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20 (INCREDIBLE) Things to Do in Badlands National Park 2021

Badlands National Park is home to some of the most spectacular prairie landscapes on the planet with abundant wildlife & so many amazing things to do.

Situated in the heart of the Northern Great Plains, Badlands National Park spans 244,000 acres of spectacular landscapes, diverse wildlife, and the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States.

Badlands National Park is a true national park-lovers national park, if you follow. Here amidst the wide open spaces and big sky of the Northern Great Plains you can truly get away from it all and experience nature on a grand scale

About Our Travels to Badlands National Park

Our Badlands National Park Video

I visited the Badlands for the first time back in 2016 with my brother as we attempted to capture the essence of the park for our film (above). It’s vast, seemingly unending landscapes and magnificent formations left an indelible mark on me.

The broad quiet of the prairie here envelopes you in a way that only a national park can. Gazing into the unending maze of badlands twisting into the distance like wrinkles in the palm of your hand and hearing nothing but the lonesome prairie wind is bound to leave you breathless.

Over the course of several weeks my brother and I explored nearly all that Badlands National Park has to offer, and it’s quite a lot more than meets the eye. This vast and beautiful park is like no other so read on and I’ll share some of the best things to do there with you.

RELATED: Behold the Black Hills, One of America’s Most Magical Natural Wonders

Things to Know Before You Visit

Entrance Fees: $30 per vehicle OR if you plan to visit more National Parks within the next 12 months we suggest you go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which you can purchase here). This pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more including 2,000 sites for free after a one time $79 fee.

Sunscreen: Depending on the park and the time of year you’re likely to be exposed to plenty of sun. Seriously, some of these parks can zap you if you don’t wear sunscreen. We happen to like this one because it works AND it’s not full of a bunch of chemicals.

Gas: Be sure to fuel up in Wall right outside of the park’s northern entrance as there arern’t many options around the park.

Cell Service is actually quite good in the park until you get into the Sage Creek area.

The Best Guide Book: I like this guide book the best for Badlands.

The Best Map: We like this map best for Badlands National Park.

Water: Drink it. Lots of it. Don’t forget it in the car.

The Best Time to Visit Badlands National Park is during the spring and early summer before the park gets too hot.

Food options are quite limited in and around Badlands National Park so be sure to get something in Wall prior to entering!

Getting to the Badlands

badlands national park more than just parks

The most popular way to get to the Badlands (other than the great American road trip) is flying into Rapid City Airport and making the two hour drive to the park. There are no public transit options in the park so you’ll have to rent a car or find a tour bus.

Best Things to Do in Badlands National Park

1. Take it all in at Big Badlands Overlook

badlands national park more than just parks
Big Badlands Overlook | Thigns to Do Badlands National Park

Big Badlands Overlook: This overlook provides the quintessential view of what makes the Badlands the Badlands. Here you’ll find a panoramic view of perfectly striped red and white hills extending into the distance. This is a great spot for sunset.

To learn more about this location check out our Big Badlands Overlook post.

2. Go on an unexpected hike at Cliff Shelf Nature Trail

badlands national park more than just parks
Cliff Shelf Nature Trail | Things to Do in Badlands National Park

An oasis of juniper trees in the middle of the Badlands. Cliff Shelf Nature Trail is a spectacular spot to watch the sunset from a high perch or get out of the sun in the heat of the day and cool off under the shade of old juniper trees

Distance: 0.5 miles roundtrip
Time: 30 minutes

In the peak summer months this is a popular area to visit and cool off, but in the offseason you’ll likely have it to yourself.

To learn more about the this location check out our Cliff Shelf Nature Trail post.

3. Watch the prairie dogs endlessly at Roberts Prairie Dog Town

badlands national park more than just parks
Roberts Prairie Dog Town | Badlands Things to Do

No trip to the Badlands is complete without getting acquainted with these cute, quarrelsome, ground-dwelling animals. This national park is home to countless prairie dogs and many different prairie dog settlements, which are called prairie dog towns.

These cute critters are also very intelligent and extremely adept communicators. You can spend hours watching the prairie dogs yip and yelp at one another as they scurry about seemingly causing mischief with their friends.

Be sure to keep a respectful distance as you view them going about their business.

To learn more about the Roberts Prairie Dog Town check out our Roberts Prairie Dog Town post.

4. Soak in the view at Pinnacles Overlook

badlands national park more than just parks
Pinnacles Overlook | Things to Do Badlands

Just after the Pinnacles entrance station you’ll come upon this awe-inspiring overlook. Here you can gaze out from a cliff at the vast maze of badlands stretching endlessly into the distance. You’re likely to see bighorn sheep effortlessly ambling the ridge lines and solitary bison grazing in the distance.

To learn more about this location check out our Pinnacles Overlook post.

5. Ride the grassy waves of Prairie Wind Overlook

badlands national park more than just parks
Prairie Wind Overlook | Things to Do Badlands

This is a great overlook to get a true sense of the Northern Great Plains. Here a boardwalk takes you to a spot where you can look out at the ocean of grass stretching into the horizon and listen to the wind rustling in its blades. This tall prairie grass is some of the last remaining that has never seen a farmers plow or a contractors backhoe. It appears today much as it did thousands of years ago and it’s a beautiful spot to take it all in.

To learn more about this location check out our Prairie Wind Overlook post.

6. Discover Yellow Mounds

badlands national park more than just parks
Yellow Mounds | Badlands National Park

These strangely colored mounds are the result of an ancient sea draining away and the chemicals from decaying plants turning the soil yellow. They also make for a great photo opportunity.

This spot can be easy to miss as you drive through the park, but you’ll want to be sure to check it out.

To learn more about the Yellow Mounds check out our Yellow Mounds post.

7. Explore the Backcountry

Badlands National Park More Than Just Parks
A hiker pauses to take in the vastness | Things to Do Badlands

Seems a bit vague right? Badlands National Park is an open hike park, meaning you can hike off-trail anywhere inside the park and camp freely in the backcountry as long as you follow backcountry camping rules.

Imagine picking a point in the unending distance and setting off and hiking to it and then picking another and hiking to it, it’s a pretty freeing thought and even more fun in reality.

To backcountry camp you must camp a half mile away from any roads or trails and stay out of sight of the trails & roads.

To learn more about exploring the Badlands backcountry check out our Badlands Guide.

8. Gaze upon America’s majestic national animal, the bison

badlands national park more than just parks
A bison | Things to Do Badlands National Park

Ah, the bison. Noble beast of the plains. There’s a reason you’re our national animal.

Badlands National Park is home to some of the finest herds of bison anywhere in the world. There are about 1200 resident bison in the Badlands and they mostly reside on the Sage Creek side of the park. Getting a glimpse of them is not too hard as they’re easy to spot on the plains.

9. It wouldn’t be a trip to the Badlands without a visit to Wall Drug

wall drug south dakota
Wall Drug Free Ice Water – courtesy of Wall Drug

Okay so this isn’t technically part of the park, but we couldn’t not mention Wall Drug! 

If you don’t already know about Wall Drug you will when visiting the Badlands. Wall Drug is quite possibly the most famous roadside attraction in the world, a true slice of Americana as they say. With billboards for hundreds of miles advertising their curious attractions and their 5 cent coffee and free ice water you simply have to go.

It also helps that Wall Drug is conveniently located in the town of Wall, SD, the gateway to Badlands National Park. Here you can shop for souvenirs, grab a bit to eat, or just walk around and see what was so important that it needed to be cleverly advertised for hundreds of miles.

10. Drive Conata Basin Road

conata basin road badlands national park more than just parks
Conata Basin Road | Badlands National Park

This road represents one of the most badass looking drives in the west. Conata Basin Road is a great area to escape the crowds at this national park and crank up the western vibes. The road itself takes you from the park to Scenic, South Dakota (aptly named with park views like this one!)

Also worth consideration:

  • The Dorr Trail
  • Sage Creek Campground
  • Watch the Bighorn Sheep
  • Hay Butte
  • Backpack to Deer Haven
  • Panorama Point
  • Fossil Exhibit Trail
  • Hike Saddle Pass
  • Hike the Notch Trail
  • Hike the Castle Trail

Badlands Map of Best Things to Do

Top Ten Things To Do in Badlands National Park

  1. Big Badlands Overlook
  2. Cliff Shelf Nature Trail
  3. Roberts Prairie Dog Town
  4. Pinnacles Overlook
  5. Prairie Wind Overlook
  6. Yellow Mounds
  7. Explore the Backcountry
  8. The Bison
  9. Wall Drug
  10. Dorr Trail

Planning a trip to Badlands National Park? Learn how to do it right with our comprehensive Badlands National Park Guide that covers what to see, campgrounds, lodging, dining, seasons & weather, and so much more.

> Read the Guide <

Badlands Photos

Badlands Video

Description: BADLANDS 8K is the culmination of several weeks spent filming in the rugged Badlands of South Dakota. Situated in the heart of the Northern Great Plains, Badlands National Park spans 244,000 acres of spectacular landscapes, diverse wildlife, and the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States.

Journey with More Than Just Parks to discover the land where bison still roam and towers rise from the prairie in dazzling formations. This is the Badlands. Filmed in stunning UHD 8K.

Nearby Attractions – The Black Hills National Forest!

We also happened to create a breathtaking film on the nearby and equally stunning Black Hills National Forest. Trust us, you’re not going to want to miss it. Just watch this 3 minute video we made about it and then try to tell us you’re not adding an extra day or two to your trip to South Dakota!

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Jim Pattiz

Co-Founder of More Than Just Parks. Filmmaker, Conservationist, Public Lands Enthusiast

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