Badlands National Park Hiking and Camping Adventure

The dramatic landscapes of the secluded South Dakota Badlands National Park serve as a backdrop of one of the most unearthly camping adventures you might ever experience. The prairie region's steep canyons and towering spires, its remoteness and geologic formations, all make this an extremely rewarding – and challenging – terrain to explore.

Cedar Pass Campground
GPS:
43.68584846 -102.482942
CATEGORY:
National Parks

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 sunrise and sunsets across the vast treeless horizons, hike through moonlike landscapes to panoramic overlooks of the White River Valley, and experience the diverse wildlife up-close and personal.

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

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 heat? The new 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.

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 the evening ranger-led Night Sky Program with high-powered telescopes to assist your adventure into the heavens. These night programs at the Cedar Pass campground amphitheater are offered between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Cedar Pass Campground

Like the rest of the Badlands, 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.

Badlands National Park in South Dakota image of a bighorn sheep in a green grassland field
Badlands National Park photo of weevil insect on the ground in South Dakota
Badlands National Park image of male mountain bluebird resting on fence post with hill in background of South Dakota
South Dakota Badlands National Park landscape overlook image of buttes and canyons with blue sky
Badlands National Park gorgeous landscape sunset image with golden-orange sun setting behind butte in South Dakota
South Dakota Badlands National Park blue sky image of father and three daughters hiking Notch Trail through dusty, rocky geologic formations

Favorite Badlands 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.
  • 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.

Prairie Dog in Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site South Dakota

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. 

The 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. With limited group size and other restrictions, see their website for details. The self-guided Delta-09 tour site consists of a silo with an unarmed missile placed inside for viewing. 

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REI Basecamp 6 tent at Cedar Pass Campground in South Dakota
Campsites at Cedar Pass Campground in the Badlands of South Dakota
Big sky over the Badlands National Park in South Dakota
Family climbing up the log ladder on the Notch Trail in the Badlands National Park in South Dakota
Family taking a break while overlooking the White River Valley in the Badlands of South Dakota
Wide view of the Notch Trail in the Badlands of South Dakota
Family looking for fossils on the Notch Trail in the Badlands National Park in South Dakota
Girl wearing a cowboy hat hiking the Notch Trail in South Dakota
Sunflower in bloom in the Badlands National Park of South Dakota
Elevation
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2413
Check-in/out
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2:00p / 12:00p
Cost/Night*
icon cost per night to camp
$22.00
Showers
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Pay
Restroom
campsite telephone number icon
Flush
Max People / Vehicles
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6 / 2
Visitors Center
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Yes
Camp Hosts
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Yes
Best Site
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# Sites
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96
Open Year Round
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No
Laundry
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No
*Tent campsites only; accurate at time of publication
20681 SD 240
Interior
SD
57750
Contact:
/
605-433-5460
If you want to really enjoy camping at Cedar Pass then come over prepared for wind. If that means a few beach camping trips to test your skills then so be it. You'll be glad when, in the wee hours of the morning, you hear your neighbors tent flapping like a herd of geese taking flight and you ease back to sleep knowing you have this rather important detail covered.
I-90 exit 127
Wall
SD
57790
Tours: 8:30am-11am & 1pm-3:30pm
Advance reservations required
Tours: limited to 6 people; $6/adult and $4/youth 6-16 years
Must be 40" or higher & able to climb 15-ft ladders unassisted
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I-90 Exit 116
Wall
SD
57790
Hours: 9am-3pm daily
Self-guided cell phone tour available
Free!
Learn More
I-90 exit 131
Philip
SD
57567
Visitor Center Hours: 8am-4pm daily; closed Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year's Day
Exhibits, bookstore, & 30-minute film
Junior Ranger booklet available
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2890 Rushmore Rd.
Ellsworth AFB
SD
57706
Museum Hours: Summer 8:30am-6pm daily; 8:30am-4:30pm off season
Free admission indoor & outdoor museum exhibits
Optional Air Force base & silo bus tour: $10/adult; $7/11-17 years; $5/5-10years;active military and senior discounts
Phone: 605-385-5189
Learn More
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