Best Entrance to Badlands National Park: Unique Things to Do

Badlands National Park is home to a variety of short hikes, scenic overlooks, and overnight accommodations. Knowing which entrance to Badlands National Park is best will help you to plan your trip and all the unique things you can do here!

Badlands National Park Views

Best Entrance to Badlands National Park

There are four separate entrances to Badlands National Park. The Northeast Entrance, Interior Entrance, Pinnacle Entrance, and the White River Entrance. Use the information provided to choose which entrance is best for your adventure based on which attractions are closest to it.

Badlands National Park Northeast Entrance 

The Northeast Entrance is easily accessed from I-90 and close to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. The Northeast Entrance is closest to a variety of very popular hikes and viewpoints. 

Big Badlands Overlook

Shortly after entering the park you’ll come across Big Badlands Overlook. Big Badlands Overlook provides the opportunity to view the eastern portion of the Badlands wall.

Image Credit: earth.google.com

Castle Trail

The Castle Trail is the longest maintained trail in Badlands National Park. It stretches 5.4 miles along the north edge of the Badland Wall. If you would enjoy weaving through a maze of spires, buttes, sod tables, and fins along an open prairie, this is the trail for you!

Door Trail

The Door Trail is an accessible .25 mile boardwalk that leads through a break in the Badlands Wall to a view of the Badlands. This break in the wall, known as “the Door”, allows visitors to walk through the natural passageway via a viewing platform. This easy hike introduced visitors to the rugged world that is the Badlands. 

Image Credit: Hikespeak.com

Notch Trail

The Notch Trail is one of the park’s most popular hikes for good reason! It’s short and manageable but full of excitement. An easy-to-follow trail will bring you to a long rope and wood ladder. Climb the ladder and continue along the trail until you reach the notch overlook. 

When you reach the north you’ll find yourself looking out over the badlands regions, the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail, and the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. 

Notch Trail Ladder Photo Credit: The Inner Frame

Window Trail

Take a short .3 mile walk to a break in the Badlands Wall. This view extends far beyond the parks eastern boundary. This easy hike takes place on an accessible wooden boardwalk. 

Badlands National Park Interior Entrance

Known as the main entrance to the park, the Interior Entrance is closest to the Cedar Pass Lodge and Ben Reifel Visitor Center. 

Ben Reifel Visitor Center

The Ben Reifel Visitor Center is the Badlands’ main facility in the North section of the park. You can spend 15 -60 minutes talking with rangers, exploring the museum exhibits and Fossil Preparation Lab, or shopping in the gift shop. From learning to purchasing, there’s truly something for everyone at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.  

Fossil Lab at Ben Reifel Visitor Center

Cliff Shelf Nature Trail

A quick .5 mile loop with views across the great plains. Travel through a juniper forest along the Badlands Wall to the stairs that will lead you to the cliff shelf viewing area.

Check out the Notch from a new angle and enjoy far reaching views over prairie grasses in the White River Valley to the South. 

Photo Credit: Our Wander-filled Life

Cedar Pass Campground

Cedar Pass Campground is one of two developed campgrounds in Badlands National Park. Enjoy stunning sunsets, dark night skies, and beautiful sunrises from one of 96 scenic campsites.  

Campsites are walking distance from bathrooms and pay showers. Additionally, the campground is conveniently located near the amphitheater for night programs and the Cedar Pass Restaurant. Single campsites are available for reservation April through October, with the four group sites staying available all year round. 

Photo Credit: Flashpacking America

Cedar Pass Lodge

Pines cabins with breathtaking views of the Badlands. Cedar Pass Lodge provides eco-friendly cabins built to Gold Level LEED standards. Cabins are equipped with all the creature-comforts; heat and air conditioning, television, Mini Fridge and Microwave, and Coffee Makers are available for all guests. 

Photo Credit: Travel South Dakota

Fossil Exhibit Trail

The Fossil Exhibit Trail is a .4 mile accessible loop that focuses on education. Learn about the geology of the Badlands on a self-guided walk. The self-guided tour features fossil replicas and exhibits or extinct creatures that one lived when you stand! The exhibits are interesting and tactile, so please feel free to touch as you go.

This short trail will take you less than 10 minutes to complete. It’s perfect for both adults and children looking to learn more about the area they are exploring. 

Saddle Pass Trail

At a short and sweet .7 miles out and back, this trail is deceivingly tough. It may be less than a mile round trip, but it’s one of the steepest climbs in the park at about 300 feet of elevation gain in .35 miles.

On this trail, you’ll climb from the road up the Badlands wall to a stunning birds-eye-view of the White River Valley. 

This is my personal favorite and hands down, the coolest, trail in Badlands National Park. This trail will lead you over a bridge and up the crumbling rock formations from Badlands Loop Road to one of the highest points in the park! This trail also connects with the Castle Trail and the Medicine Roots Trail; we took the Medicine Root to Castle Trail loop from the Saddle Pass Trail. 

The Saddle Pass Trail is one of the highest accessible points in Badlands National Park!

White River Overlook

The White River Overlook provides an expansive view of the White River Badlands. This area gets its name due to the white sediment carried and deposited by erosion. You’ll notice rock formations known as the Castle to the West and views of the White River Valley to the South.  

One of Badlands’ Most Beautiful Overlooks

Badlands National Park Pinnacle Entrance

Accessed from the town of Wall, the Pinnacles Entrance provides access to the Sage Creek Area of the park.

Ancient Hunters Overlook

This geological slump provides a wet area in the otherwise dry landscape. THe Ancient Hunters Overlook provides visitors with the opportunity to observe an archaeological site at Badlands National Park. Evidence, such as bison bones and arrowheads, suggest this space may have been an ancient butchering location. 

Badlands Wilderness Overlook

Badlands Wilderness Overlook shows where the eroded rock formations transition into prairie lands. This is an area where Bison can often be found. It’s important to remember that these animals are not afraid of the road, vehicles, or people and they are dangerous. 

Take a Walk towards the Badlands Wilderness

Burns Basin Overlook

A welcoming overlook complete with boardwalk and bench! Named after the homestead of Wilson Burn, this basin was used to raise sheep in the early 20th century.

 

Photo Credit: NPS

Hay Butte Overlook

The Hay Butte Overlook displays a massive, grass-capped butte called – can you guess it? – Hay Butte. This is one of the major landmarks of the Sage Creek Wilderness Area. Bison and Bighorn Sheep are known to frequent this area! 

Homestead Overlook

This overlook displays and area where homesteading in the Badlands took place. When the Homesteading Act Laws were issued in te 1860s, many U.S. citizens took this opportunity to head West and do their best. In the harsh conditions of the Badlands, homesteading was not an easy task. 

Image Credit: Duncan.co

Pinnacles Overlook

Pinnacles Overlooks shows off the vastness of the Sage Creek Wilderness. On a clear day, visitors can see the Black Hills in the Distance. This overlook is a popular spot for Big Horn Sheep and is used as a lambing area. Visit this spot in Late April and Early May for a chance to see lambs traversing the steep, rocky slopes of the Badlands. 

Photo Credit: morethanjustparks.com

Roberts Prairie Dog Town

Have you ever seen a prairie dog? If the answer is no, you must stop here. Roberts Prairie Dog Town is the largest accessible viewing area in the park. Listen to the high-pitched squeaks and watch their puppy-like behavior from afar. 

Yellow Mounds Overlook

Yellow Mounds Overlook has some of the most beautiful colors and textures in Badlands National Park. The mounds were formed when the sea drained, leaving the mud exposed to air to solidify into fossil rock. This is a beautiful spot to catch a sunset in the park; golden hour really makes these colors light up! 

Photo Credit: Google Earth

Badlands National Park White River Entrance 

The White River entrance is the only entrance to the South Unit and the White River Visitor Center. 

White River Visitor Center

The White River Visitor Center is located on the Pine Ridge Reservation and offers visitors exhibits, restrooms, water, and an information desk with informative park rangers! Stop by to grab a map and learn about the Badlands and treaties in Lakota heritage. 

Photo Credit: NPS

Sheep Mountain Table

Sheep Mountain Table is a gorgeous lookout in South Unit of Badlands National Park. A dirt, 4-wheel drive road travels 5 miles into the Badlands wilderness to scenic overlook. For individuals who do not have a 4-wheel drive vehicle, hiking or mountain biking the road is an option! Traveling Sheep Mountain road in or just after a storm is not recommended. 

Image Credit: NPS

Badlands National Park FAQs

Where Should I Stay When I Visit the Badlands?

Free Camping: Buffalo Gap National Grassland or Sage Creek Campground in the Park

Camping: Cedar Pass Campground 

Hotel: Badlands Frontier Cabins and Best Western Plains Motel  in Wall and Badlands Motel and Campground in Interior & Whispering Pines Bed and Breakfast in Interior. 

Free Camping at Buffalo Gap National Grass Lands

How Many Days Do I Need in Badlands National Park?

If you’re efficient, one full day in Badlands National Park should allow you to hit all the popular trails and overlooks. If you like to take your time or you’re traveling with young children I would suggest two days in the park. 

How Would You Spend One Day in the Badlands?

Sunrise Hike: Wake Up Early to hike the Window or Door Trail for sunrise. Not only is the overlook east facing, but you’ll avoid the crowds at this popular hike by arriving in the early AM.

Hike: Head over from your sunrise hike to the Notch Trail (same parking lot) to experience this cool trail before the crowds make it less enjoyable. 

Ben Reifel Visitor Center: Check out the visitor center! Watch the film, learn what to do if you find a fossil, and purchase your Badlands National Park Gear. 

Lunch Break: Eat lunch at the Conata Picnic Area and check out the Pig Dig Site. 

Saddle Pass Trail: Hike this gorgeous trail with some serious elevation gain right off the bat for amazing views of the Badlands!

Roberts Prairie Dog Town: If you’ve never seen prairie dogs before, take a trip to Roberts Prairie Dog Town! It’s likely for you to see bison and bighorn sheep during your time in the park. We drove by around sunset and the pups were out and about in full force!

Overlooks: There are so many overlooks in the Badlands and honestly, they all have very similar views. That’s not to say you shouldn’t check them out and explore the surrounding area though. Bring a few camp chairs and beverages to enjoy the sunset at an overlook of choice!

Can I Find A Fossil in Badlands National Park?

Finding a fossil while you’re exploring the Badlands is actually quite likely! You’re most likely to find a fossil in the Badlands after heavy rain. If you do find a fossil, you should report it to the Visitor Center.

The Visitor Center has all the information you need on what to do if you think you’ve found a fossil! The best time to find fossils in the Badlands is right after it rains. 

Where is the Closest Airport to the Badlands?

Rapid City Regional Airport is closest to the Badlands. 

What Native Land is Badlands National Park on?

The South Unit of Badlands National Park includes land on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. This land is owned by the Oglala Sioux Tribe and managed by the National Park Service under an agreement with the Tribe.

The Lakota people gave the Badlands its name. They dubbed the region the ‘mako sica’ or ‘bad lands’ because of its unforgiving terrain and lack of water. The Lakota consider the whole Black Hills region a sacred place, this includes the lands of Badlands National Park.

Photo Credit: blackhillsbadlands.com

What Else Can I Do In South Dakota?

If you’re heading out on a South Dakota Road Trip, you can’t miss these 6 spots! 

  • Black Hills
    The Black Hills are a small, isolated mountain range rising from the Great Plains. Aside from it’s famous towns, National Monuments, and even a National Park, the Black Hills are known for their many recreational opportunities in Western South Dakota.
  • Custer State Park
    71,000 acres of wilderness and wildlife in the Black Hills. Custer State Park is a great place to hike, swim, and more!
  • Devils Tower National Monument 
    Devils Tower is actually in Wyoming, but it’s fairly close to the South Dakota border and absolutely worth visiting if you have the time! 
  • Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
    US history junkies must stop here! The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site illustrates the history and significance of the Cold War, the arms race, and intercontinental ballistic missile development.
  • Mount Rushmore National Monument 
    Head here to see the faces of four incredibly influential presidents carved into a massive granite wall!
  • Wind Cave National Park
    The first cave to be designated a National Park! Known for its impressive, rare boxwork formations. Book a cave tour to explore 500 feet below the surface.
     

South Dakota has so much to offer to a family seeking adventure! Plan accordingly to enjoy a few of these great spots on your next road trip.

Published by Kaitlyn Fortier

Hello everybody! My name is Kaitlyn Fortier. I'm a Middle School Teacher and 3-season Athletics coach in Central New York. I utilize this platform to share actionable tips, 'best-of' lists, and budget-friendly travel guides for explorers of all travel interests.

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