Drive Through Badlands National Park

Badlands Scenic Loop

The Badlands Loop is a 35-mile scenic byway on highway 240. View wildlife including bison, explore unique rocky landscape hikes suitable for all ages, and capture the Glow of the geography at sunset.

Badlands National Park is on the western edge of South Dakota, about 60 minutes from Rapid City, and is a strikingly different landscape from the mostly flat typography of the state. Just off I-90, this oasis of rocky formations is a welcome exploration for travelers heading west along the interstate.

Plan to make a stop here even just for the scenic byway through the park which only takes 60 minutes if you do not stop (but you will, trust me).

Badlands National Park is a textbook example of Badland topography (hence the name), where soft sedimentary rock is extensively eroded in a dry climate. The park's typical scenery of sharp spires, gullies, and ridges is a premier example.

There are only a few trails in Badlands and most are short, so you can explore much of the park within a day. For a decent hike, take the 1.5 mile Notch Trail to get up close to the unique rock formations. To see some of the beautiful prairies, tackle any part of the Castle Trail.

Head to nps.gov for more information on the scenic driving routes and hiking trails.

If you're looking for a beautiful sunset or a great spot to stare up at the stairs, grab a spot at Pinnacles Overlook.

As for accommodations, there are plenty of campsites within Badlands (including cabins), or drive back out of the park and stay the night in Rapid City and head to Mt. Rushmore the following day!

Pack List

  • Comfortable Shoes for hiking
  • Camera
  • Tripod
  • Water
  • Snacks/ food
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Activities Chillin, Camping, Photography, Hiking
Skill Level Beginner
Season Spring, Summer, Autumn
Features
Bathrooms
Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Groups
Picnic Area
Scenic
Wildlife

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

Breathtaking

The Badlands are so different from the flatness of most of the rest of the state - and that's what makes them so beautiful. My advice is to just stop and take it all in - no talking, no pictures, just looking - for a minute, for five minutes, for an hour. Feel the freedom of the wide open spaces. It's truly an amazing view, experience, and feeling. The Badlands are beautiful in their own rough, harsh way, and there is a reason they attract visitors from all over the world.

Worth it!

At times you feel like you are on a different planet. Make sure to give yourself the entire day to drive though the park so you don't feel rushed to skip things to get through it all. Lots of wildlife and unique landscapes! Yellow Mounds was my favorite!

Please, get out of your car

Yes, we should all drive through Badlands National Park but please, please, I URGE you to get out and do a little hiking. It could be a mile, just do not drive around the park and call it good. Theodore Roosevelt did not make the NPS to be driven through, he made them to be explored and appreciated in their entirety. The Badlands offers (odd, but) spectacular views and hiking, as well as (weirdly) abundant wildlife. We saw rams, a huge coyote, and lots of bison during our 2 day trip.


Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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