Badlands National Park stretches over 244,000 acres of awe-inspiring peaks surrounding by grasslands, both home to a wide variety of wildlife.
The breathtaking spires and buttes of the Badlands welcome visitors to explore a scenic area filled with natural wonders. Taking its name from the Lakota word “Mako Sica”, meaning “land bad”, the Badlands are a truly unique and colorful landscape created by deposits and erosion over millions of years. With nearly 65,000 acres of designated wilderness area, Badlands National Park is a haven for hikers.
It’s also home to a variety of attractions that will captivate visitors of all ages, including one of the most amazing fossil deposits in the nation. Whether visiting for the day or camping overnight, the Badlands has plenty to keep you occupied.
Camping and Hiking in Badlands National Park
The Badlands welcome hikers with miles of trails ranging from easy to advanced, and offers two campgrounds for overnight stays in the park.
- Eight trails wind their way through the park, ranging from 25 miles to 10 miles in length. The wilderness area of the park also welcomes backcountry explorers. Backcountry camping is allowed without a permit, but you should make contact with park officials before you go. The Ben Reifel Visitor Center provides detailed information and maps to hikers.
- The Cedar Pass Campground offers developed sites with electrical hookups, covered picnic tables, running water, and flush toilets. The campground is open year-round, although site availability is limited in the winter months. Group camping is also available here by reservation.
- The Sage Creek Campground is adjacent to the wilderness area of the park, and offers primitive sites and basic services including pit toilets. Visitors to this quiet campground may be treated to the site of bison passing through.
- If you aren’t planning to camp in the park, there are other options for overnight accommodations. The Cedar Pass Lodge offers cabins for rent in the park, while the Badlands Inn provides hotel accommodations in Interior, right at the edge of the park. Both offer scenic views and easy access to the Badlands.
Wildlife of the Badlands
An incredible number of species call the Badlands home, from the majestic bison, antelope, and deer, to fox and endangered species such as the black-footed ferret. Wildlife viewing opportunities are common here, and bighorn sheep are among the animals often spotted from the roads along a scenic drive.
Over 200 bird species have been identified in the park, making it a bird watcher’s dream. While many are accustomed to the presence of human visitors, the Badlands’ creatures are still wild. It is recommended that you give them at least 100 feet of space when observing or photographing.
Fossilized Finds in the Badlands
Since the first discovery of fossils in the Badlands in 1846, the area has been a haven for paleontologists. Deposits here include marine life left by a prehistoric sea, and many different vertebrates dating back to nearly 75 million years ago.
Among the fossils found here have been a saber-toothed cat, creatures resembling miniature deer, turtles, fish, and birds, and a three-toed horse-like creature. Take a walk along the Fossil Exhibit Trail to view replicas of fossils, and see what discoveries of your own you might find right at your feet.
Visiting Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park is open year-round for visitors to enjoy, although some services are not available during the winter months. The park charges vehicle entrance fees, and additional fees apply for campground use.
Two visitor centers welcome you to the Badlands. The Ben Reifel Visitor Center can be found at park headquarters on Highway 240 and is open all year. It includes a 95-seat theater where you can take in a film about the Badlands, a bookstore and gift shop, and multiple exhibits including fossils.
The White River Visitors Center is found on Highway 20 on the Pine Ridge Reservation, and is open only during the summer. Here you will find exhibits, a picnic area, and can enjoy informative talks given throughout the day.
Getting to the Badlands
Badlands National Park is easily accessed by car, and is found 75 miles to the east of Rapid City, SD via Interstate 90 and Highway 240. This highway also forms the Badlands Loop Road, which takes visitors through the northern end of the park.
You can also access the park via State Highway 44 from Rapid City, which passes through the area to the town of Interior on the eastern edge of the park. A number of smaller highways enter the Badlands from the south and the east, many of them passing through the Pine Ridge Reservation.