is the shopping experience. The store features a wide selection of souvenirs, gifts, and Western-themed items.
In addition to shopping, Wall Drug has several dining options to choose from. The restaurant serves up classic American fare such as burgers, sandwiches, and homemade pie. Of course, the free ice water and five-cent coffee can’t be forgotten!
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