Drive Through Badlands National Park
South Dakota › Badlands Scenic Loop
Added by Casey Berner
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!
- Comfortable Shoes for hiking
- Snacks/ food
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
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
Camping, Chillin, Hiking, Photography
Spring, Summer, Autumn
Are we missing something?Suggest an edit
ReviewsLeave a Review
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.
The Badlands is one of the most underrated National Parks in the country. South Dakota is home to some incredible scenery and nature, and the Badlands are the perfect example of this. It's otherworldly at times and doesn't feel like you're even on planet Earth. The scenery and landscape is dry and intimidating, but utterly beautiful. This is a must do.
From the East Coast, visiting Badlands wasn't at the top of out cross-country list, so the 35-mile drive was enough for us to see. However the wildlife and terrain was very unique and made the trip that much more enjoyable. Also is wasn't very busy so we roamed freely and were't hung up driving through and making scenic overlook stops.
When planning a visit to this area it's also a good idea to keep in mind that the first week of August, every year, is the Sturgis Motorcycle rally. THOUSANDS of bikers from all over the country drive to get there. The first time I went (pre-cell phone era) I was passed by motorcycles all day long. What an interesting culturual phenomenon in contrast to the history and the geography of the area!
make sure to stay the night and stargaze if the sky is clear, which it most likely will be. There are buffalo and prarie dogs, and great hikes. Fun for the entire family, only drawback is that you can't take dogs on the trails
More Adventures Nearby
Camp at Sylvan Lake Campground
South Dakota / Sylvan Lake Campground
Medium-sized campground across the road from Sylvan Lake. Run by Custer State Park - reservations can be made online.
Paddle Sylvan Lake
South Dakota / Sylvan Lake Parking
Shared parking lot with the Harney Peak trailhead with bathrooms and picnic area. Several points for launching watercraft. There is a beach that gets crowded during summer weekend days.