Top 6 Things to Do in Badlands National Park

Unique and surreal are the two words that pop into my mind when thinking about Badlands National Park. The South Dakota desolate terrain and unusual formations are an enigma of sorts. I had never seen anything like it.

Exploring and hiking through the rugged area was a highlight of our summer road trip. While you could easily spend weeks wandering around the moonscape, here are our picks for the best things to see and do in the area.

things to do badlands
Badlands Loop Road, Badlands National Park

 

1. Badlands Loop Road with Overlooks

The 31-mile scenic road slices right through the middle of the park. Include a drive on Interstate 90 outside of the park to make it a full 50-mile loop. The extra 20 miles adds all the other must-see attractions in the area.

With over a dozen overlooks throughout the park, there’s no shortage of vantage points. We recommend you stop at EVERY one if you have the time. Each vista provides a different view of the crazy labyrinth that is the Badlands.

Badlands Loop Road
Badlands National Park Overlook
Badlands Loop Road
Badlands Loop Road Scenic Drive

2. Hike Notch Trail

If you are only going to get out for one hike in Badlands National Park, choose Notch Trail. The 1.5-mile path is not for the faint of heart or the clumsy though. The walk begins with a brief stroll through a canyon that leads to a ladder set up against a steep wall. After the climb, you continue the hike hugging the inside of a rocky cliff. The path widens and is less stressful as you get closer to the viewpoint. Upon reaching the Notch, dramatic panoramic views of the White River Valley are yours for the taking.

Notch Trail
Notch Trail, Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park
Notch Trail Viewpoint in Badlands National Park

Tips and Details for Notch Trail

  • Roughly 1 ½ to 2 hours long round-trip, considered moderate to strenuous.
  • Wear sturdy shoes (no flip-flops).
  • Bring water, a hat & snacks.
  • Not recommended for anyone with fear of heights.

3. Search for Prairie Dogs

The Badlands are breathtaking. It will be difficult to take your eyes off of the wild landscape, but don’t forget to look down at the ground. You’ll find the lovable Prairie Dog colonies. They are running around squawking at all times of the day. Missing these kooky animals would be a shame. Watching them run around was one of my favorite memories in the Badlands. They are rather entertaining.

Badlands National Park
Prairie Dog, Badlands National Park



4. Soak up the Energy at the Yellow Mounds

Once upon a time, South Dakota was covered by an ancient sea. When it diminished and was exposed to air, the mud weathered to yellow soil. It left us with the Yellow Mounds.

It is said that the color yellow promotes happiness and enthusiasm for life. The glowing mounds in Badlands National Park will make you jump on that jolly train. Smack in the middle of the park, the warmth of this area is a sharp contrast to the rigid landscape before and after.

    >>> Don’t forget to check out the video below!

Badlands National Park
Yellow Mounds, Badlands National Park
Badlands Loop Road
Badlands Loop Road
Badlands National Park
Yellow Mounds, Badlands National Park

5. Stick around for a Sunset

When we first started our drive through the Badlands, I commented that the rock was different than I imagined. At first glance, it appeared crumbly, dull and faded. It wasn’t until the sun began to set that the intensity and layers of the rock announced themselves. It was worth the wait.

Things to do Badlands
Badlands National Park Sunset

The likelihood of spotting one of the many animals in the park increases at dusk as well. We encountered bighorn sheep, mule deer and pronghorn in the last hour of the day.

Sunset at Badlands National Park
Wildlife at Badlands National Park
Things to do Badlands
Sunset at Badlands National Park

6. Get off the Beaten Path on Sage Creek Rim Road

We were a bit nervous at first about taking the rough gravel road near the Pinnacles entrance, but it proved to be fine. There were many warnings and we had our pop up camper hooked up behind our truck. We had no issues and actually saw a few cars drive by as well.

The scenic drive (Rte 590) near the northern border of the park runs about 13 miles and has a few overlooks. It’s a great road to see wildlife; we saw bison and bighorn sheep.

*Tip: Make sure to ask a ranger about road conditions before taking the drive.

things to do badlands
Sage Creek Rim Road

Cheap Lodging near Badlands National Park 

We didn’t want to set up the pop up for only one night so we stayed at the Rodeway Inn on Interstate 90 in Kadoka. It’s roughly 25 miles to the Northeast Entrance of the park. The rooms are not luxury, but are clean with a small fridge and microwave.

Visit Badlands National Park Video

Plan Your Trip

We have been budget traveling for over ten years and love finding deals. Here are a few websites that we use consistently to save money and time booking accommodations, flights and car rental.

Accommodation

  • Hotels.com has a best rate guarantee program that allows you to price match up until 24 hours prior to arrival and its rewards program gives one free night for every 10 nights collected.

Flights

  • Airfarewatchdog.com is a comparison website that searches through tons of flights. It compares airline pricing up to three times a day, having up to date information and also includes airlines such as Southwest and Allegiant that other websites do not include.

Car Rental

  • Priceline is usually the cheapest for car rentals and has a best rate guarantee program as well.

Have you been to Badlands National Park? What was your favorite thing to do? Tell us in the comments below!

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Top suggestions on things to see and do while visiting the Badlands National Park in South Dakota!

21 Responses

  1. Chris Travels

    I never knew there were so many sights and animals to see, and hikes to do in the Badlands. I sure missed my opportunity many years ago when my husband and I whizzed on by, thinking we’d seen most of what the Badlands had to offer from the window of our car. What a mistake! Thank goodness for today’s world of travel websites such as yourselves, as I’m sure we would have planned to carve out some time to explore the area. Your enthusiasm is contagious!

    • Even if you only are driving through, I would highly recommend it. It was the 1st national park we visited on our summer road trip and I’m glad we had it on the itinerary. Thanks for the encouraging words Chris!

  2. same here, we just drove thru many yrs ago. but we had 6 kids with us so it was kind of hard to do to much hiking. told u about parts of our trip a while ago on here.

    • Yes I remember. It would be a bit hard to organize a hike with 6 kids! Don’t think you’d want that many climbing up a ladder to steep edges either! One or two would be okay, but six I don’t think so. We did all the short and semi-short hikes within the park. It is extraordinary scenery 😊

  3. This is very much like our badlands in the Drumheller, AB region. The landscape is so surreal and I would love to try the Notch hike if we are on a roadtrip thru the area. And I wish ours had more wildlife, our sheep and goats tend to stick to the rockies 🙂

  4. OMG! This looks like the one in Alberta! Have you been to Drumheller? I’d love to visit South Dakota’s badlands, too!

  5. That looks like a great place to go. I’d love to see all the wildlife. Would be incredible. The hiking looks pretty awesome too. Thanks for sharing.

  6. looks like a really cool place to visit and explore. You have some incredible photos there.

  7. Definitely on my bucket list! Great pictures!

  8. These photos are amazing! I’ve heard of this place but I never knew anything about it. I would love to visit.

  9. Wow! The landscapes are so stunning! The Yellow Mounds reminds me of Red and Rose Valley in Cappadocia.

  10. Looks amazing! The photos are awesome!

  11. The Badlands look beautiful! And I’d love to hike amongst the wildlife – the i’ve only ever heard of prairie dogs in cowboy stories!

  12. I haven’t been to Badlands yet but I’m kind of obsessed with National Parks and would really love to see more of them. I’m pinning this because now it’s on my list and I’d love to try all of your suggestions – especially the hike!

  13. The Badlands are one of my favorite areas. Great list. On a family vacation years ago, we went on a led astronomy hike. We saw Saturn and Jupiter. It was such an amazing experience. I don’t know if they still do it. I hope they do.

  14. Wow……loved the landscape. Should take my camera to get those wonderful shots.

  15. I am bookmarking places like this that I come across, preparing for an epic road trip through the US. I’ve spent a lot of time in the US in major cities, and have driven around a lot of places too.But, I haven’t done a lot of national parks etc and from what I’ve seen, they are so worthy of a visit. Am I the only person in the world that thought Prairie dogs were actually dogs? Wow, what a cute little animal.

    • Haha the name is a bit confusing! Our national parks are truly the crown jewel of America. You definitely have to add a few to your itinerary. We went on an 80 day road trip this summer and visited 13, they did not disappoint.

  16. Badlands seems to be a very suitable name for this area, beautiful

  17. Jan H Ohio traveler and dreamer

    15 years ago I traveled through the Badlands. It was dark as we reached the exit ramp to the motel inside the park and so we saw nothing. That night in our cabin we heard drums and chanting off in the distance. When I left the cabin in the morning you can’t imagine my surprise! It was like waking up on the moon. What an awesome day…

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