Things to Know About Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Badlands National Park is technically two units. The North Unit (park lands north of Highway 44) and The South Unit (park lands south of Highway 44). It became a National Monument in 1939 and was redesigned as a National Park in 1978. The park is 244,000 acres and gets around one million visitors a year!

Badlands National Park is in the Mountain Time Zone.

Park headquarters phone number: 605-433-5361

Park website:

Badlands National Park Visitor Centers

There are two visitor centers in the park. The Ben Reifel Visitor Center is open year round and has a 97 seat air conditioned theater as well as a bookstore and several interactive exhibits. There’s also a free station to fill up your water bottles with cold water. Hours vary from month to month with hours being longer in the summer months (typically 7am to 7pm) and shorter in the shoulder season and winter. Winter hours are typically 8am to 4pm. Be sure to check before you go if you plan on visiting.

The White River Visitor Center is located on the Pine Ridge Reservation off Highway 27. It is only open seasonally. Be sure to call before you go to make sure it is open.

Things to Know About Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park 4

This park has one of the world’s richest mammal fossil beds. Be sure to only take photographs. Do not take home any artifacts, fossils, etc. that you find. Collecting artifacts including plants, flowers, animals, rocks, etc can land you in jail and or with a steep fine.

Get gas before you go into the park. There are stations to fill up at on either end of the park (Interior is 2 miles away, Cactus Flat about 9 and Wall about 30) but there are no gas stations in side the park.

Badlands National Park Tips

Badlands National Park 3Drones are not allowed!

Stay on the trail.

Bikes are allowed in the park but must stay on park roads. No bicycles are allowed on any of the trails.

Dogs are allowed in the park but are also not allowed on any of the trails. They must also be kept on a leash at all times. The leash can not exceed six feet in length.

The speed limit max is 45 miles an hour. Many other places are slower. Take your time, see all the sights and watch out for pedestrians and wildlife. We saw several bighorn sheep crossing the Old North East Road after a trail run one morning.

Park only in designated areas, not on the grass.

Backcountry permits are currently not required. Be sure to sign a register at the trailheads and let someone know where you are going.

Badlands National Park Safety

Be sure to drink water! The park is hot and you can dehydrate quickly.

Beware of intense weather that moves swiftly. During the beginning of August we experienced a storm that had lightning, strong winds and even hail. Make sure you know the weather before you go, fill out the back country registration book at trailheads, pack appropriate clothing and supplies, and use caution in the wilderness.

Watch out for rattlesnakes! There are signs on most trailheads reminding people to keep an eye out for rattlesnakes. They are venomous and one bite can surely ruin your trip. It’s recommended that you wear closed toed shoes and watch where you step.

Use caution when exploring. The rocks are slippery and also unstable. They can crumble beneath you if you are not careful. When it hasn’t rained the surface is dry and dusty and loose, making it hard to come down from places that you’ve climbed up. When it rains, that same dust turns into a slick clay-like surface that will have you slip-sliding all over the place. Falls can be extremely dangerous if not fatal so be careful.

To keep prairie wildfire risk down, campfires are not allowed.

Cedar Pass Lodge

Located just a short walk or drive from the visitor center and the campground is Cedar Pass Lodge. You can grab a meal in there. We didn’t do this because we were trying to save money but it seemed pretty busy! Here’s what people are saying about it on TripAdvisor (3.5 stars out of five) and Yelp.

Cedar Pass Campground

When we arrived the campsite sign said it was full but the woman working the booth told us to come back at 1:00 pm since sometimes people cancel and they have last minute openings. We went for a run and did just that, arriving about 30 minutes early and just hanging out until 1:00. We wanted to be first in line in case there were any openings and were super psyched to find out there was one! Unfortunately when we came back from a fun day in the park, we saw someone else at our site. They were in our parking spot and already hooked up to the electric. Our name was on the tag and some of Caroline’s clothes were in a pile on the picnic table.

To make a long story short we ended up going back to the booth where we were told that they had overbooked the campsite. She asked us to drive to the Minuteman campsite which was a new property they had just acquired, 8.9 miles up the road (17 minute drive.) We were sad to leave the park but it ended up being okay.

Minuteman Campground

The Minuteman campground was a little less crowded and we ended up being fine with it, though the showers here required $1.50 to get 7 minutes of hot water. The sign said that 1 quarter after that would get you an extra minute but when I put a quarter in after the water cut out without warning, the machine just ate my money. I think if you add money while it’s still running that should do the trick!

If you end up needing to stay at Minuteman, it’s not on the map. Put Cactus Flat into your GPS and as you are leaving the park it will be on your right hand side, across from the Conoco gas station.

There are picnic tables at each one and most of the sites were pull-through which is great if you have a big RV. They were also level.

Bathrooms are in the middle of the campground. There’s also a laundry facility.

They sell six packs of PBR, Corona and Budweiser. They also have a couple bottles of wine!

Best Hikes in Badlands National Park

Instead of hiking, we mostly did trail running. We were short on time and wanted to see as much as possible. Be sure to watch out for rattlesnakes, sign the registration log when it’s present, wear proper clothing, footwear and sunscreen and take enough water!

Medicine Root Loop

This was our favorite trail in the park because of the incredible scenery. The trail is 4 miles loop. On it you’ll see numerous jaw dropping rock formations and be able to experience the mixed grass prairie as well as the views. There are no major climbs but there are several rolling sections that are fun to run into and then out of.

Castle Trail

We didn’t run the entire castle trail but we did about 4 miles of the 10 miles. It’s the longest trail in the park and you can pick it up at several places (the Door and Window parking lot or the Old NE road). If you’re looking to get a long hike in, this is the one. It’s relatively level but it’s almost all exposed so be sure to bring lots of water and snacks.

Fossil Exhibit Trail

This little trail is a great place to learn about the park. It’s on a boardwalk (that can be super slippery when wet!) and the whole thing is only a 1/4 mile long. It’s also wheelchair accessible and has several interpretive signs for you to learn about fossils and other creatures that used to live in the Badlands.

Door and Window Trail

Badlands National Park 2

The Door Trail is .75 miles long round trip and the Window Trail is .25 miles round trip. Both are easy to hike or run though they are both super exposed to the sun so just because it’s short, don’t leave your water in the car. These are some of the easiest places to get great photographs! The “Door” will give you a view of the Badlands and the “Window” will give you a view into a canyon. Both are awesome and must – do’s, even if you only have a little bit of time.

Saddle Pass

This trail is short but it is intense! It basically goes straight up the Badlands Wall and gives you a look over the White River Valley. It also connects with the Castle and Medicine Root Trails. This trail in particular can get very slippery when wet and may have you coming down on your butt. Use caution if rain is in the forecast.

Next time: Notch Trail

We didn’t have a chance to do this trail and are super bummed about it but eager to do it upon our return. It’s 1.5 miles long and involves climbing a ladder and walking along a ledge in order to get to “the Notch” which gives you a view of the White River Valley. You can pick this trail up near the Door and Window’s trail. Like Saddle Pass, it’s also not recommended during or after a heavy rain. The park also recommends not hiking it if you have a fear of heights.

Badlands National Park Recap

Badlands National Park 1

This is one of the coolest (though really hot) parks in the United States. It’s got some great hiking, some epic views and tons of great places to snap some photographs. Have you been there? If so, we’d love to hear from you!

Interested in what we’re taking pictures with? Check out our post on our Favorite Photography Gear to learn more.

Published by Erin McGrady

Erin McGrady is a filmmaker, photographer, and writer exploring Asheville and beyond. My work focuses on sharing about LGBTQ safe spaces, camper van life, and the outdoors.

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