Just the name strikes visitors as mysterious, craggy and barren. And the Badlands definitely live up to that vision, yet with its population of bison, prairie dog, mule deer, bighorn sheep and others, it's anything but a wasteland. Visitors are drawn to its prairies and rugged beauty of exposed formations in shades of earthy browns, yellows, reds and oranges, the result millennia of both deposition and erosion at work.
Located 75 miles east of Rapid City, South Dakota, getting to the Badlands can be an adventure in itself. Once at the park, there are various camping options, including in the backcountry. Camping at the Sage Creek Campground is free on a first-come, first-served basis — just mind the bison wandering through. Reservations for the Cedar Pass Campground and Lodge can be made here.
While visiting the park, don't miss the wildlife! The prairie dog colonies in various parts of the park offer great amusement, while the bison sometimes get a little too close for comfort.
Though there's plenty of hiking, the Badlands are also a great park to take a driving tour. Don't miss the Badlands Highway 240 Loop Road, as well as these recommendations from the Park Service.
When to Go
Badlands National Park is open year-round. To beat the crowds (and the heat), visit during the shoulder seasons, April to May and September to October. If you're visiting in the summer, head out early to avoid congestion and the scorching earth. If you're visiting in the winter, dress for some serious cold. Get current conditions, here.
Like most national parks, an entrance fee is required and can be purchased beforehand or upon arrival.
Though pets are permitted on a leash no more than six feet long in developed areas like parking lots and campgrounds, they're not permitted on any of the trails in the park. Even service animals have some restrictions due to infectious diseases spreadable to the prairie dog colonies, so read up on bringing your pet or service animal to the Badlands, here.