BEST 19 Family Things To Do: Badlands NP South Dakota (+ Interactive Map)

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Planning a family trip that combines breathtaking landscapes, educational experiences, and a dash of wildlife wonders? Look no further than Badlands National Park!

This South Dakota gem is a playground of natural wonders, perfect for creating family memories that’ll last a lifetime.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll not only explore the must see Badlands National Park spots for your family, but also uncover hidden gems inside the park, help you plan the perfect road trip, and provide you with all the information you need to make the most of your visit.

If you haven’t ever been to South Dakota, prepare yourself, because there’s A LOT to see and do! So make sure, if possible, to work time into your itinerary for some highlights outside the park either on the front or back end of your trip.

National Parks Mom family standing next to the Badlands National Park entrance sign in South DakotaPin

How to Get to Badlands National Park

For your family road trip, at about one hour from the Badlands, Rapid City Regional Airport (RAP) is the closest airport to the park. It’s a regional airport however with limited flight options.

Sioux Falls Airport (FSD) is larger with more options, but is a 4-hour drive from the park.

However your family gets to South Dakota, you’ll want to plan a route that includes these must see Badlands National Park spots, both inside and outside the park. So get ready for an unforgettable journey.

children standing next to a Badlands National Park signPin

Interactive Map of Must See Badlands National Park Highlights

National Parks Mom presents the top family-friendly hikes, accommodations, points of interest, and things to do in Badlands National Park as well as the surrounding areas in South Dakota.

Using The Map:

Clicking the star next to the name of the map will save the map to your google account. To access it later on a computer or your smartphone, open google maps and select “Your Places”.

For details on any highlighted point on the map, simply click the icon on the map for additional information.

Badlands NP: Where to Stay

For all the details of lodging recommendations for your Badlands National Park adventure, check out this article on all things Badlands lodging.

But in short, my number one recommendation is:

Cedar Pass Lodge

For those seeking a great place to start their Badlands exploration, look no further than Cedar Pass Lodge Cabins.

cabin in Cedar Pass at Badlands National ParkPin
Cabin at Cedar Pass Lodge inside Badlands National Park

Nestled in the heart of the park, this lodge (which is called a “lodge” but the only accommodations are individual cabins) provides convenient access to hiking trails, scenic overlooks, and the visitor center.

Consider staying here for an immersive experience amidst the rugged beauty of Badlands. The availability is very limited, so book as early as you can.

family inside a cabin at Cedar Pass Lodge, Badlands National Park, South DakotaPin
Inside of our family’s cabin at Cedar Pass Lodge

Cedar Pass Campground

If camping is more your family’s style, this campground near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center has tent and RV sites with all the amenities available in the summer. Again, these spots are limited, so book early.

Sage Creek Wilderness Campground

For more primitive camping facilities, check out this free campsite year-round. It is first-come, first serve. With only 22 sites, this campground is often full during peak summer months.

Must See Badlands National Park Spots

Now that you’ve arrived at the park, let’s check out the must-see spots within the park boundaries.

Badlands National Park is home to a variety of wildlife, with American bison being one of the most iconic residents. Keep a lookout for these majestic creatures as you explore the park.

Additionally, you may encounter bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and a diverse array of bird species. Remember to observe wildlife from a safe distance and never approach or feed them.

Use the interactive map above. Or below, you’ll see highlighted maps to help orient you to most of the highlights we’ll be discussing. As you’ll see, most of these must see Badlands National Park pitstops are located right along the main road in the park, called the “loop road”.

close up of highlights on map of Badlands National ParkPin
Must see Badlands National Park highlights located directly off the main “Loop Road” inside the park. Each highlighted item will be discussed below.
close up of trail highlights on map of Badlands National ParkPin
Family-friendly trails we’ll discuss in this article are highlighted above

Badlands Loop Road

Begin your Badlands adventure on the Badlands Loop Road, a 31-mile scenic byway offering twists, turns, and stunning vistas.

Loop Road heading toward Sage Creek Rim Road Badlands National Park, South DakotaPin
Loop Road heading toward Sage Creek Rim Road Badlands National Park, South Dakota

This scenic road begins at the Pinnacles Entrance near Wall and is the heartbeat of the park, providing access to various scenic overlooks and trails, many which we include and discuss below such as Big Badlands Overlook, Yellow Mounds Overlook and Panorama Point.

Capture the sheer vastness of the badlands and watch the landscape transform during sunrise and sunset.

Keep an eye out for bighorn sheep and prairie falcons that often make appearances.

bighorn sheep along the Badlands Loop RoadPin
herd of Bighorn Sheep along the Badlands Loop Road

Yellow Mounds Overlook

Located along the Badlands Loop Road, Yellow Mounds Overlook is a gem hidden in plain sight which showcases the park’s geological wonders in vivid colors.

one of the most colorful rock formations in Badlands National Park, Yellow Mounds OverlookPin
One of the most colorful rock formations in Badlands National Park, Yellow Mounds Overlook | Chris Light, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The banded rock formations, ranging from deep reds to golden yellows, make this spot a photographer’s paradise.

It’s also an excellent location for a family picnic with a view, so pack some sandwiches and enjoy the vibrant scenery.

Colorful Yellow Mounds Overlook in Badlands NPPin
vivid colors seen at the Yellow Mounds Overlook along the Badlands Loop Road | James St. John, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Big Badlands Overlook

Still along the Badlands Loop Road, make your way to Big Badlands Overlook. The vastness of the badlands will leave the whole family in awe.

This is the spot where you capture a great family photo.

Sunsets here are particularly spectacular, casting a warm glow over the rugged landscape.

Big Badlands Overlook with sign in Badlands National ParkPin
Big Badlands Overlook | Chris Light, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Door Trail

How to get there: look for the joint parking lot for Door, Window, Notch and Castle trails off the loop road, 2 miles north of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center

Hike Length: 0.75 miles, round-trip (.25 miles of this trail is a flat boardwalk)

Difficulty: Easy

Access the trailhead for the Door Trail and several other hikes we’ll outline below in a parking lot right off the loop road, 2 miles north of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.

This is a 0.75 mile family-friendly walk which starts out on a boardwalk. If accessibility is an issue, you can stop at the end of the boardwalk, but continuing past the boardwalk to the end affords a great view.

Along the way, you’ll encounter ancient fossils embedded in the rock, giving the kids a hands-on lesson in paleontology.

YouTube video
Here’s a taste of the Door Trail – the kids LOVED climbing, sliding and exploring here

Notch Trail

How to get there: shares the same parking lot as the Door, Window, and Castle trails off the loop road, 2 miles north of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center

Hike Length: 1.5 miles, round-trip

Difficulty: Moderate

Also starting near the Visitor Center, the Notch Trail is a moderately strenuous hike that takes you through a picturesque canyon and challenges you to climb a log ladder.

Don’t worry- the ladder is at an incline, so it’s perfectly safe for the kids, though it may be a little intimidating.

At the end of the trail, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the White River Valley.

It’s a family bonding experience with a dash of thrill that older kids and teens will especially enjoy.

people climbing the ladder on the Notch Trail in Badlands National ParkPin
ladder on the Notch Trail, Badlands National Park | Chris Light, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Castle Trail

How to get there: shares the same parking lot as the Door, Window, and Notch trails off the loop road, 2 miles north of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. Or start this trail at the opposite end, located at the Fossil Exhibit Trail parking lot, closer to the Pinnacles Park entrance

Hike Length: 5 miles one-way, or 10-miles round-trip

Difficulty: Moderate (relatively flat, but longer in length)

The Castle Trail, a 5-mile point-to-point trail (or 10 miles round-trip), immerses you in the breathtaking “backcountry” of Badlands National Park, providing a unique opportunity to explore the diverse landscapes and geological wonders of the region.

The Castle Trail is the longest trail in the entire park, with one trailhead located at the Fossil Exhibit Area and the other at the parking lot for the Door, Window, and Notch Trails.

This versatile hike can be enjoyed in either direction, taking you through fields of prairie grass, around towering rock formations, and offering glimpses of bighorn sheep and pronghorn.

Your family certainly need not complete the entire trail. It’s another opportunity for your kids to get into “explorer mode” as you scurry up and down these rocky formations. “Trail” is a loose term here as people kind of meander freely through these sandstone fields.

Without trees around, it’s easy to keep your car in sight if you wish to not go too far down the trail. Just make sure to put on the sunscreen and take water with you as you adventure.

Keep an eye out for rattlesnakes, which occasionally make appearances.

Castle trail panoramic, Badlands National ParkPin
Castle Trail, Badlands National Park

Window Trail

How to get there: shares the same parking lot as the Door, Notch and Castle trails off the loop road, 2 miles north of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.

Hike Length: .25 miles

Difficulty: easy (boardwalk)

The Window Trail is a short, easy .25 mile out and back boardwalk stroll that starts at the Door and Window Trail parking area located on the loop road 2 miles north of the visitor center.

trailhead sign for Door, Window and Notch Trails, Badlands NPPin

This short but rewarding trail, perfect for families, especially those with strollers or other accessibility issues, leads you to a “window” in the Badlands Wall, providing a natural frame for the stunning landscape beyond.

The NPS requests people stay on this particular trail, and not wander off (most of Badlands NP has an “open hike” policy, meaning going off trail is allowed).

people walking the boardwalk of the Window trail in Badlands National ParkPin
Most of Badlands NP has an “open hike” policy, meaning it’s ok to hike off-trail. The Window Trail is one exception. The NPS asks people to stay on this boardwalk trail. | Chris Light, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Fossil Exhibit Trail

How to get there: parking lot is 5 miles west of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center on the Loop Road

Hike Length: .25 miles round-trip

Difficulty: easy (boardwalk)

Found near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, the Fossil Exhibit Trail is a quarter-mile loop with interactive exhibits providing insights into the park’s ancient history.

a family's shadows against the Badlands formationsPin
playing with shadows along the Fossil Exhibit Trail in Badlands NP

The kids can touch fossil replicas, and informational signs make learning fun. It’s an educational pit stop that brings the past to life.

YouTube video
walking the Fossil Exhibit Trail in Badlands National Park

Panorama Point

Found along the Badlands Loop Road, make your way to Panorama Point for a sunset spectacle. The changing colors of the Badlands as the sun dips below the horizon are simply magical.

It’s the perfect way to end your day of family adventures. Bring a blanket, sit back, and watch as the sky transforms the landscape into a canvas of warm hues.

Panorama Point Badlands National ParkPin
Panorama Point

Pinnacles Overlook

Another fantastic sunset spot, the Pinnacles Overlook is a great place to look out over the Sage Creek Wilderness area, and on clear days, catch a glimpse of the Black Hills in the distance.

pinnacles overlook, badlands national parkPin
Pinnacles Overlook

Keep an eye out for American bison grazing in the valley or on the prairie, and enjoy the spectacle of Bighorn sheep that love to gather in this spot.

If you visit in late April to early May, you might even spot adorable Bighorn sheep lambs navigating the rocky slopes.

herd of bighorn sheep along the Loop RoadPin
herd of bighorn sheep near Pinnacles Overlook

Sage Creek Rim Road

For a more off-the-beaten-path adventure, explore Sage Creek Rim Road.

This gravel and dirt road leads to the tranquil Sage Creek Campground, a rustic spot where you can camp under the stars and experience the serene beauty of the Badlands.

When it’s dry, no need to worry about navigating this road without a 4WD vehicle, though it could get muddy and a little bumpier in wet weather.

Keep an eye out for American bison, which often roam freely in this area.

YouTube video
Lots of wildlife can often be seen along the Sage Creek Rim Road, like these prairie dogs we saw there

White River Valley Overlook

On the western edge of the park, take Sage Creek Rim Road to reach the White River Valley Overlook. It offers a different perspective of the Badlands and is a quieter spot to reflect on the day’s adventures.

The panoramic views of the White River Valley and Badlands formations make it a peaceful spot for family reflection.

sign for White River Valley Overlook, Badlands National ParkPin
White River Valley Overlook Badlands National Park, South Dakota | Tony Webster from Minneapolis, Minnesota, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Robert’s Prairie Dog Town

Head to the Sage Creek Rim Road for a visit to Roberts Prairie Dog Town. These social little creatures are a joy to watch as they pop in and out of their burrows, chirping and playing.

Pack a picnic, set up in the picnic areas near the prairie dog towns, and enjoy lunch with a side of adorable wildlife antics. Just remember not to feed them – they’re wild animals…it’s harmful to them, and not safe for humans (I know they look like the pet you’d always wanted and never got, but alas, they aren’t).

three kids at the Roberts Prairie Dog Town sign in Badlands National Park, South DakotaPin

More Highlights in Badlands National Park

Cliff Shelf Nature Trail

The Cliff Shelf Nature Trail is a short (0.5 miles), easy boardwalk hike near the White River Visitor Center.

This trail takes you along the base of the Badlands Wall, providing an up-close view of the intricate rock formations. For those with accessibility concerns, there are some stairs on this path.

woman walking on the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail in Badlands NPPin
Cliff Shelf Nature Trail | Chris Light, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hay Butte Overlook

Hay Butte Overlook offers panoramic views of the Badlands, making it a great spot for photography enthusiasts. The short hike to the overlook is worth the effort, as you’ll be greeted with a stunning vista that extends for miles.

Hay Butte Overlook Badlands NP at sunsetPin
Hay Butte Overlook

Sage Creek Basin Overlook

For a peaceful escape, visit the Sage Creek Basin Overlook. This less-trafficked spot provides a quiet setting to appreciate the vastness of the Badlands.

sign for Sage Creek Basin Overlook in Badlands National ParkPin

Burns Basin Overlook

Burns Basin Overlook is a hidden gem that offers a unique perspective of the Badlands at the end of a short boardwalk.

Burns Basin Overlook, Badlands National ParkPin
Burns Basin Overlook | Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Stars! Attend a Night Sky Viewing Program

Not everything in the Badlands is best during the day. In fact, one of the best must see Badlands National Park recommendations I can share is to make sure you get out at night and attend a ranger-led night sky program!

If your family lives in a city or suburban area, then seeing the night sky in a remote park like the Badlands is a totally new experience. Led by an NPS expert, these programs will open your eyes, literally, to a whole new world that opens up at night in the skies above us.

I went to one of these programs as a child, and 15 (cough, cough) years later, I still remember this program like it were yesterday!

There’s even a special/additional junior ranger badge kids can earn for participating in one of these programs!

a starry night in Badlands National ParkPin
a starry night in Badlands National Park

Earn A Junior Ranger Badge

Last but not least, don’t forget to grab a junior ranger book at the visitor center and work your way through the book as you set out on your Badlands adventure! No small kids? I don’t think there’s an age-limit to participate! So why not? As they say, when in Rome…become a junior ranger.

Trust me, no matter your national park prowess, you’ll learn a thing or two if you take on this fun challenge.

When your book is complete, take it back to the ranger station and collect your badge once you recite the park pledge with a friendly NPS ranger.

taking the pledge and earning junior ranger badges at Yellowstone National ParkPin
Here’s our kiddos taking the oath, and earning their junior ranger badges at Yellowstone National Park

Helpful Tips for Your Badlands NP Trip

  1. Stay Hydrated: The Badlands terrain can be rugged, and temperatures can soar, especially during the summer months. Bring plenty of water bottles to stay hydrated, especially on longer hikes.
  2. Wear Sturdy Footwear: Opt for comfortable, sturdy hiking shoes with good traction. Some trails may involve uneven terrain or inclines, so proper footwear is essential.
  3. Pack Essentials: Carry essentials like sunscreen, a hat, and a map of the trails. The sun can be intense, and having a map helps you navigate the park’s vast expanse.
  4. Check Trail Conditions: Before embarking on a hike, check trail conditions at the visitor center. Some trails may be closed or have restrictions due to weather or maintenance.
  5. Start Early or Late: Plan your hikes for the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the heat of midday. Sunrise and sunset in the Badlands create stunning lighting conditions for photography.
  6. Wildlife Safety: Respect wildlife from a safe distance. Keep a watchful eye for animals like bison and bighorn sheep. Maintain a safe distance, especially during breeding seasons.

Beyond The Badlands: Things to Do and See Near Badlands NP

South Dakota is truly a family road trip dream. Badlands NP provides a once in a lifetime experience…and so do a variety of unbelievable opportunities close-by, but outside the national park.

So make sure your family allots enough time to dig into the many incredible adventures that are all available to you within a stone’s throw of the badlands…

Must See Badlands National Park: places of interest surrounding Badlands NP circled in red on mapPin
Other areas of interest surrounding Badlands National Park…there’s a LOT for your family to do nearby!

Check out this article which will cover:

  • The Black Hills
  • Mount Rushmore
  • Crazy Horse Memorial
  • Hill City & the 1880 Train
  • Keystone & Big Thunder Gold Mine
  • Rapid City & Bear Country USA
  • Deadwood and the Main St shoot-out re-enactments
  • Custer State Park
  • Wind Cave National Park
  • Wall Drug
  • Buffalo Gap National Grassland
  • Jewel Cave National Monument

Badlands National Park is not just a destination; it’s an immersive journey through time, nature, and the rich cultural heritage of the region.

From the twists and turns of Badlands Loop Road to the adorable prairie dogs at Robert’s Prairie Dog Town, it’s a family adventure like no other.

So, pack your sense of wonder, hit the road, and let the wonders of this park unfold before you as you make your way through these must see Badlands National Park locations!

children standing next to a Badlands National Park signPin

Pin this must see Badlands National Park list for later! And if you found this article helpful, leave a comment on the pin. That helps others decide whether to use this information, too!

There is SO MUCH to do in (& around) Badlands NP, South Dakota. With this Must See Badlands National Park list (+ map) you can plan the ultimate family trip! #familytravel #nationalparksmomPin
happy trails, heatherPin
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About Heather Thibodeau

Heather Thibodeau is the founder and mom behind nationalparksmom.com.

She and her husband Dave (AKA Tib) are on a mission to travel to as many US national parks with their three kids in tow as they possibly can, doing their best to keep the little ones out in nature and off of screens in an increasingly digital world.

Heather has earned degrees in biology & chemistry from Virginia Tech (Go Hokies), and holds master's and doctorate degrees in physical therapy from Duke University (Go Blue Devils).

Heather is also the creative force behind The Heathered Nest where she shares her love of all things DIY and home decor.

Her work has been featured in Better Homes and Gardens, House Beautiful, Good Housekeeping, This Old House, Today.com, The Washington Post, Boston Globe, and more.

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