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Badlands National Park Guide with Kids Plus 10 Tips for Visiting

    The beautiful White River Valley Overlook

    The Badlands National Park was established as a National Monument in 1939. In 1978 it was redesignated as Badlands National Park. Approximately one million visitors come each year to visit the 244,000-acre park, including its eroded buttes, pinnacles, and spires. The park is also the largest protected mixed grass prairie in the US.

    The eroded buttes are a product of deposition and erosion. Every time it rains more sediment is washed from the buttes. They say that the buttes erode about an inch every year. This erosion is washed down to the prairie or carried away by the stream. 

    Entrances to Badlands National Park

    Located 55 miles from Rapid City, the park has four separate entrances: Northeast Entrance, Interior Entrance, Pinnacle Entrance, and the White River Entrance.

    Entrance Fees to Badlands

    A seven-day pass to the park is $30. We highly recommend buying an America the Beautiful pass for $80. The pass is good for one calendar year and is your ticket to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. Having a pass will allow you to pop in for a few hours in the evening and again the next morning.

    If you have a 4th grader, check out the FREE Annual 4th Grade pass which is good for the duration of the school year through the following summer (September-August).

    Current U.S. military members and their dependents in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, and Space Force, as well as Reserve and National Guard members, qualify for a free annual pass.

    Visit Badlands National Park as part of a road trip loop from Rapid City, which includes stops at Wall Drug and Minuteman Missle National Historic Site.

    Time to Cover Badlands National Park

    We spent about 3.5 hours in the park, the average visit is around 5 hours. You can fill a full day’s schedule and possibly add a second day by adding additional drives, ranger talks, star-gazing, or hikes.

    The Badlands Loop Road, SD 240

    1-Day Badlands National Park Itinerary

    • Explore Ben Reifel Visitor Center to learn about the area. Watch the film The Land of Stone and Light to learn about the natural and cultural history of the region. Learn about fossils and watch paleontologists work at the Fossil Preparation Lab. During the hottest months of the year, save this for the hottest part of the day so you can relax in the air conditioning.
    • Complete a Junior Ranger packet and earn a badge.
    • Hike Door (0.75), Window (0.25), and Fossil Exhibit (0.25) trails which are easy hikes under 1 mile.
    • Drive Badlands Loop Road, stopping at the 12 overlooks. Plan on 1 – 2 hours to cover.

    2-Day Badlands National Park Itinerary

    Complete the activities from day one and on the second day add some of the below activities to fill your family’s schedule.

    • Drive Sage Creek Rim Road – Highway 590 is a gravel road that takes you along the north rim of the Badlands Wilderness Area. This area gives great opportunities to see more wildlife. Stop at Hay Butte Overlook Badlands Wilderness Overlook, Roberts Prairie Dog Town, and Sage Creek Basin Overlook. Check conditions as the road may be temporarily closed after heavy rain or snow. Plan on 1-2 hours for this excursion.
    • Hike Saddle Pass Trail – Although only 0.25 miles, the hike is a steep climb straight up the Badlands Wall.
    • Hike Notch Trail, while only 1.5 miles, it includes climbing a wooden ladder.
    • Drive around the south area of the park and visit the White River Visitor Center.
    • Explore Sheep Mountain Table. High clearance, 4WD vehicles are needed to traverse the 6.5-mile round-trip road that includes spectacular views. Be aware of the cliff edges of the table, it’s a steep drop.

    Where to Eat Inside Badlands National Park

    Offering full meals and snacks, the only place to purchase food inside the park is at the Cedar Pass Lodge.

    Pack a picnic and eat your meal at one of the following areas with shaded picnic areas:

    Where to Stay Near Badlands National Park

    Big Family Friendly Hotels

    Find big family friendly accommodations in nearby Rapid City.

    Cabins at Badlands

    The only lodging available in the park is at Cedar Pass Lodge, which offers cabin rentals. Check out Cedar Pass Cabins which offer ADA Accessible Cabins that have a max occupancy of six.

    Camping at Badlands

    The park offers two campgrounds. Sage Creek Campground has 22 free sites located on Sage Creek Rim Road. and the unpaved road may temporarily close after winter storms and spring rains. Pit toilets and covered picnic tables are available, but not water. Cedar Pass Campground has 96 level sites with scenic views of the badlands formations. The campground features shaded picnic tables at each campsite, electric service for RV sites, and group sites with advanced reservations.

    10 Tips for Visiting Badlands National Park with Kids

    1. There is little to no shade on the trails. Put on sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses. Pack plenty of water.
    2. Enjoy a sunrise or sunset in the park. During these times, the lighting offers a warm glow on the landscape bringing out shades of red, yellow, and buff of the pinnacles and buttes. For breathtaking sunrises, consider visiting the Big Badlands Overlook, the Door Trail, the Norbeck Pass region, the Dillon Pass zone, and Panorama Point situated just west of Bigfoot Pass. Each of these locations offers stunning views of the sunrise, as well as the initial beams of light illuminating the east-facing pinnacles. For captivating sunsets, explore Pinnacles Overlook, Conata Basin Overlook, Bigfoot Pass Picnic Area, and the Norbeck Pass region. Strolling along the Castle Trail (westward for sunrise, eastward for sunset) presents an excellent opportunity to witness the shifting light on the Wall’s northern side while allowing you to engage with and appreciate the surrounding landscape.
    3. Participate in the Junior Ranger program to earn a badge.
    4. Visit the park early in the summer months to beat the heat.
    5. Complete a ranger-guided geology walk. Check the NPS website for times.
    6. Be aware of your surroundings, there are rattlesnakes in the park.
    7. Pick up a GPS Adventure Activity Book at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. Use your phone’s GPS to find natural features, wayside exhibits, and trails to learn more about the park. Earn an “I Walked the Badlands” patch by completing three activities and submitting the booklet at the visitor center.
    8. Schedule a visit in early July to attend the annual Badlands Astronomy Festival.
    9. If your kids want to climb up a rock formation or two they can certainly do so, but the soft surface easily breaks away so be careful not to lose your footing.
    10. Buy a GyPSy app guide for a guided commentary through the park.

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        Theresa Jorgensen

        Theresa Jorgensen

        Theresa Jorgensen is a mother to four children including twins. She recognized the necessity for a comprehensive resource of hotels that cater to big families with rooms and suites for 5, 6, 7, or 8 people in a single room while traveling with her own family. In 2008, she established SixSuitcaseTravel to compile a database of such hotels. Over time, the website has grown to include travel advice, itineraries, road trip suggestions, national park guides, and more. Theresa takes pleasure in assisting other big families in creating unforgettable travel experiences.