One of the best places to visit in all of South Dakota is the Badlands National Park, located just outside of Rapid City and a short drive from Mount Rushmore.
If you’re planning a trip through South Dakota, don’t miss the 11 most amazing things to do in the Badlands.
Are The Badlands Worth Seeing?
Before we made our way to the Badlands, I had always wondered if this national park was worth seeing. As it turns out, the answer is ABSOLUTELY.
The unique geological structures of the Badlands were something I had never experienced before. The desert-like topography and eroded rock formations reminded me of Canyonlands National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park mixed together.
11 Things To Do In The Badlands
The Badlands are full of adventure around every corner; there is truly something for the entire family at this national park.
And the best part? This national park flies under the radar in comparison to so many others, so you’ll likely dodge the big crowds.
As you plan your Badlands itinerary, consider the 11 most amazing things to do:
1. Drive The Loop Road
One of the best things to do in the Badlands is to drive the Loop Road, also known as Highway 240. This scenic route will take you through some of the most beautiful areas of the park, allowing you to get a real taste of the land without even leaving your car.
One of the highlights on this journey includes the Yellow Mounds Overlook, which is a famous viewpoint of colorful hills. These hills are striped with yellow and orange; it’s a can’t-miss destination in the park.
You’ll also get the chance to see bighorn sheep along this drive. There are many vehicle pull-offs along the route, so have your camera ready to snap some pictures.
2. Hike The Castle Trail
90% of the visitors who enter national parks don’t get off the paved trail, which is crazy to me! There are so many incredible places to explore off the paved trail.
For us, we wanted to hike the longest trail in the park, which happens to be Castle Trail. We were shocked by how many people we DIDN’T see on the trail, but then I remembered that paved-trail statistic.
This 10-mile hike is one of the best ways to see the park and get an up-close view of the unique rock formations.
Although this trail is 10 miles long, it is very easy to complete because it’s completely flat the entire way. If you can walk 10 miles, you can walk this trail.
A few things to consider before setting out on this hike:
✔ Wear comfortable shoes
We saw so many people wearing flip flops and I just couldn’t bear to think about how their feet would feel after 10 miles.
✔ Beware of rattlesnakes
Yes, rattlesnakes! Luckily, you’ll hear them before you see them. Pay attention and look down.
✔ Bring enough water
Although this trail is completely flat, the hot sun is brutal, especially in the summer. I recommend bringing a Camelbak with at least 2 liters of water.
✔ Start early
As I mentioned, the sun is unforgiving in the summer. Start this hike as early as possible to avoid long exposure to the sun.
We started this hike at 8am and finished just before noon. By 11am we were roasting, so I recommend starting even earlier than 8am, perhaps around 6am – 7am.
3. Feed The Prairie Dogs At Roberts Prairie Dog Town
A fun stop just outside of the entrance of the park is Roberts Prairie Dog Town. This is one of the best things to do in the Badlands, especially if you have kids.
Get out of your car to get great pictures of these cute little animals. This is a great place to see bison and antelope, too.
4. Visit The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
Did you know that during the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union competed to see who could maintain the most power through nuclear weapons?
So, in an attempt to overpower and defend against the USSR, the US developed thousands of nuclear missiles and placed many of them in South Dakota’s vast plains.
To this day, hundreds of nuclear weapons exist and can be seen at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site just outside of the entrance of the Badlands.
This is a great place to visit if you’re up for a history lesson.
5. Explore The Notch Trail Badlands
One of the most explored trails in the Badlands is the Notch Trail.
This 1.3-mile hike is short and easy and can be accomplished by people of all fitness levels. Notch Trail will lead you to some of the best viewpoints in the park, however, you can expect these places to get a bit crowded.
During our visit, we were one of many groups of people at the Notch Overlook, but upon further inspection, we were able to forge our own path and climb up to another overlook just before the end of the trail. This overlook had even better views and no other tourists.
Before you start this trail, I must warn you that there is a ladder to climb. From our experience, anyone that is afraid of heights might find this a bit challenging. Giving yourself space and time will make the climb and descent much easier.
6. Pitch A Tent And Go Camping
Our favorite part of our trip to the Badlands and one of the best things to do in the park is go camping.
If you plan on camping while visiting the Badlands, I highly recommend checking out this campsite: Nomad View Badlands. Not only were we able to park our van (converted into a mini-home) right on the rim of the canyon but it was completely free.
Another great place to pitch your tent is inside the park. As we began our 10-mile journey on Castle Trail, we ran into so many campers hiking out from a night spent under the stars.
No need to get a backcountry pass, you’ll just need to obey the camping regulations and you’ll be able to camp anywhere you’d like inside the park.
As one of the easiest national parks to camp in, we highly suggest you take advantage of this opportunity and spend a night in a tent.
7. Stop At The Prairie Homestead
Another interesting stop and one of the best things to do while visiting the Badlands is the Prairie Homestead.
Get a glimpse of how settlers lived their lives in this part of the country in the early 1900s. You’ll even get to see an original dugout. For me, it felt like I was Laura Ingalls Wilder living in the Little House on the Prairie.
This is a great stop for the entire family and it’s very affordable. Adults pay $7 to enter and children under 10 years old are free.
8. Visit Wall, South Dakota
Just down the road from the Badlands is a small town called Wall. If you’re planning your trip through South Dakota, it would be incomplete without stopping at Wall Drug, the famous drugstore located in the center of this town.
Grab a bite to eat, look through all of the merchandise, and enjoy the tiny town feel of Wall, South Dakota.
9. Check Out Window Trail And Door Trail
A few short and easy trails in the park include Window Trail and Door Trail. Both of these walks are less than a mile and can be achieved by people of all fitness levels.
These trails are typically popular among tourists, so if you’re looking to get off the beaten path, I recommend the longer Castle Trail.
10. Hop On A Helicopter For A Ride
You’ll quickly become jealous of anyone that gets to tour the Badlands via helicopter. Helicopter rides over this unique national park are one of the best things you can do in the Badlands.
If you want to explore the park from above, we recommend going with Badlands Helicopter Inc. Rides start at just $49 per person.
11. Watch The Sunset
If you haven’t seen the sunrise and set in the Badlands, you haven’t lived. The golden glow that the sun casts over the desert in this part of South Dakota is pure magic.
Grab a picnic basket and some wine to watch the sunset or get up early with a cup of coffee to enjoy this incredible experience.
What Are The Best Things To Do In The Badlands With Kids?
Although we don’t have children yet, we were impressed with how family-friendly the Badlands were. Many of the hikes in the park could easily be completed by people of all ages and fitness levels, including young children.
They also have so many unique activities like prairie dog feeding and horseback riding, which would be awesome experiences for families with children.
How Many Days Do You Need In The Badlands?
As you plan your trip to the Badlands, give yourself at least 2 days to explore the park and surrounding areas.
If you want to see Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills during the same trip, I would plan for at least a week of exploring. This will give you ample time to see everything you want to see, camp, hike, and more.
Things To Know Before Visiting The Badlands
As I mentioned before, it’s vital that you keep an eye out for rattlesnakes. They love the heat and hot summer sun, so they are prevalent in the park.
It’s also important to pack plenty of water; staying hydrated is important while participating in any activity in the Badlands.
Where To Stay Near The Badlands, South Dakota
Looking for the best place to stay near the Badlands? Here are two options that will check all of the boxes for you and your family:
Our favorite place to stay near the Badlands is Yak Ridge. Yak Ridge is a farmstead and chain of cabins that can accommodate up to 6 people at a time.
Not only will you love the adorable and cozy cabins, but you’ll get the opportunity to hang out with yaks! Julie, the owner of Yak Ridge, is a fantastic tour guide and can answer all of your questions about these lovable creatures.
You can book your stay at Yak Ridge by clicking here!
Nomad View Badlands
If you’re looking to “rough it”, pitch a tent overlooking the Badlands at Nomad View, a primitive campground just outside the national park.
As mentioned in activity #6 above, relaxing and watching the sunset from Nomad View campground is one of the best things to do in the Badlands.
Badlands Guided Tours
The Badlands are magical and it’s wonderful to explore on your own. But, being so vast, it can be easy to miss many of the most unique things to do in the Badlands.
If you want the best experience in Badlands National Park, I suggest booking a guided tour with GeoFunTrek Tours.
This is by far the best way to see everything that this national park has to offer.
And the best part of all? You don’t have to plan any of it! Sit back and relax as your tour guides chauffeur you around the most beautiful areas of the Badlands in South Dakota.
Best Day Trips From The Badlands
The Badlands is conveniently located near so many fun and famous attractions. To add to your journey, be sure to visit the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, and Hot Springs.
Each of these destinations are within 1.5 hours from the Badlands, making them excellent day trips to add to your South Dakota Itinerary.
The Wrap-Up: Things To Do In The Badlands
The Badlands is an incredible place to visit while driving through South Dakota. Use this guide to help you plan the ultimate itinerary for the entire family.
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