My name is Lauren Wildman (@thewanderingkansan). In this destination guide I will outline some of the best experiences in the beautiful Badlands National Park of South Dakota. Before I do so, allow me to introduce myself.
I grew up in Lawrence, Kansas. Even though we weren’t surrounded by beautiful views and sights necessarily, the city itself was a wonderful place to grow up. We didn’t have much money but my parents made sure that we always did something every summer. Most years that just meant driving to Branson, Missouri and going to Silver Dollar City.
But we also would go on the long drive to Colorado and spend time in the mountains from time to time. I remember from a young age how much I adored the mountains – a feeling that has never left me. As I grew older and my family became more financially stable, we started going on more and more trips together. This is definitely part of why I love to travel now!
Visiting Badlands National Park
We quickly realized that Badlands would be on our way back home if we finagled the route a bit. I’m so glad we did! In the end, we only had a short time there since we had so many stops on our road trip. We arrived a few hours before sunset and then spent the next morning until lunch there.
We made sure to pack in everything that we could into our short time, though! Starting on the Badlands Loop Drive, along the way we stopped at the Window Trail and Door Trail. These were such neat places. We finished the loop drive and stopped to take in any viewpoints that captured our attention and grab as many photos as we could. It was a special visit!
My favorite part of Badlands was at a point just partially into the Door Trail – past the wall opening – where it plops you off into what I like to call an “adventurers playground”. You are able to explore and wander through the incredible landscape and we could have easily spent hours there.
Top 5 Things To Do at Badlands National Park
Since we didn’t have a ton of time at Badlands we didn’t get to experience everything. One place that we missed was the Notch Trail. I have heard amazing things about this hike. There’s also a Prairie Dog Town right outside the park that looks super fun too! Nonetheless, these are my top 5 recommendations from my experiences at Badlands National Park:
1. Cruise the Awesome Badlands Loop Drive
Badlands Loop Drive is a stunning way to see the North Unit of the park. Discover fantastic viewpoints along the way such as Big Badlands Overlook and White River Valley Overlook. The duration of the drive can be finished in an hour or two but this will depend on how many stops you take along the way. Badlands Loop Drive is the perfect introduction to the park.
2. Walk the Door Trail of Badlands National Park
The 1.3 kilometer long Door Trail is a wonderful hike to combine with the nearby Window Trail. There is a boardwalk for people to stroll along as you take in amazing views of the rock formations and then enter a break in the Badlands Wall known as “the Door”. You can continue hiking past the boardwalk where different trails lead to more outlooks and drop-offs.
3. Check out the Paleosols of Conata Basin Overlook
Marvel at the paleosols (ancient soils) on offer from Conata Basin Overlook. This viewpoint can be accessed on the Badlands Loop Drive where bright colors emerge from the landscape. Here you can see two of Badlands most vibrant paleosols: the Yellow Mounds and Interior Paleosol.
4. Take in the Sweeping Views of Pinnacles Overlook
Pinnacles Overlook offers sweeping views of the South of Badlands – specifically the Sage Creek Wilderness area. This makes it a top spot to watch the sunset. And on clear days, you can see as far as the Black Hills. This is another overlook which can be accessed on the Loop Drive.
5. Capture the Beauty of White River Valley Overlook
White River Valley Overlook is a major highlight of the Badlands Loop Drive with its expansive views over a set of rock formations known simply as “the Castle”. The view continues down toward the White River Valley. Get your camera ready to snap up a storm at this beautiful destination in Badlands.
Need to Know Before you Go
We stayed at a hotel in Wall, South Dakota because of our last minute change of plans to our trip. It was a great location for getting to Badlands easily and without a fuss! I recommend basing yourself in this town.
If you can, visit during the fall or winter. Even in mid-September, the temperatures were still in the 80’s (fahrenheit). It was much more pleasant than the 90’s in summer and there is no shade available in the park.
There also isn’t a ton of options when it comes to food in or around the park – so we made sure to bring along plenty of food and water. You should definitely do the same. And equally with filling up with gas as there aren’t many gas stations around. Be sure to arrive with a full tank of gas.
Visiting Badlands was a dream come true for me. I was finally able to explore these incredible landscapes and capture the shots I had envisioned for many years. It was so exciting! Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy your experience at the beautiful Badlands National Park of South Dakota!