things to do in badlands national park
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11 Spectacular Things to Do in Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park is surreal and truly feels like a different planet. Incredible rock spires jut up into the sky with jagged cliffs around every turn. Badlands NP is more than just unbelievable scenery. There’s also plenty of things to do in Badlands National Park!

Tucked away in the southwest corner of South Dakota, Badlands National Park is a pleasant surprise in the Midwest. It’s one of the most impressive and underrated USA National Parks – in my opinion!

badlands np
Badlands’ incredible scenery. Photo credit: Unsplash

With plenty of things to do in Badlands National Park to fill a couple of days, it’s an awesome part of any vacation while visiting the Black Hills. Or, if you’re limited on time, simply spending an afternoon as you’re passing through South Dakota on a road trip is an option too. Badlands will not disappoint!

Ahhh, the scenery, the wildlife, the hiking! So much to do…let’s dive in!

Things to do in Badlands National Park

Drive the loop for incredible scenery

the loop badlands
Driving The Loop at Badlands National Park

The best way to see what the park has to offer is to drive the loop. The loop is South Dakota Highway 240, and loops south from I-90. It’s the perfect way to see the park if you’ve just got a bit of time.

Plus a lot of the things to do in Badlands National Park are along this popular scenic highway. Driving the loop takes about an hour, without stops.

It’s only 39 miles but with 16 scenic overlooks, so driving the loop will take you longer than an hour because you’ll want to soak in the sights of the Badlands.

Panorama Point

badlands national park outlook
Panorama Point Overlook

It’s in an area of the park where you’re standing at the top of the spires and can see the prairie in the distance. Panorama Point is one of the best overlooks in the park. It’s really fun to see the jagged spires and valleys that have formed through the rock.

The orange stripes in the rock look almost like a child when through the park with a crayon and made lines on the cliffs. A super cool sight to see in real life. It’s difficult the depth of the landscape in photos so they just don’t do it justice!

If you drive the loop through Badlands, be sure to check out this overlook.

Visit Roberts Prairie Dog Town

roberts prairie dog town
Plenty of Prairie Dogs in Badlands National Park. Photo credit: Unsplash

The southwestern part of South Dakota is where a ton of prairie dogs call home. Badlands National Park is no exception! You’ll have to drive on a gravel road to get to Roberts Prairie Dog Town, but it’s worth the trip.

Kids and animal lovers will love seeing the prairie dogs pop out of their holes, and squeak back and forth as though they’re having an in-depth conversation. It’s truly a sight to see.

Visitors can walk through the little village – which is more like an open prairie. Just be respectful of their homes and don’t feed them. 🙂

Catch some Badlands wildlife

badlands wildlife big horn sheep
Badlands wildlife – big horn sheep. Photo credit: Unsplash

Speaking of wildlife, it’s in abundance at Badlands National Park. I mean, it’s what we come to expect in our National Park system, right?

It’s common to see these animals as you explore the park. Badlands National Park wildlife includes:

  • Big horn sheep
  • Bison
  • Coyotes
  • Mule deer
  • Pronghorn (antelope)
  • Rattlesnakes
  • Porcupine
  • Prairie dogs

My family was fortunate enough to see a huge herd of big horn sheep which stopped traffic along the loop for quite a while. So keep your eyes open for Badlands wildlife!

Yellow Mounds Overlook

badlands yellow mounds trail
Visiting – and hiking – the Yellow Mounds Overlook

The Yellow Mounds Overlook area was one of my favorite in the park! It’s a fun spot to hike and explore different scenery than the spires and cliffs.

Yellow Mounds Overlook is right alongside the road which offers really unique views. If you’re feeling more adventurous, there’s tons of trails to climb the mounds! As an open-hike park, Badlands is all free to explore! Just pick a trail and go on an adventure.

Hiking at Yellow Mounds Overlook is perfect for kids and adults. Just be sure to pack plenty of water and make sure you stick to a path. Hiking in Badlands National Park can be very disorienting because of the landscape, so use caution!

The Yellow Mounds have a fascinating history, read more here.

Hike the Notch Trail in Badlands

what to do in badlands national park
Observing incredible views while hiking Badlands NP

Ahhh, let’s get to perhaps the most famous hike in the park – Notch Trail.

Notch Trail in Badlands National Park is a moderate hike – including walking along a cliff’s edge and requires ladder climbing to finish the trail. It’s just over 1.3 miles, so if you don’t have a fear of heights, give it a go!

It may not be suitable for young kids, but it’s surely for the adventurous! I also wouldn’t recommend it if it’s wintry weather or just rained, as it could be slick and dangerous.

Any time of year, I’d recommend good hiking shoes for this trail. These are my favorite hiking shoes from Amazon, which I’ve worn to many national parks!

Oh, and the view at the end of the hike will make it all worth it!

Looking for more amazing places to hike? Check out these spots:

Pinnacles Overlook (a favorite of the things to do in Badlands National Park)

pinnacles overlook badlands national park
Pinnacles Overlook – a must-see in the Badlands

The Pinnacles Overlook is one of the first stops on the loop if you’re driving from west to east. It’s also one of the most breathtaking! Step off the overlook and walk the tops of the spires further out. It’s really cool to see the crevices of the canyon from above.

Pinnacles Overlook has large lookout point and is relatively easy to access, with a short flat path with just a few steps. This lookout could be a brief stop if your time is limited in the Badlands, or you could spend an hour venturing around the area!

Catch a sunset or sunrise

sunset badlands national park
Catching the sunset at Badlands National Park. Photo credit: Travel South Dakota

The sunrise and sunset in Badlands National Park is truly spectacular! The colorful layers of rock really come to life in the glow of the morning and evening light.

There’s just something about being in a place that took 75 million years to create, that makes you wanna witness a sunset there. I was fortunate enough to see a sunset sky filled with bright pinks and oranges, giving the sculpted spires a whole new look.

If you can plan a sunrise or sunset at Badlands National Park during your visit, it’s well worth it!

The Window Trail

hiking badlands the window trail
Walking the short trail to the Windows overlook

This short boardwalk is accessible for all and a fun stop on the drive through the loop. Take the boardwalk just about .25 miles and you’ll see why they call it ‘the window.’

There’s a large opening in the spires which looks like a window to the jagged cliffs and prairie beyond. This trail is a fun one for kids to poke around.

Just be sure to watch for rattlesnakes! There were posted signs all throughout the park, but several people near us saw one, which sent them running in fear. Which is actually the opposite of how to act! Read more on rattlesnakes in the park, here.

Climb the buttes at Cedar Pass

climbing cedar pass
A fun part of the park for exploring, Cedar Pass

Nestled between the Window Trail and Door Trail is a really fun area to explore. It’s perfect for kids or adventurous adults.

The buttes and spires in the Cedar Pass area have been climbed and explored for years, so much so that it’s easy to pick out hiking and climbing paths even though there’s no designated trails here. Just look for the smooth rock – or not!

Take one of the best hikes in the Badlands – the Door Trail

views while hiking the badlands south dakota
An interesting hike – the Door Trail at Badlands NP

This trail is one of the most unique in the park based on how it’s set up, and was one of my family’s favorite hikes! It’s listed as a moderate hike, but is actually fairly easy as long as you’re wearing athletic shoes or hiking shoes.

The Door Trail is located in the Cedar Pass section, and is one of the first stops if you’re driving South Dakota 240 from east to west.

The trail starts off with a boardwalk, but go beyond the boardwalk to see the best views! The trail is marked with yellow poles that are numbered. Some of them are tricky to spot, but it’s a fun game to see who can spot the next pole first.

There you have it – tons of things to do in Badlands National Park!

Badlands NP has been one of the most surprising national parks I’ve been to, and it deserves to be on anyone’s bucket list. Plus, it’s nice to explore a national park with the option to see most of it in just a day or 2.

So tell me, what do you think you’d see first at Badlands National Park? Hiking trails? Search for wildlife? Epic overlooks? Comment below!

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11 incredible things to do badlands national park

22 Responses

  1. Badlands National Park recently was moved up on my bucket list because it is so underrated and beautiful! Pinnacles Overlook looks incredible and sort of like Bryce Canyon National Park. This guide is super helpful with all of the must-see sights and travel tips, so I am saving this to use when we plan our trip!

    1. I’m so excited you’re planning a trip to Badlands! Pinnacles Overlook does definitely have a southwestern look to it. Hope you can make it there soon, Nichole!

  2. Badlands has always been top of my list! Looks absolutely stunning

  3. I went here for the first time last summer and it was such a cool place to visit! <3 Would love to go back to do more stargazing + to see a sunrise (or sunset)! :]

  4. We came close on one of our road trips, but didn’t have enough time to include Badlands. I would first do the scenic overlooks and the trails.

  5. Your photos are incredible!! Badlands is an amazing park and I would love to go back to explore it more!

  6. I really don’t understand why Badlands National Park is so underrated. The Notch Trail and the Window Trail are both so much fun. And the Prairie Dog Town is totally fascinating. Thanks for this in-depth list of your favourite things to do in this park. When we go back, we have to check out some more of your recommendations.

    1. Exactly what I was thinking! It’s worth a drive to the area to see such spectacular scenery. Glad you liked the hikes too, it’s a fun park to explore 🙂

  7. So cool to hear about one of the lesser known parks in the US! The colourful mountainous rock scenery looks incredible and must be so fun to just drive around. And those Prairie Dogs! I’ve never seen them before – they look SO cute!

    1. Love your excitement just reading about Badlands NP! I really think you’d love it there! 🙂

  8. I never heard of Badlands National Park prior to your post, but I’m interested in going now for sure. Wildlife, hiking, scenic views, sunrises, and sunsets, what’s not to love?! Great recommendations.

  9. Badlands National Park looks absolutely amazing! I am thinking about doing a trip to South Dakota soon. It looks so beautiful! 🙂

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