Badlands National Park isn’t your typical national park experience.
Unlike Arches National Park or even Bryce Canyon, you’ll find Badlands National Park a more humbling experience which allows opportunities for you to feel up close and personal to wildlife and many opportunities to appreciate the geological significance of one of the world’s richest fossil bed areas! Read on for things to do in Badlands National Park.
With all that said, I highly recommend purchasing a pair of binoculars if you haven’t already and to prepare your inquisitive and curious self to be amazed: prairies, rich geological sites, wildlife, fossils… oh my!
Things to Do –
Badlands Loop Road
This scenic drive takes you through the North Unit of Badlands Park. If you only have a short amount of time and want to make the most out of your visit, this loop is most ideal. There are tons of opportunities for overlooks and trailheads for some entertaining hikes.
Expect about 1-2 hours to complete this 31 mile loop road. The road is nicely paved, so no off-roading adventure necessary. It took me about 2 hours to complete it – stopping at many of the overlooks and doing one small hike included. It could have definitely taken longer had I hiked more trails and spent more time gazing at the wildlife. Unfortunately, I did not have any binoculars with me… BRING BINOCULARS.
One thing you absolutely cannot miss is the Big Badlands Overlook. It is, in my opinion, the best view of the Badlands.
Yellow Mounds Overlook
You’ll see all the layers of this geological site, so get your camera ready. Word has it, the yellow tints used to be the floor of a long ago inland sea. Having used to cover the Great Plains, the exposure to the air actually caused the yellowed soil! Pretty cool, huh? I bet it is if you’re a geology buff.
Think about visiting this overlook as the sun is shining right on these mounds. I just did the scenic drive with minimal planning about the sun placement and it was only a decent view. I feel like the time I visited didn’t do this scene justice. It has serious potential to offer you a gratifying view if you time it just right. The Yellow Mounds Overlook can be quite an impressively unique site! Otherwise, it just looks like some mounds of dirt that are just neat to look at.
Fossil Exhibit Trail
This is the one trail I did hike. It’s short, sweet, and informative. This would be a great hike to do with kids or if you just want to brush up on your fossil knowledge. The trail is flat, easy, and has many kiosks along it to inform you as you walk through a little bit of the badlands. There is also a bathroom at the trailhead parking lot.
The hike is 0.4 miles long and can easily be completed in 10 minutes or less. Bring necessary things (sunglasses, sun hat, sun screen, etc.) to walk fully exposed in the heat and sunlight.
Big Badlands Overlook
By far, in my opinion, one of my favorite overlooks in the North Unit. You get a wonderful view of the canyon and can see (if you look closely enough) tons of wild buffalo out in the distance. It is a great stop to snap some pictures and stretch your legs. I think this overlook captures an accurate depiction of the beauty in Badlands National Park.
Although we didn’t have time to do this trail, it is on my to-do list for the next visit to Badlands National Park. This trail is 1.5 miles long and is moderately strenuous. So, strap on your hiking shoes and let the hiking begin! If you do this trail, comment below to tell me how your experience went!
I’ve heard that you might want to be cautious when bringing children on this trail and that you should leave your fear of heights at the trailhead. Oh, and you must leave the pets at home for this hike. They’re not permitted to go on the Notch Trail.
If you’re planning on staying the night there, camp down at Sage Creek Campground (FREE) and prepare to see one of the most beautifully breathtaking sunsets you’ll experience. I got lucky and witnessed heat lightning illuminating the vibrant, rich colors. The small storm system that rolled through added such an enhanced effect to the sunset that it was one of the wildest times to be outside and capturing the beauty nature has to offer.
The rolling hills, all the colors a sunset brings, wildlife, and a peaceful creek bed provide a nearly perfect time to gaze and get lost into the sunset. It was one of the most jaw-dropping sunsets I’ve experienced in all my life. Absolutely magical.
Oh, if you are camping at Sage Creek, be prepared to share the sites with the adorable prairie dogs. They’re everywhere.