The Best hikes in Badlands National Park, South Dakota

by ilive4travel

Published on Oct 12, 2019

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While I was in South Dakota, I decided that I had to visit Badlands National Park.  I ended up falling in love with the US National Parks on this trip and ended up seeing 10 and changing my plans.  They are well set up, with such helpful staff to advise you the best things to see and do in the time you have there.

I had just visited Sioux Falls and got the greyhound bus across to Rapid City.  I had wanted to rent a car and drive but it was going to cost an extra $900 to pick the car up in Sioux Falls and drop it off in Rapid City!!  To rent it in Rapid City for 2 days was less than $100.

My first day in Rapid City, I visited Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park and Crazy Horse Memorial and the second day I decided to visit Badlands South Dakota.

Where is Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park is in the state of South Dakota and is around 60 miles east of Rapid City towards Sioux Falls.  It takes about an hour to drive to the Pinnacles entrance which is the closest entrance to the park from Rapid City.


Badlands National Park Hours

Badlands SD is open 24 hours a day all year.  The Ben Reifel Visitor Center is open 8am – 4pm in winter, 8am – 5pm April, May, early September to late October and 8am – 7pm in summer and here the National park service guides can show you all the hiking trails there are from simple ones to long multi day hikes.

Badlands National Park Entrance Fee

It costs $30 per vehicle to enter the park, though if you are planning to visit a few of the parks it might be worth buying the annual pass for $80 which is what I did.  Visiting 10 parks on this trip I certainly saved a lot of money!!

Badlands National Park Tour

If you don’t have access to a car, then there are a couple of private tours that you can do to Badlands National Park or if you do have a car then try the Badlands National park self guided driving audio tour, which will tell you all about the places you are stopping at and the history of the park at your own pace.

History of the Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park South Dakota was originally declared a National Monument on 4 March 1929, before becoming the 39th National Park in November 1978.  It covers an area of 242,756 acres with a large grass prairie with rocks eroded over time to create pinnacles and spires.

For 11,000 years this area was used by the native americans to hunt.  The prairie’s were home to many animals with the views from the higher rocks making it an ideal hunting ground.  It now has the largest protected prairie in the USA.

The area is also popular with fossil hunters, with fossils from 77 species being found in the White River which flows through the park.

Things to do in the Badlands National Park

Sage Creek Rim Road Badlands

I decided first to drive part of the Sage Creek loop badlands to see the views, it is a gravel track so you are unable to drive fast along it (around 15 to 20 mph maximum), but it’s worth doing part of it to see your first views of the park.  The road is 25.5 miles but I only did the first 4 miles to see these views.  If you carry on going along the road you will eventually get to Highway 44 which takes you back to Rapid City.

The scenery from this road is spectacular and it’s a great place to look out and see the pinnacles and spires that form this part of the park.

There are no designated hikes on this road, but there is a campsite at sage creek, though there is no freshwater here and you will need to use the water from the creek.  If you are using water from the creek then it would be a good idea to use a filtered water bottle.

Badlands Loop Road

I then decided to drive along the Badlands Loop Road towards the Ben Reifel Visitors Center, it is 22 miles long and winds through the park and takes you to the Northeast entrance.  It would take around 30 minutes to drive this part of the loop road if you didn’t stop but there are some amazing viewpoints that you will want to stop at.

The views along this road are amazing and there are quite a few overlooks and viewpoints to stop at to admire the views through the valley.

The colouring of the different layers of rock is stunning to see as you drive through the valley.

Along this road you can see the prairie stretching for miles and if you are lucky then you may be able to see Bison moving across it, you will though need to be a little closer if you want to see the prairie dogs.

The first hiking trail on this road is the Fossil Exhibit Trail Badlands, it is 0.25 miles roundtrip and is a boardwalk, so nice and easy to walk around and has fossil replicas and exhibits of the creatures that used to roam this area.

From this same point you can also start the Castle Trail Badlands National Park, it is a 10 mile roundtrip, though you could hike it and get picked up at Highway 377.  If you do decide to park up then on your return you could combine with the Medicine Root Trail so that you are not hiking the same path all the time.  The Castle trail is the longest hike in Badlands National Park.

Further along the Badlands Loop road is the Saddle Pass Trail Badlands, this is a short but strenuous hike as you climb the badlands wall to get a view of the White River valley.  It is only 0.25 miles roundtrip but you can also join onto the Medicine Root loop and Castle trail to make a 4 mile loop.

Next you will get to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.

From the visitors center to the park entrance, there are more short hikes.  The first is the Cliff Shelf Trail Badlands, it is 0.5 miles round trip.  You walk through a juniper forest along the Badlands wall and to a small pond where you can occasionally see deer or bighorn sheep.

The next hike further along the road is Notch Trail, it is a 1.5 mile strenuous roundtrip, that starts by walking through a canyon then up a log ladder and you follow the ledge to see a view of the White River Valley.  You can do this from the window parking area.

The Window Trail Badlands is close to the notch trail and is a short 0.25 miles loop, you walk to a natural window in the badlands wall where you have a great view of the canyon.

The last hike on this road is the Door Trail which is 0.75 miles roundtrip and another break in the Badlands Wall called the “Door”.  It is an easy hike and gives a great view of Badlands National Park.

If you want to do a longer hike then it is possible to hike in Badlands National Park, though there are no actual paths, you can also camp and permits are not required.  Please note though in many areas there are no water sources and you will need to carry any water you need into the park with you.

To read more on visiting Badlands, check out the Lonely Planet’s guide to USA’s National Parks.  Paperback here.

To read more about travelling the USA, then check out the Lonely Planet’s USA Travel Guide. Kindle Guide and  Paperback here.

What to Pack for Badlands National Park

  • Daypack  – A good day pack is needed to carry everything you need with you
  • Water – Make sure you have plenty of water with you.  It’s always a good idea too to carry a filtered water bottle in case you need to fill up in a river or stream.
  • Hiking Poles – You never know when you may come across snakes while you are travelling and it helps to alert animals there is someone there so you don’t sneak up on them.
  • Sun Hat – The sun is very strong especially in summer and you can easily get burnt and dehydrated in the summer sun.

Where to stay near Badlands National Park

If you decide not to stay in Badlands National Park, then the closest place to stay is in Wall, which is around 7 miles from the Pinnacles entrance.

The options you have here are:

Best Western Plains Motel – This motel has seasonal indoor and outdoor pools, with free wifi and cable tv and includes breakfast. – Click here for more information and prices.

Americas Best Value Inn Wall – This hotel has an outdoor pool, free wifi and cable tv and includes breakfast. – Click here for more information and prices.

Days Inn by Wyndham Wall – This motel has free wifi, cable tv and a continental breakfast for guests. – Click here for more information and prices.

Travelodge by Wyndham Wall – This motel has a seasonal outdoor swimming pool, childrens playground, cable tv, free wifi and an american breakfast. – Click here for more information and prices.


If you are planning to travel around South Dakota then check out my other guides:

If you enjoyed this post, then don’t forget to pin it.

a pin created by ilive4travel about what to do in Badlands National Park showing a picture of a valley of rocks that has been eroded and have pink stripes through them.

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——-  About me ——-

girl sat on some wooden stairs wearing a black jumper

Clare from Ilive4travel

Hi my name is Clare and welcome to ilive4travel.  I am originally from the UK but spend most of my time in Peru, the country that caught my heart.

I have visited 73 countries and love to share with you everything I have learnt about these countries in my guides.

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  1. Janet Earling-Bencivenni

    Such a beautiful place! It’s been way too long since I was there last.

  2. Wendy

    It looks like a beautiful place. I have visited a couple of National Parks in the US and so far, I really love them! Especially since each has a very different vibe. I will put this one on my list, your photos look great!

  3. Punita

    I had read about Badlands National Park, but this post and the pictures really gives me an accurate idea of what to expect from the place. Mini Grand Canyon experience, then.

  4. Nancy

    This park looks like a great place to visit! I don’t visit enough parks around North America and definitely need to change that up!

  5. Lisa

    Hoping to visit a few national parks next year so I will keep this post book marked! Great post

  6. Jamie

    What fascinating formations. I have this National Park on my list to explore. Thank you for sharing your trip details as it helps when planning a future trip for myself.

  7. Only By Land

    I passed through Badlands on my road trip too, it was like being on a different planet and you captured that in your images. I too bought the annual National Park pass, I don’t think I managed to fit in 10 parks though, that’s an impressive stat. The price to pick up the hire car in Sioux Falls and drop it off in Rapid City is crazy, they mustn’t want people to do that for some reason.

  8. Juliette @ Snorkels to Snow

    I love looking at these photos! The mountains/rocks with all the layers are spectacular and so unique. Must have been crazy seeing them right in front of your eyes! I’ve never been to any national parks in the US, I’ve only visited LA. How amazing is this area for fossils though?! 77 species is a lot – I can see the attraction for fossil hunters! Very cool, must feel a bit like going back in time there.

  9. Shelly

    I would love to see as many National Parks as you have! I like the tip on purchasing the annual pass if you are going to several parks. That will really save money. I hope to see Badlands National Park on a park tour around the country one day.

  10. Clive Andrades

    Ever since I started traveling, I haven’t really had that attraction with US when it comes to visiting places. However, in recent times I have come across various articles just like this one. And as i keep reading your article, you have no idea how badly I want to be there. The place looks amazing from the pictures.

  11. Natalie

    Your photos are beautiful! My husband is a geologist and he loves this area. We visited several times when the kids were little and we were living nearby. I had forgotten how pretty it is! We need to take the kids back now that they are older so they can get a better appreciation for it!

  12. Marlies - Crazy Dutch Abroad

    Every time I read a story about one of the national USA parks I want to go back and explore them. The Badlands National Park seems like a scene from a movie, the rocks have amazing colored layers. It must get so hot on a day without clouds.

  13. jo

    Spectacular views. Pinned in case I ever get the chance to go. You’ve managed to fit in 10 National Parks on your trip that’s some achievement!

    • ilive4travel

      This was a 2 month trip so I had plenty of time for 10 parks!!

  14. Iza Abao

    The landscape is amazing! It is like a mini Grand Canyon. The natural formations are grand. I am sure that the sunset there is breathtaking.

  15. Nina

    Gosh it’s such a beautiful area! It must have been rough terrain years ago to earn itself the name.

  16. Miranda

    Gorgeous pictures! Sometimes all you need is a day trip to see beauty like this.

  17. EDITH & Juan

    It looks beautiful! I should add it to my bucketlist. It kind of reminds me of Utah.

  18. melody pitman

    Definitely trying to plan a road trip to hit the Badlands (as well as the earlier parks you wrote about a few weeks ago) this fall. I will save your info as reference. The Badlands are absolutely gorgeous.


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