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Tips for Visiting the Badlands with Kids

    The beautiful White River Valley overlook in Badlands National Park in South Dakota
    As part of a road trip loop from Rapid City,  this stop is included along with Wall Drug and Minuteman Missle National Historic Site.
    At the Badlands, during our visit, a quick $15 for our carload at the Northeast Entrance was paid and we moved on to the visitors center. The visitors center was partially gift shop, part museum, and had a theatre for a 20-minute movie, Land of Stone and Light, about the area. Near the visitor center are Cedar Pass Lodge, a restaurant, and a gift shop.


    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 it is also the largest protected mixed grass prairie in the US.

    Badlands Loop Road

    We decided to drive the Badlands Loop which cuts through the park from the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to Highway 240. The loop is a scenic road 42 miles long with 11 overlook points. Each overlook point gives views of the area’s well-known spires, pinnacles, deep canyons, and eroded buttes.

    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. That’s the simplified version, for a more detailed version see this explanation by the Badlands National Park.

    At around the 5th parking lot overlook, the kids were bored with the park and were asking for their electronic binkies. It did not help that it was getting close to lunchtime and even though I had packed snacks when it’s noon, that Boy wants to eat.

    Time to Visit

    We spent about 2.5 hours in the park. We did see some prairie dogs and bighorn sheep. You can probably see more wildlife if you hike. The park is home to coyotes, porcupine, bighorn sheep, fox, bobcats, bison, prairie dogs, and ferrets. Be aware that there are rattlesnakes in the area. There are seven trails to walk in the park they range from the Fossil Exhibit Trail of 0.25 miles to the Castle Trail of 10 miles.

    The Badlands were not a kid-pleaser in my family. That might be my fault, if I had broken up the trip with a picnic lunch, hiking, or attending a junior ranger program; perhaps my kids would have liked the park more.

    Tips for Visiting:

    • Ranger Programs are offered throughout the summer. The programs include a Geology Walk, Fossil Talk, Junior Ranger Program, Prairie Walk, Night Sky Program, and Evening Program.
    • If your crew feels like hiking, the Badlands Loop offers 3 Easy hikes. Door Trail is 0.75 miles. Both Fossil Exhibit Trail and Window Trail are 0.25 miles.
    • Sage Creek Rim Road is unpaved but great for viewing wildlife.
    • Don’t miss Big Badlands Overlook, Pinnacles Overlook, and Yellow Mounds Overlook.
    • Watch out for rattlesnakes!
    • Review the maps of the park before your visit to help plan your trip.
    • Bring plenty of water and snacks.

    Fun Facts:

    • The Fossil Preparation Lab at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center is a working paleontological laboratory.
    • The park’s first suggested name when proposed as a national park was Wonderland National Park.
    • Visitors can see more than 7500 stars during the Night Sky Viewing with park rangers and astronomy volunteers.

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    Theresa Jorgensen

    Theresa is the mother of four including twins. She is the owner of SixSuitcaseTravel, a travel site for big families of 5, 6, 7, 8. She enjoys helping other big families build life-long travel memories. Her family's travel bucket list includes Washington, DC (done!), Yellowstone (done!), London, and anywhere in the Caribbean.