Located in the southwest corner of South Dakota, the first impression of the Badlands reminded us of what Mars must look like. The rugged landscape stretched as far as the eye could see. For over a million years, Mother Nature had carved jagged rock formations and deep canyons in this place and we were there to see the results. Our initial appraisal – it’s a lonely and quiet place of stark beauty.
As the morning sun began to rise above the hilltops, it cast a warm glow over the national park. We noticed the multiple layers of sedimentary rock ranging in hues from vibrant reds to earthy yellows. We couldn’t help but feel a sense of awe. It was a landscape that seemed simultaneously harsh and delicate, untamed and serene.
It is the perfect place to explore.
Badlands Hiking Trails
In the two days we were in the park, our longest hike was Castle Trail. It was a 10.3-mile out-and-back hike that was a perfect trail for experiencing the variety of landscapes the Badlands has to offer. Ranging from open grassy plains to tall eroded rocky towers, this trail really highlights the beauty of the park.
We were also able to view a variety of wildlife, including deer, pronghorn antelopes, and bighorn sheep.
Other trails we explored, included the Saddle Trail. This rugged path meandered through the rugged terrain, offering breathtaking views of the iconic Badlands formations.
We also ventured along the Window Trail, a path that led us to a natural “window” in the rock formations. As we hiked along this trail, we enjoyed the beautiful vistas that unfolded before us. The Window Trail, true to its name, framed picture-perfect moments that allowed us to capture the essence of the Badlands
Finally, we embarked on the Notch Trail. It was an exhilarating and slightly challenging hike that rewarded us with incredible panoramic views at the end. As we climbed, we navigated narrow ledges and a wooden ladder before reaching the top. From there, an expansive view of the Badlands stretched for miles.
The trails in Badlands National Park offer a beautiful and serene adventure. We highly recommend one or more of these hikes to anyone who wants to experience the park to its fullest.
Badlands National Park Map
The map below is the official map of Badlands National Park. It showcases the various trails, picnic areas, and points of interest within the park. Whether you’re interested in hiking, camping, or simply enjoying the breathtaking views, this map will help you navigate the park and make the most of your visit. You can find more detailed information about the park and its attractions on the official U.S. National Park website.
Park Operating Hours
Badlands National Park is open 24/7 and collects entrance fees all year round. During winter or severe weather, some roads may be closed. Please check road conditions before your trip as roads can be icy.
For those seeking an outdoor adventure to its fullest the park’s campgrounds are a good option.
The Cedar Pass Campground is a highly sought-after camping spot with 96 campsites. There are tent sites, as well as RV sites with full hookups including electricity and water, ensuring a comfortable stay. To secure your spot, take advantage of the reservation system provided. Make your reservations online or by giving them a call at 877-386-4383.
Another camping option is the Sage Creek Campground. This rustic campground welcomes nature enthusiasts on a first-come, first-served basis. With 22 available sites, you’ll want to arrive at the campground in the morning to claim a site. As campers check out, new campers can check in and confirm their campsite in person. It’s worth noting that motorhomes, pull-behind trailers, and other recreational vehicles exceeding 18 feet in length are not permitted at Sage Creek Campground.
Gail and I boondocked outside the Badlands National Park. We found places to sleep on an app called iOverlander and were very happy with the overnight locations we found. In these locations, there was no electricity, water, or other amenities.
Our time spent in the Badlands was eye-opening and quite enjoyable. It was a surprisingly beautiful and memorable experience for us. The Badlands now holds a special place in our travels and is a place we look forward to returning to.
Whether you’re exploring the park on foot, camping under the starlit sky, or simply taking in the breathtaking vistas from one of the designated overlooks, the Badlands offer an unforgettable experience that will stay with you long after you leave.