Guide to Badlands National Park

badlands national park guide

Is the park open year-round?

Yes, Badlands National Park is open all year. Some facilities have limited hours during the offseason.

Where is the park located?

Badlands National Park is located in southwest South Dakota.

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How big is the park?

The park covers approximately 242,756 acres.

How do I get around in the park?

Most visitors drive their own cars and campers into the park. Some local companies offer guided bus tours.

What activities are available?

Some of the popular activities in Badlands National Park include:

  • Hiking: The park contains several trails, ranging from flat prairie terrain to uphill treks through the area’s unique rock formations. The park supports an “open hike” policy, meaning visitors can go anywhere in the park they wish. The lucky few who stumble upon fossils should report them to park rangers.
  • Scenic drives: The Badlands Loop Road (Highway 240; accessed from Interstate 90) is a two-lane paved road that goes through the north part of the park. This is the only paved road in the park. The Sage Creek Rim Road, which is unpaved gravel, traverses the north rim of the Badlands Wilderness Area. Another rougher road, the Sheep Mountain Table Road, is passable only under dry conditions and in a high-clearance vehicle.
  • Wildlife viewing: Badlands National Park is home to many animals, including bighorn sheep, bison, elk and mule deer. These creatures can be seen and photographed from the road and from hiking trails throughout the park.
  • GPS activities: The park offers an activity book that visitors can download and use with their GPS device to find points of interest, such as natural features, trails and wayside exhibits. Unlike geocaching, this activity does not involve taking or leaving an item in a cache; rather, players record information in their books.
  • Visiting the fossil prep lab: Numerous fossilized remains of saber-tooth tigers, dinosaurs and other creatures from the past have been discovered in the park. Visitors can watch as paleontologists work to preserve and identify recently found items.
  • Night sky viewing: Because Badlands National Park is far from cities and other forms of artificial lights, stargazing is particularly good here. In the summer, park rangers offer the Night Sky Program during which they point out constellations and make available telescopes for visitors to see the stars more closely.
badlands national park

Are pets allowed?

Pets are permitted in campgrounds, on paved roads, and in parking lots. They are not allowed on trails, public buildings, in the wilderness, or in areas with prairie dog colonies.

Is the park accessible?

The facilities in the park, including the visitors’ center and campgrounds, are fully accessible. Some trails, such as the Fossil Exhibit Trail, are made of boardwalks and are accessible.

What accommodations are available?

The Cedar Pass Lodge and Cedar Pass Campground are open seasonally. Backcountry camping is allowed; no permit is required, but campers should sign in at the visitor center or at a trailhead. Accommodations can also be found outside the park in nearby communities.

Are there restaurants in the park?

There is one restaurant in the park, at the Cedar Pass Lodge, which operates seasonally.

What are the most popular areas of the park?

  • The Badlands “Wall”: This 100-mile-long ridge of rugged cliffs cuts through the park and contains many trails to explore.
  • Roberts Prairie Dog Town: Five miles down the unpaved Sage Creek Rim Road, guests can find this former homestead that has been converted into a giant network of prairie dog tunnels. Visitors can watch as these playful, chatty rodents scamper around.
  • Fossil Exhibit Trail: Along this quarter-mile trail, visitors can see exhibits of fossil replicas and displays illustrating the animals that once lived in this area when it was an inland sea. The boardwalk makes this trail one of the only fully accessible routes in the park.
  • Ben Reifel Visitors’ Center: The park’s visitor center has a bookstore and features exhibits on the history of the park as well as fossils that have been found on the park’s land. The center is also the starting point for the various ranger-led tours and programs.

Which national park would you like to visit most? Is Badlands National Park on your list? Tell us in the comments.

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