East of the Black Forest and around a 4-hour drive from Sioux Falls, Badlands National Park is one epic spot to visit in North America. It’s the kind of place you can spend weeks exploring, with a heap of the best things to do in Badlands National Park that’s dotted all across the area. You’re gonna love it!
I first experienced the beauty of Badlands during my road trip (between New York City to Los Angeles). Driving the northern states, Badlands National Park was one of my favourite spots – well, and Yellowstone, to be honest.
From hiking the trails, spotting bison and seeing the best sunsets; it’s a totally unique national park. Truth be told, it was so different from what I expected a northerly state national parks to be – in a good way, of course. Much more arid and desert-like in the dry months, it’s a landscape I’ll never forget.
So, to help you get the most out of your trip, I wanted to share my very favourite spots that you really can’t miss whilst visiting Badlands National Park.
Take a look, below, at the best things to do in Badlands National Park.
1.) Drive the Badlands National Park Loop Road
Probably the best route to drive around the park, the loop road encompasses a vast route covering well over 30+ miles. Now, although it might only take 60-minutes to drive, I’m almost certain it’ll take you longer once you realise how many stops you decide to make.
I think it took me around 7-hours in total.
Well paved and easy to follow, driving the loop road is one of the best things to do in Badlands National Park if you want to cover lots of ground.
Running between the Pinnacles Entrance in the north to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, you’ll get ample opportunity to stop at trailheads, viewpoints and vista along the way.
Be sure to stop off at Pinnacles Overlook for the incredible views, visit Bigfoot Pass Overlook and stop by for a packed-lunch or explore Burns Basin Overlook. All are totally beautiful.
One thing to note, if you do come across wildlife, always keep a safe distance and a minimum of 100-feet between you and the animal. No one likes a careless explorer!
2.) Hop on the Notch Trail
Probably one of the best things to do in Badlands National Park when you want a hike, the Notch Trail is roughly 3-4 miles in length and totally stunning.
Not only that, the area around the trail is totally beautiful for sunset lovers, too. The whole of the White River Valley gets bathed in orange hues.
Just watch out for rattlesnakes in the area. This is where I saw them sunbathing in the late afternoon!
3.) Explore the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail
Speaking of trails near the visitor centre, Cliff Shelf Nature Trail is a total breeze and a nice and easy route for the whole family to enjoy. Alternatively, head on the Saddle Pass Trail that’s totally beautiful.
Around 0.5 miles round trip, it offers some amazing views of Badlands National Park without an arduous hiking route. Plus, the lookouts are stunning!
4.) Follow the Fossil Exhibit Trail
The Fossil Exhibit Trail is a fully-accessible boardwalk trail that features fossil replicas and exhibits of now-extinct creatures that once lived in Badlands National Park.
It’s totally interesting to wander the boardwalk trail and incredible to see what animals called this area home many millions of years ago. One for the whole family!
5.) Stay at Cedar Pass Lodge
Looking to stay in Badlands National Park for a few days? Then check into Cedar Pass Lodge or the Cedar Pass Campground if you prefer.
Now, the big win for me (with the cabins) is the AC and comfy bed. I actually camped across the US on my road trip but I certainly missed a comfy bed after a long day exploring.
6.) Hike the Door Trail
One of the things I love most about Badlands National Park is the number of easy trails there are! The Door Trail is very much one of these. You see, the Door Trail is clearly defined and is easy to hike/stroll in around 25-minutes.
Though, there’s very little shade on the route, so slap on some good SPF and take some water with you.
7.) Visit the Ben Reifel Visitor Center
It might sound strange to say, ‘visit a visitor centre’ but hear me out!
You see, basing yourself here is one of the best things to do in Badlands National Park for the local trailheads. For instance, you can easily join the Saddle Pass Trail or the Cliff Shelf Trail that are totally lovely.
Though, as with all trails, hike with care. You see, on my hike, I ended up sliding down a rock ledge (about 20ft) due to a misplaced footstep on the uneven terrain. A few scratches and a bruised ego later, I wished I’d taken a little more care on the trails. They can look relatively easy but always proceed with caution.
Finally, the rangers here know their stuff at the visitor centre, too! If you’re unsure on any routes, need advice or not sure where to go – these lot will help. They were so helpful when I visited.
8.) Spot Prairie dogs At Roberts Prairie Dog Town
Not too far from Sage Creek Basin Overlook, Roberts Prairie Dog Town is a pretty fun spot for the eagle-eyed visitor! You see, the whole area around here is filled with the cutest prairie dogs that are just off the western fringes of the park itself.
You might even spot buffalo on the horizon from here!
9.) See Hay Butte Overlook (Sagecreek Rim Road)
Around a 20-minute drive from Yellow Mounds Overlook, the Hay Butte Overlook and area is a great little stopping point before heading on the nearby trails. From here, you might even spot the roaming bison that make Badlands National Park so special.
10.) Explore Homestead Overlook
You’ve probably guessed by now that I love my overlooks in Badlands National Park, right?
Well, Homestead Overlook is another gem to see! From here you can see the colourful ridges of the Badlands and prairie that I totally loved. The colours of the rock are great and beautiful to enjoy and take pictures. Trust me, you really don’t need to be a geologist to enjoy this spot.
11.) Spot the Badlands Wall
Probably one of the largest ridges in all the park, seeing the Badlands Wall is an incredible and pretty colossal ridge to miss! This is one of the best things to do in Badlands National Park whilst driving the Loop Road.
It’s so epic to see how this 100-mile ridge spans millions of years in time. It’s just so special!
12.) See Colored Rocks At Yellow Mounds Overlook
If you’re loving the scenery as much as I did in Badlands, then you have to visit Yellow Mounds Overlook. From here, you’ll get to see the colourful portion of Badlands geology that makes this place so special.
For the non-geologists amongst us, the yellow mounds are ancient fossil soils (called paleosols) that have weathered from the layers above them and totally unique.
Oh, and if you want some similar views, keep heading along the 240 highway to visit Conata Basin Overlook. In truth, you can even walk there from Yellow Mounds.