Located just south of Interstate 90 as it stretches (seemingly endlessly, at times!) across South Dakota, Badlands National Park is an unexpected contrast to the immense prairie that surrounds it.
Our resources are designed to help you plan your visit to the South Dakota Badlands.
Visiting Badlands National Park
There are a few entrances into Badlands National Park, though most visitors enter at the Northeast and Pinnacles entrances, both just south of I-90. Running between these two entrances is the Cedar Loop Road, the best maintained road through the park and the recommended road if you are driving an RV or pulling a camper.
Very few roads run through the Badlands, with a single main road running through the North Unit and no marked roads within the Stronghold and Palmer Creek Units (both located within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation), the Badlands seem practically untouched by humans.
Driving Through Badlands National Park
Along the Badlands Loop Road in the North Unit of the park there are plenty of overlooks with spacious parking. You will only find three public rest rooms along the route- at the Fossil Exhibit Trail, one entrance of Castle Trail, and the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. (So if you enter from the west, be sure to take a bathroom break before entering the park!)
The Sage Creek Rim Road is unpaved gravel, and very rough. No recommended for RVs or campers. Even in a car or truck I only recommend driving as far as Prairie Dog Villiage before turing around and heading back to Badlands Loop Road.
Hiking and Cycling in Badlands National Park
Once off the interstate the Badlands stretch wide in front of you, miles of barren landscape with short grasses, dry and hot, desolate and a bit eerie. Once off road, your only transportation is by foot or bike. Eight hiking paths and three cycling paths are well marked.
The Badlands maintain an open background policy and the entire park is open for exploration. While you aren’t required to register, off-trail hikers are advised to stop at the visitor center for planning assistance and safety tips before heading out.
Be Sure to Visit the Ben Reifel Visitor Center
As you enter -or exit- the park, be sure to stop at the visitor’s center. All special ranger programs and tours leave from the visitors center.
The exhibits inside are informative and nicely presented. Be sure to visit the Fossil Prep Lab. Fossils are still found regularly throughout Badlands National Park and they all come to the prep lab where visitors can watch and learn about the animals that used to roam this land. Note: most finds happen off of marked paths. All fossil finds must be reported to the National Park.)
Badlands National Park also operates the free Junior Ranger Program for kids.
Camping in and Near Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park has two camping areas, both in the North Unit.
- Sage Creek Campground, located at the west end of the park, offers more rustic camping with pit toilets but no water or electricity. Bison often roam through the campground and limited turn around is available for large recreational vehicles. Sites are free on a first come, first served basis. This site rarely fills to capicity.
- Cedar Pass Campground is located near the eastern end of the park, near the visitor center. Campsites are $16 per night, or $28 for a site with electrical hookups. Cold running water and flush toilets are available here.
Near the Cedar Pass Campground is Cedar Pass Lodge. Open from April to October, these modern cabins offer small kitchen areas, bathrooms and comfortable beds.
Tips for Visiting the Badlands
- Entry to the Badlands National Park is paid per vehicle and is valid for 7 days. Visit the Badlands National Park website for current fees.
- For the best wildlife views, travel the Sage Creek Rim Road out to Prairie Dog Town.
- Bring binoculars. It’s the only way you’ll find a mountain goat perched on top of one of the peaks, or spot a pronghorn across the prairie.
- If you plan to hike, wear hiking boots. Hiking sandals are not advised.
- Always carry plenty of water and a compass.
- Cellular service is spotty (or completely non-existent) in the park.
- Weather can change rapidly and some roads may become impassable with heavy rain or snow.