Monday, February 24, 2020

Badlands National Park, SD

Don't let it's ominous name put you off - the Badlands National Park, in South Dakota, is a wonderful way to spend a day! Merely driving through this picturesque park is a delightful experiences with lovely overlooks and vistas - and the occasional animal sighting - but add in the many family-friendly trails and boardwalks and it makes for a great adventure.

First view of the Badlands

As with most national parks, you could certainly spend more time here, but if one or two days is all you have to spare, it's still very much worth a visit! We arrived at about 11 and left before sundown. We saw a great deal of the Northern portion of the park and felt we had ample time to experience and enjoy what it had to offer.

What You Need to Know

There are multiple entrances to the park, but I'd recommend starting off at the Ben Reifel Visitor's Center. You can learn about the park there and check in with the park rangers to learn about closures or updates.

There are multiple short trails to explore and lots of overlooks along the Badlands Loop Road. Door Trail, Window Trail, Cliff Shelf, Saddle Pass, and the Fossil Exhibit Trail are all half a mile or so. The Notch Trail is longer and more strenuous, but it involves a ladder, which is a lot of fun for kids.

Saddlepass Trail

Window Trail

Short boardwalk trail

Keep an eye out for Roberts Prairie Dog Town, and don't be surprised if you see other wildlife scattered throughout the park. We saw lots of bison and some sheep!

Consider picking up a booklet at the Visitor's Center so your kiddos can earn their Jr. Ranger badge. This badge requires participation in a ranger-led activity OR viewing the movie so leave some time for that! For something different, consider picking up a GPS activity booklet.


As for food and lodging, there is a campground and a lodge (operating seasonally) inside the park. Be sure to check online for hours and availability. Otherwise, the nearby town of Wall has food and lodging. We ate breakfast in Wall and then packed a lunch and lots of snacks (and lots and lots of water!!) to tide us over during our day in the Badlands.

590 West

Storms can pop up quickly in the park, so sneak a peek at the weather before you head out for the day. We did have a storm blow through while we were there, but it came and went and didn't slow us down, thankfully. Apparently they can be vicious with lots of lightening, so be mindful of that possibility.

Additional Resources

The Badlands National Park offers several unique educational opportunities. The first is distance learning. The second is the ability to teleconference with a park ranger! This would probably have to be done as a part of a group, so if you're a part of a co-op, it might be worth looking into! Last, but not least, consider printing off this scavenger hunt checklist at home to be completed at the park.

For further resources, Enchanted Learning has a short lesson and printout featuring a prairie dog.

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