Formed over the course of 47 million years, the Badlands National Park of South Dakota is the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States. Enjoy gorgeous sunrises and sunsets across the vast treeless horizons, hike through moonlike landscapes to panoramic overlooks of the White River Valley, and experience the diverse wildlife while camping at Cedar Pass Campground.
Fancy yourself on the hottest day in summer in the hottest spot of such a place without water — without an animal and scarce an insect astir — without a single flower to speak pleasant things to you and you will have some idea of the utter loneliness of the Bad Lands. ~Thaddeus Culbertson
Badlands National Park Ben Reifel Visitor Center
Make sure that your visit to the Badlands National Park includes a stop at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. The visitor center features numerous exhibits, including interactive ones, which focus on the ecology, historical culture, and paleontology of the Badlands. You may also want to stop by the Fossil Preparation Lab between 9am-4:30pm to watch the paleontologists at work. Don’t forget to pick up a Junior Ranger activity book.
Need to escape the mid-day sun and the oppressive heat? The Badlands National Park film, Land of Stone and Light, is shown in a large air-conditioned theater. During the summer months, special ranger programs such as guided hikes, talks, and evening programs are offered. Check website or visitor center for details.
- Badlands National Park Entrance Fee: $30/vehicle (good for 7 days) or purchase annual America the Beautiful Park pass ($80), if you plan on more visiting other National Parks during the year.
Badlands National Park Cedar Pass Campground
Like the rest of the Badlands National Park, Cedar Pass Campground is set in a dramatic barren landscape which makes for some interesting challenges. Wind is the major issue, if you're not prepared for it. Practice setting up your tent for windy conditions (we tested our setup in Nags Head on the Outer Banks of North Carolina). Be sure to utilize all of your tie downs or you might find your tent somewhere in the next county. Also, privacy is almost non-existent among the 96 tightly arranged campsites. If you have the choice when making reservations, choose an outer loop site overlooking the adjoining prairie.
- Flush toilets, pay showers
- RV sites: electric only, no water or sewer - nearby dump station
- Open year-round but limited availability during the winter season
Badlands National Park Night Sky Program
If you're a stargazer, camping in the middle of nowhere has its distinct advantages. The lack of light pollution allows for spectacular viewing of planets, stars, and the Milky Way Galaxy. Make time for a Badlands National park evening program. The high-powered telescopes will assist your adventure into the heavens. These night programs at the Cedar Pass Campground amphitheater are offered between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Favorite Badlands National Park Hiking Trails:
Always carry water – lots and lots of water. In the middle of summer, the air is very dry (think desert). Some of the hikes are strenuous, and there is no relief in the form of shade from the intense sun. Sturdy hiking boots, a hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses are strongly encouraged. Keep a distance of 100 yards from wildlife and remember to leave fossils, plants, rocks, and artifacts where found. (Download hiking map below in the tabs section)
- Door Trail: 0.75 mile RT - easy. 0.25-mile boardwalk.
- Window Trail: 0.25 mile RT - easy.
- Notch Trail: 1.5 miles RT - moderate to strenuous. Climb the log ladder and follow the ledge to a dramatic view of White River Valley. A favorite!
- Castle Trail: 10 miles RT - moderate. Connects Door Trail parking area to the Fossil Exhibit Trail.
- Fossil Exhibit Trail: 0.25 mile RT - easy; boardwalk
- Cliff Shelf Loop: 0.5 mile RT - moderate;
- Saddle Pass: 0.25 mile RT - strenuous
- Medicine Root Loop: 4 miles RT - moderate
Drive the Badlands Highway 240 Scenic Loop Road
Need a break from the heat? Then hop back in the rig, fire up the AC, and follow the approximately 40 miles of scenic byway (two-lanes) as it snakes through ancient rock formations - cliffs, buttes, and multi-colored spires. It takes about two hours, if stopping at the overlooks.
Must See Overlooks
- Big Badlands Overlook
- Pinnacles Overlook
- Yellow Mounds Overlook
Take a side trip and drive the gravel Sage Creek Rim Road to see Robert Prairie Dog Town and additional overlooks. On both drives, watch for wildlife sightings: pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, coyote, bison, prairie dogs, prairie rattlesnake, and the rare and elusive nocturnal black-footed ferret.
Nearby: Minuteman Missile National Historic Sites, South Dakota
Minuteman Missile Visitor Center
Another great off-site escape is a visit to the Minuteman Missile Visitor Center which tells the story of the Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missile System (ICBM) and its role in the Cold War. This stop features a 30-minute film Beneath the Plains: The Minuteman Missile on Alert and exhibits. Pick up a Junior Ranger booklet here.
Launch Control Facility Delta-01 Tour
The Launch Control Facility Delta-01 tour site consists of the building used as topside support (including bunk room, recreation room, dining area) and the underground Launch Control Center (LCC). Each LCC remotely commanded ten missiles.
- Make reservations well in advance of your departure, especially for the summer months.
- Each tour is limited to 6 participants.
- Other restrictions on age, height and ability to climb ladders - see website for details.
Delta-09 Missile Silo
The self-guided Delta-09 Missile Silo tour site consists of a silo with an unarmed missile placed inside for viewing.
More South Dakota Attractions:
Check out our guide to nearby Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore, Jewel Cave and more