In this Badlands National Park guide we’re sharing everything you need to know before visiting including where to stay, when to visit, our favorite hikes, and other things to do in Badlands National Park!
After spending a few days exploring the Black Hills region of South Dakota, we continued our South Dakota Road Trip by heading east to Badlands National Park. While the park is less than 2 hours away from Custer State Park and other Black Hills attractions, the scenery is vastly different. Unlike the Black Hills, which have a lot of trees and vegetation, Badlands National Park is extremely dry and desert-like. It’s pretty crazy how diverse South Dakota is!
We spent one full day exploring as much of Badlands National Park as we possibly could and had the best time! We got to hike all up in the Badlands, saw tons of wildlife, took some scenic drives, visited overlooks, and ate a delicious treat at a nearby iconic landmark. All while constantly freaking out about how crazy the views were!
Similar to our reaction in Custer State Park, the scenery at Badlands National Park was unlike anywhere we have ever been. Had we seen a photo of Badlands without knowing where it was, we would’ve for sure guessed it was in the Southwest. Or Mars! It felt like we had stepped onto another planet or a movie set (fun fact: lots of movies have been filmed here)! Watch our experience at Badlands National Park.
Heading to Badlands National Park soon? We’ve gotcha covered! In this guide we’re sharing park info and tips, where to stay, when to visit, and the best things to do in Badlands National Park. Get ready to have a good time in the Badlands! (Bad joke, but we can’t help ourselves!)
Note: We will only be covering the North Unit of Badlands National Park in this guide, as it’s the only area we were able to explore (the South Unit was closed during our visit).
Check out our other South Dakota Guides
Leave No Trace Principles
Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!
- Plan ahead & prepare. Make sure you research and prepare for every adventure so that you know the rules, stay safe, and to minimize resource damage.
- Travel & camp on durable surfaces. Stay on the trail and only camp in designated areas, as well as the required length away from water sources.
- Dispose of waste properly. Whatever you pack in, pack it out! Make sure to carry out your trash, as well as any trash you find. If you have a dog, please do not leave poop bags on the trail. For human waste, use a trowel to dig a hole far from water sources or use a wag bag (sometimes required).
- Leave what you find. Do not take any items from the trail with you, including rocks, plants, or artifacts.
- Minimize campfire impacts. Know the rules of where you can and cannot have campfires and if allowed, use designated fire rings. Use local firewood to prevent bringing any pests or diseases to the area you’re visiting and make sure to fully extinguish your fire.
- Respect wildlife. Keep your distance from wildlife, control your pets on the trail, and never ever feed them! Make sure to keep your food stored properly as well (we like this bear canister).
- Be considerate of other visitors. Be respectful to others on the trail. Hikers going uphill have the right of way on hikes and it’s always courteous to let those quicker than you pass. Avoid playing music out loud, talking loudly, and having your pets bother others.
Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!
About Badlands National Park
As the name implies, Badlands National Park is home to a geologic formation called badlands, which is a type of dry terrain with soft sedimentary rocks and clay-rich soils that have been extensively eroded by wind and water.
However, there is also another reason the park is named Badlands. The Lakota, who lived in this area and used it as a hunting ground for 11,000 years, called it “Mako Sica” which translates to “bad lands.” And when the French fur trappers traveled through, they called it “les mauvaises terres a traveser,” which is the French equivalent of “bad lands to travel across,” since it is difficult to travel in all seasons. When it rains it becomes slick and sticky, the winters are cold, and the summers are hot.
But ironically, in 1922, when it became a National Park, it was suggested to be named Wonderland National Park. And it really is a wonder! With crazy geological features, the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States, and one of the richest fossil beds in the world with prehistoric bones still being uncovered to this day!
Note: it costs $30 per vehicle ($25 for motorcycles) to enter Badlands National Park, which covers 7 days. However, we highly recommend getting the America the Beautiful pass, which is $80 per year and will get you into any National Park, monument, or forest for free.
When to visit Badlands National Park
The weather in Badlands National Park can be pretty extreme. The National Park website states that “weather in Badlands National Park is variable and unpredictable with temperature extremes ranging from 116° F to -40° F.” 😱
The summers are very hot and dry, with rainfall and sometimes a crazy thunderstorm, while the winters are very cold with typically 12-24” of snowfall. June is the wettest month in the park (hiking on the Badlands when they’re wet will be very slick and you’ll get clay stuck to your shoes) and December and January are the driest. But even with crazy weather, Badlands National Park is typically open 365 days of the year, except for weather closures.
June-August tend to be busier in the park, especially early August when the Sturgis Rally is going on. So we’d say the “best” time of year to visit the park, to both avoid crowds and have pleasant weather, is in the shoulder seasons of April-May and September-October. However, we visited in late August and got very lucky with a somewhat cloudy day and pretty mild summer temperatures. And the crowds weren’t bad either!
Getting to Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park is located 1 hour and 20 minutes east of Rapid City, in Southwestern South Dakota. If you’re visiting from out of state and flying to South Dakota, your best airport to fly into would probably be Rapid City Regional Airport (RAP).
Major airlines that fly into this airport include Allegiant, American Airlines, Delta, and United, with direct flights from Atlanta, Minneapolis, Las Vegas, Dallas, Chicago, Phoenix, Denver, and Salt Lake City, with some additional seasonal flights.
Southwestern South Dakota and Custer State Park are pretty isolated from any other major cities in the US, but depending on where you’re coming from and going, it can be a great road trip stop!
Here’s how far Badlands National Park is from some nearby destinations (Note: All distances are to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center on the east side of the park).
- Rapid City, SD: 1 hour 20 minutes, 76 miles
- Custer State Park: 1 hour 46 minutes, 101 miles
- Sioux Falls, SD: 4 hours, 280 miles
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park: 5 hours, 309 miles
- Denver, CO: 6 hours 37 mins, 404 miles
- Minneapolis, MN: 7 hours 25 minutes, 507 miles
- Yellowstone National Park: 9 hours 22 minutes, 566 miles
- Jackson, WY: 9 hours 27 minutes, 602 miles
If you’re looking for more road trip stops while in the area, we have you covered in our 7 Day South Dakota Road Trip Guide including Rapid City, Badlands National Park, and the Black Hills!
Getting around Badlands National Park
To fully explore Badlands National Park and all of the scenic drives, fun and unique hikes, and wildlife it has to offer, you will need your own car, as there are no shuttles or buses to get you from place to place.
But in our opinion, driving around Badlands National Park is part of the fun! One thing we loved about the park is how much you can see from the road, unlike some National Parks where you have to hike for miles to see some of the best scenery.
There are two main roads in the North Unit of the park, Badlands Loop Road which is a popular drive within the park, and Sage Creek Rim Road, which is a gravel and dirt road that also has some great overlooks and stops.
If you’re flying into South Dakota you can either rent a car from the airport or find a better deal in the Rapid City area.
Where to Stay at Badlands National Park
While close to the nearby city of Rapid City and the Black Hills, the immediate area around Badlands National Park is a bit more remote. However, there are still a handful of options of places to stay right by the park, including our favorite free campsite ever!
Here’s a list of the options, ranging from campgrounds, a lodge, hotels, and Airbnbs both in the park and the surrounding area!
Campgrounds in Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park is home to two campgrounds, Cedar Pass Campground and Sage Creek Campground, located in two different areas of the park. Here’s a rundown of each!
Note: There are no fires allowed in the park due to fire danger, however, you can use camp stoves or contained charcoal grills.
Cedar Pass Campground
The Cedar Pass Campground is located near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center on the east side of the park. The campsites are open year round, but in the winter months there may be some limited availability.
Similar to the rest of the park, there is not a lot of vegetation, so these sites don’t have much privacy, but the views of the area are great! Be sure to reserve as early as you can as these spots fill quickly in the busy summer months!
# of sites: 96
Cost: $23/night for a tent site and $38/night for an RV spot with electricity. Both prices are for 2 people and each additional person costs $4, but ages 15 and under are free.
RVs: Yes, but no water at the sites
Toilets: There are restrooms and paid showers nearby
Reservations: Yes, you can make reservations here.
Sage Creek Campground
To get to this campground you will need to travel on the unpaved Sage Creek Road on the park’s west side. This road is well maintained and any vehicle should be able to traverse it, but it may be a bit bumpy.
These sites are more primitive as there are no hookups or water available here. There is also a vehicle length restriction of 18 feet at this campsite for all trailers, motor homes, and other RVs.
# of sites: 22
Toilets: Pit toilets are available
Reservations: First-come, first-served
Backcountry Camping at Badlands National Park
One cool thing about Badlands is that it is open for backcountry camping! This means as long as you can set up your camp at least a half mile off of a trail or road, and are not visible from the road, you can camp just about anywhere in the park, which is awesome! Keep in mind there are no pets or fires allowed though.
You do not need a permit to camp in the backcountry, but make sure you notify the park office of your plans. It’s a good idea to let them know of your planned route so that they know where to look in case of an emergency.
If you decide to camp in the backcountry, remember to follow the Leave No Trace principles, pack out what you pack in, bring your own water as there are no water sources, and be prepared for and aware of any wildlife you might run into, including bison!
Cedar Pass Lodge
Also located in Badlands National Park is the Cedar Pass Lodge. This lodge, located right by the Cedar Pass Campground, is actually not a lodge with typical hotel rooms, but instead has cabins.
The cabins are equipped with everything to keep you comfortable including private bathrooms, tv, refrigerator, microwave, and queen beds, as well as a patio with handcrafted chairs to enjoy the surrounding scenery. The cabins are $182/night and unfortunately there are no pets allowed.
Campgrounds near Badlands National Park
If the campgrounds in the park are full, or you just want other options, there are also some campgrounds around the park to check out!
Nomad View Dispersed Camping
This is hands down the COOLEST free campground we have ever stayed at! Located right on the edge of the Badlands (although not in the National Park, hence the drone shots), you get to park your vehicle or set up your tent with the most epic view. You don’t even have to leave the campsite to see the sunrise. It doesn’t get any better!
There aren’t designated sites here and the area can fit a lot of people, so you have a very high chance of finding a spot. However, don’t expect solitude, it’s very popular! But with the views and being only 10 minutes from the north entrance of the park, it’s worth having some neighbors. We couldn’t recommend this spot more!
Steer Pasture Overlook
While we haven’t stayed here, this is another great free boondocking site located very close to the park and with amazing views, similar to Nomad View!
KOA Campground and RV Park
Nicknamed the “Oasis in the Badlands,” this KOA is located just south of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center and has a lot of amenities.
We don’t stay at very many KOAs, but they are reliable and well kept. They also have cabins, yurts, and teepees you can stay in here!
Hotels near Badlands National Park
There are not many hotels right by Badlands National Park, but if you don’t mind a little bit of a drive, there are some good options in Rapid City!
- Residence Inn (we stayed here one night due to very hot temperatures and it was really nice!)
- Holiday Inn Express & Suites Rapid City
- Holiday Inn Express & Suites Rushmore Plaza
- Hilton Garden Inn
- Comfort Inn & Suites
- Hotel Alex Johnson
Airbnbs near Badlands National Park
To be honest, there aren’t a ton of Airbnbs near Badlands, but we found a few options that look pretty good.
Note: Drive times are to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, which is on the east side of the park.
Kadoka, South Dakota (37 minute drive)
Charming Farm House: A 4 bedroom, 1.5 bathroom house for up to 7 guests
Wasta, South Dakota (45 minute drive)
The Cow Camp: A 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom home near Wall, SD
Rapid City, South Dakota (1 hour, 20 minute drive)
Cozy Apartment: A studio apartment near downtown Rapid City
Clark Street House: A beautiful 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom house
Modern Luxury Guest Suite: A super nice 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment
Urban Loft Style Apartment: A cool, industrial 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom loft
Tips for visiting Badlands National Park
Before you visit Badlands National Park, here are a few of our top tips to ensure you have a fun and safe time:
- Make sure to pack the 10 essentials. Although many of the trails are well trafficked and well marked, always have the 10 essentials with you just in case things do not go according to plan.
- Bring layers. As we mentioned above, the weather can be a bit crazy at Badlands. We’d suggest having layers, including a rain jacket, just in case!
- Stay away from wildlife. Lots of wildlife call Badlands National Park home, including bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and more! Make sure to never approach wildlife or feed wildlife when exploring the park.
- Dogs are not allowed! Just like the other National Parks, dogs are not allowed on trails at Badlands National Park. However, they are allowed at campgrounds and also on roads, including backcountry dirt roads. Traveling with your dog? Learn what we do with Kona if she cannot join us during our travels.
- Download maps beforehand. With little to no service in the park, we highly recommend downloading AllTrails maps before you go. You will need an AllTrails Pro membership to do so, which is $30 a year and so worth it! We also recommend downloading offline Google Maps so you can navigate around the park easier too.
- Leave time for traffic jams. We got stuck in a couple traffic jams at Badlands National Park, both from construction and from wildlife. Make sure you aren’t in a hurry when driving around the park and have extra time!
- Beware of wet ground. If the Badlands are wet, they are very slippery and you will get the clay stuck to the bottom of your shoes (like inches of it)! If you plan to visit during rain, we’d suggest sticking to the paved or boardwalk trails.
The Best Things to do in Badlands National Park
With hikes for all ages, beautiful overlooks, scenic drives, unique attractions, and wildlife, there is something for everyone at Badlands National Park! And we’re sharing the best things to do in Badlands National Park, especially if it’s your first visit.
Watch the sunrise and sunset
With epic views of the Badlands facing both east and west, the sunrises and sunsets at Badlands National Park are pretty spectacular and are the perfect way to start and end your day in the park.
With so many overlooks in the park, it’s a bit overwhelming to decide which one you should visit for sunrise or sunset. So here’s a list to help narrow down your options!
For sunrise at Badlands National Park we recommend visiting:
All of these have great views to the east of the Badlands and the rising sun. During our visit, we had planned to experience the sunrise at the Big Badlands Overlook. This overlook is located right when you enter the park on the east side of the Badlands Loop Road, so it was a super convenient start to our day.
We got there with plenty of time, but unfortunately there was low hanging smoke off in the distance so the sunrise was a bit cloudy. But it was still amazing to see the Badlands with the super soft, morning light. It made their colors pop!
For sunset at Badlands National Park we recommend visiting:
All of these overlooks are on the west side of the park, so they have great views as the sun goes down. During our visit, we went to the Pinnacles Overlook, which has a good sized parking lot and views from either the parking area, or you can walk down some stairs to a large area with multiple spots to watch the sunset.
Similar to our sunrise experience, the smoke covered the sun pretty early, so we didn’t get to see the best sunset ever, but it was still an amazing spot!
Notch Trail (our favorite trail!)
If there is only one hike you can do in the park, you have to hike the Notch Trail! It’s easy, quick, and one of the most unique trails we have ever been on. Here are some quick stats:
Miles: 1.3 miles
Elevation: 131 feet
Trail map & current conditions
The Notch Trail starts out in the same parking lot as the Door and Windows Trails (we’ll cover those next!) and after leaving the parking lot, you begin to hike into the Badlands. One thing we loved about the park was that the trails get you up close and personal with the Badlands! You get to walk right between them, next to them, and on them. It’s pretty spectacular!
As you walk on the beginning part of the trail, admire the big walls that quickly surround you. But make sure to pay attention because you’ll soon reach the trail’s claim to fame, a log ladder!
In pictures, this ladder looks pretty steep and a tad intimidating, but once you see it in person it is not nearly as daunting. However, it can be a bit wobbly, so be sure to use all of your limbs to stabilize yourself if need be. Climbing up this ladder was the highlight of our time at Badlands. It was so much fun and we have never experienced anything like it!
Once at the top of the ladder you will continue to the left on the trail and hike along some ledges and then back into a Badland “valley” before reaching a gorgeous viewpoint at the end. If you look to the far left at the viewpoint, you’ll see some crazy, jagged looking Badlands that took our breath away!
You hike back the same way you came, which means you will take the ladder back down. We recommend doing this trail first thing so you can avoid waiting in a line for the ladder (and can snap more photos climbing it!), as it’s safest for one person to go at a time.
Door and Window Trails
Back at the parking lot where you started the Notch Trail are two other trails that are totally worth checking out, the Window Trail and the Door Trail. Both are super quick and easy, but give you great views into the Badlands.
Miles: 0.3 miles
Elevation: 13 feet
Trail map & current conditions
A couple minutes long walk on a wooden boardwalk ends at a viewpoint that lets you look into the Badlands. This is a quick and easy “hike” that is too good to pass up!
Miles: 0.8 miles
Elevation: 36 feet
Trail map & current conditions
Similar to the Window Trail, the Door Trail is an easy stroll on a quarter mile boardwalk. But while the Window Trail just has an overlook you can look out of, like a window, the Door Trail boardwalk ends with an overlook, as well as an opening to walk into the badlands, kind of like a doorway.
Once you enter into the Badlands you’re able to get up close and personal with this wild landscape! The views are insane and this is the spot where we felt we were transported to Utah or a movie set or Mars. There is no real “trail” to explore, but there are numbered poles along the way to help you know how much further you can go and to help you find your way back.
While we suggest doing both, the Door Trail is definitely our favorite of the two!
Looking for a longer hike? The Castle Trail, which starts across from the Window, Door, and Notch trails is the longest maintained trail in the park.
Miles: 10.5 miles
Elevation: 314 feet
Trail map & current conditions
This trail will take you 5 miles to the Fossil Exhibit Trail and also take you along the Medicine Root Trail. But despite the trail length, the trail is a relatively flat trek through the vegetation and formations of the badlands, a bit more off the beaten path from the popular tourist spots, giving you the chance to feel like you’re in the wild.
Badlands Loop Road
Something we loved about Badlands National Park is that you can see so much of the park from the road! And one of the best things to do in Badlands National Park, especially if you’re lower on time, is driving the Badlands Loop Road (SD 240).
This is the main road that runs east and west through the park and it is where you will find almost all of the most popular attractions, including access to hikes, the visitor center, and 12 overlooks. It is two lanes and paved, so it’s great for all vehicles!
We’re highlighting the best hikes off of this road individually on this guide, but below are some of the overlooks to check out while driving the Badlands Loop Road. While you could stop at all 12 of the overlooks, these were our favorite!
Big Badlands Overlook
As we mentioned in the sunrise section, this is a great overlook in the park, especially to view the sunrise. It’s located right at the northeastern entrance of the park, so it makes for a great starting point along the Badlands Loop Road. And the views are pretty incredible too!
Ben Reifel Visitor Center
While not an overlook, we love visiting the National Park visitor centers to grab souvenirs (we collect patches and send out postcards to our Patrons!) and to speak with a ranger about the best stops and any tips for the park! You can also see them prepare fossils, which we will cover in a bit.
While we originally thought this would be a spot to see fossils in the ground, instead it’s a short boardwalk loop trail with signs telling you about fossils in the area and showing replica fossils.
If you love fossils and want to stretch your legs, this is a cool spot! They also have a bathroom if you need to make a bathroom stop too!
White River Valley Overlook
This was one of our favorite overlooks because instead of a viewing deck, you get to walk out and stand on the Badlands. It makes for a great photo spot if you want unobstructed views.
Just like the name implies, this overlook has panoramic views! There is a good sized viewing deck to walk out to and snap your photos of the view.
Yellow Mounds Overlook
This stop is super cool! While most of the badlands have a tan appearance, with red stripes going through them, this overlook is full of yellow and pink colored badlands. It’s a really neat contrast to the rest of the park!
These yellow mounds formed over 67 million years ago when an ancient sea that covered the area began to drain and created ancient fossilized soils called paleosols, which make up these yellow mounds. And the reason they are yellow is because of a mineral named Goethite!
At this overlook you can take a small trail to get a better look at the yellow color, or just admire them from the road!
Located at the very end of the Badlands Loop Road, this is one of our suggested sunset spots, but also beautiful any time of the day! At this overlook you can enjoy the view from the parking area or you can go down some stairs to reach a wider viewing area, as well as walk onto the Badlands. It makes a great picnic spot too!
Saddle Pass Trail
Looking for some slightly different scenery in the park? The Saddle Pass Trail is a good, short option!
Miles: 0.7 miles
Elevation: 216 feet
Trail map & current conditions
This quick hike takes you up to Saddle Pass where you get great views of the White River Valley from the top of the Badlands Wall. Unlike a lot of the stops at Badlands National Park with endless badlands views, this view shows more flat land with a few badlands popping out.
You can also connect to the Castle Trail and Medicine Root Trail here!
Fossil Preparation Lab
If you ever watched Indiana Jones as a kid and watched to learn more about the behind the scenes being an archaeologist or paleontologist, then go check out the Fossil Preparation Lab!
Located at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, here you can watch and learn from paleontologists who are preparing and categorizing the fossils found in the park!
The Fossil Preparation Lab is usually open from the second week in June through the third week in September, 7 days a week from 9 AM-4:30 PM.
Sage Creek Rim Road
In addition to Badlands Loop Road, there is another popular road in the park called the Sage Creek Rim Road (SD 590). This is a dirt road that will lead you to some other scenic overlooks, as well as one of the park’s campgrounds. Despite being unpaved, almost any vehicle is able to safely and easily drive on this road.
Along this road you can find the following overlooks, all of which are quick roadside pull offs where you can either admire the view from the road, or hike down into the badlands a little bit. Just be careful, as sometimes these paths are slick and steep!
Besides the few overlooks, Sage Creek Rim Road is also a great place to see wildlife! We saw quite a few bison and bighorn sheep out here, but possibly even better, we saw tons of prairie dogs. We’ll share a little bit more about these cuties next!
Roberts Prairie Dog Town
Want to squeal and see cuteness overload? Head to Roberts Prairie Dog Town!
When we were researching things to do in Badlands National Park and came across Roberts Prairie Dog Town, we 100% thought it was some cheesy tourist attraction. Like a fake western themed town full of prairie dog decor. But then we learned that the habitats prairie dogs live in are called towns. We had no idea! 🤦🏻♂️
And despite our original thought of it being some cheesy tourist spot, it’s actually just a big open area that tons of prairie dogs call home! We drove out here right before sunset, unsure if the rough trek would be worth it, but it 100% was!
We walked out a bit into the open area and watched the prairie dogs wrestle and play with each other, pop in and out of holes, and listened to their cute little screams. They are SO CUTE!
They are also friendly little buddies and will likely try to come up to you, but despite what you may see others do and what you may hear others say, do not feed or pet the prairie dogs! We know it’s tempting, but it’s against National Park rules.
This stop was such a highlight of our time in Badlands National Park and we cannot believe we almost skipped it. If you’re an animal lover like we are, you must stop here while driving the Sage Rim Road!
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
This is something that Adam is really kicking himself that we didn’t get to go see! At the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site you can visit one of the hundreds of remaining nuclear missiles hidden in plain sight in the Great Plains from the Cold War.
The purpose of this historical site is to tell the story of the Minuteman Missiles, nuclear deterrence, and the Cold War. While here, you can view the Delta-01 control facility, the Delta-09 nuclear missile, and a visitor center to learn even more about this area and its significance. We would highly recommend booking a tour at least 24 hours in advance (and up to 90 days in advance) to experience this spot to its fullest! Tours fill up fast in the summer!
While we cannot personally speak about visiting this site, it is at the TOP of our list for our next trip to Badlands National Park!
Note: this historic site is not technically in Badlands National Park, but it’s right next to it, so it’s worth combining with your trip to Badlands.
Enjoy the dark night sky
On a clear night, you can see so many stars at Badlands National Park! If you like astrophotography, we highly recommend staying up late to snap photos of the Milky Way and constellations from the park.
The park also offers Night Sky Viewings on summer nights at the Cedar Pass Campground Amphitheater where park rangers will use lasers to show you different constellations, planets, and other objects in the sky. They also provide a telescope for you to use too!
The time of these programs changes depending on the sunset, so make sure to check with the park to see what time that evening’s program will take place.
Seeing the Milky Way is one of the coolest things we have ever experienced and we cannot imagine how much more epic it would be to see it at Badlands!
Visit the Iconic Wall Drug
Last, but definitely not least, one of the BEST things to do in Badlands National Park is actually just 10 minutes outside of the park…Wall Drug.
You probably will have heard of Wall Drug by now, as they blanket every billboard for literally hundreds of miles inviting you to come try their famous donuts, free ice water, and 5 cent coffee. It is a giant tourist shopping center with any souvenir you can think of and is mega touristy, but we LOVED it!
Wall Drug became popular in the 1930s for offering free ice water to travelers and now attracts over 2 million people per year! We highly recommend grabbing some donuts while you’re there, especially the maple donut. The donuts are of the cake variety (our favorite!) and we thought they would be just average, but they were incredible! They were so cakey, fluffy, and moist, with incredible flavor (it tasted like there was a hint of lemon).
We also got the famous 5 cent coffee, which was about what you’d expect for gas station coffee, but for 5 cents it’s worth grabbing for the novelty. We didn’t try any other food, but we hear their hot beef sandwiches are good!
While you’re here, make sure to walk around the shops, pop your head into the chapel, and check out the backyard area where you can see a giant jackrabbit statue. It’s such a fun place!
Looking for somewhere else to eat near the park? Grab a Sioux taco at the park’s Cedar Pass Lodge!
Badlands National Park Itineraries
Now that you know the best things to do in Badlands National Park, it’s time to figure out your game plan!
We only spent one day in Badlands National Park and felt that it was enough time to see the major highlights, but if you want to explore some of the less popular trails and visit the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, you will need two days.
Here is what we’d suggest for both a 1 day and a 2 day itinerary for Badlands National Park!
1 Day at Badlands National Park
- Watch the sunrise from Big Badlands Overlook.
- Hike the Notch Trail, Window, and Door Trails.
- Drive the Badlands Loop Road and stop at the visitor center and different overlooks along the way.
- Take a midday break and grab a coffee and donut at Wall Drug, as well as explore all of the shops and areas of this huge roadside stop.
- Head back into the park and drive Sage Creek Rim Road. Make sure to see the prairie dogs at Robert’s Prairie Dog Town!
- End the day with sunset at Pinnacles Overlook.
- If you’re up for it, do some night photography or join the Night Sky Viewing program.
2 Days at Badlands National Park
For day 1, follow the itinerary above! And for day 2 we suggest:
- Visit the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. Make sure to schedule a tour in advance!
- Hike the Castle Trail to explore a different area of the park than you experienced yesterday. Add on the Saddle Pass Trail for even more views! Plan for this route to take about 5-6 hours or so.
- More Wall Drug donuts…because why not?!
Ready to explore Badlands National Park?
Pin this guide of things to do in Badlands National Park to help plan your trip!