What is the best time to visit Badlands National Park?

The South Dakota Badlands is a unique place with surprises around every corner. Over one million people visited the park in 2021. But many people planning on visiting Badlands are unsure when the best time to visit is.

The best time to visit Badlands is during the shoulder seasons of April-June and September-November. 

This spectacular and rugged moonlike landscape is home to a collection of unique rock formations like sandstones, siltstones, pinnacles, eroded buttes, and spires. Photographers enjoy perfect conditions for taking pictures of lovely sunrises and sunsets.

Native bison and bighorn sheep meander around the nation’s largest mixed-grass prairie habitat. Visitors can also enjoy several backcountry wilderness experiences within Badlands.

In addition to discussing when the best time to visit Badlands is, we’ll also get further into the following topics:

  • Do you need reservations to visit Badlands National Park?
  • How long does it take to go through Badlands National Park?
  • How long does it take to drive the Badlands Loop?
  • Are there any good hikes and camping at Badlands?
badlands national park at sunset
Sunset at Badlands National Park

Best time of year to visit Badlands National Park

As previously mentioned, the best time to visit Badlands would be during the Spring months of April through June and the Fall months of September through November. These months are the shoulder seasons for the park. 

Crowds are smaller during these months as most kids are still in school. Additionally, the weather is much more pleasant. Average Spring and Fall temperatures are as follows:

April – High 57° / Low 35°

May – High 66° / Low 45°

June – High 78° / Low 56°

September – High 76° / Low 52°

October – High 60° / Low 40°

November – High 47°/ Low 28°

Badlands is known for extreme and unpredictable weather conditions, particularly in the Summer and Winter. Summers in Badlands are usually dry and hot. Daytime temperatures in July and August can exceed 100°. Not exactly ideal temperatures for hiking in the park! 

Winters in the park are equally as extreme but on the other end of the weather spectrum. The park is typically freezing during this time, averaging from the low teens to the high 30s. Winter brings lots of snow to the Badlands, 12 to 24 inches of total snowfall, to be exact. 

It’s clear why it would be ideal to visit Badlands during the shoulder seasons of Spring and Fall. Avoid visiting during the Summer and Winter if possible.

badlands national park rock formations
The Badland’s iconic multi-colored rock formations along with rolling fields of prairie grasses. NPS photo

Do you need reservations to visit Badlands National Park?

Reservations to enter Badlands National Park are not required. Compared to other national parks, Badlands typically isn’t too crowded. You should be able to roll up and enter the park after you pay your entrance fee. That is, as long as the park isn’t closed due to adverse or extreme weather conditions. 

How long does it take to go through Badlands National Park?

Badlands is a relatively small national park, so you could definitely tour much of the park’s main attractions in one day. Ideally, two days at the park would be the perfect amount of time to see the Badlands in its entirety if you have the time. 

Some popular activities in the park include hiking, wildlife viewing, photography, and scenic drives. Two days would be plenty of time to see attractions such as Badlands Loop Road (Highway 240), Yellow Mounds Overlook, Big Badlands Overlook, Pinnacles Overlook, Notch Trail, Door Trail, and Roberts Prairie Dog Town. 

How long does it take to drive the Badlands Loop?

The Badlands Loop Road is a scenic 39-mile loop that traverses through part of the park. It’s an excellent way to explore and view the North Unit of Badlands National Park. 

Without any stops, it would take you about an hour to drive the loop in its entirety. However, most people understandably want to stop at all the scenic spots and overlooks. Because of this, you can expect to spend a few hours driving the Badlands Loop. 

There are 16 scenic overlooks along the Badlands Loop. When stopping at most or all of these overlooks to snap a few pictures, you can expect to spend about 1.5 to 3 hours driving the loop. 

Are there good hikes and camping at the Badlands?

There are two established campgrounds in the park. Those being Cedar Pass Campground and Sage Creek Campground. 

The Cedar Pass Campground consists of 96 level sites with spectacular views of the surrounding badlands. Reservations are required for Cedar Pass Campground during the busier summer season. 

The Sage Creek Campground is free to camp at and is available on a first-come-first-serve basis. This campground consists of 22 sites situated on Sage Creek Rim Road. This unpaved road sometimes temporarily closes due to winter storms and spring rains. 

Backcountry camping is allowed anywhere in the park as long as it’s a half mile away from the park’s roads and trails and isn’t visible to people. 

The park has numerous hiking trails ranging from short and easy trails along a boardwalk to more strenuous hikes through the rugged, rocky Badlands landscape. Some popular hikes in the park include:

  • Notch Trail – A moderate to strenuous 1.5 miles (round trip) hike that takes you through a winding canyon leading to a log ladder you climb to reach a ledge known as “the Notch,” which provides you with tremendous views of the White River Valley. 
  • Door Trail – An easy 0.75 mile (round trip) hike along an established boardwalk that cuts through an opening in the Badlands Wall known as “the Door” for a spectacular view of the Badlands landscape. 
  • Saddle Pass Trail – A strenuous 0.25-mile (round trip) trail that ascends up the Badlands Wall for a superb view of the White River Valley. 
  • Castle Trail – A moderate 10-mile (round trip) hike along the northern end of the Badlands Wall that winds through a collection of rock spires, buttes, and open prairies.
  • Fossil Exhibit Trail – An easy 0.25-mile (round trip) trail along a boardwalk that showcases various fossil replicas and exhibits of long-extinct creatures that once inhabited the Badlands. 
map of badlands national park
Click here for Map of Badlands National Park. USGS photo

Final Thoughts

Badlands National Park is an astonishing national park with a picturesque other-worldly landscape. 

If you seek to avoid crowds and not-so-great weather conditions, then visit the park during the shoulder seasons of April-June and September-November. 

You don’t need to worry about having any reservations for getting into Badlands as the park does not require them. 

If you really want the true Badlands experience, plan to spend about two full days in the park. However, if you’re crunched for time, one day here would suffice for seeing the best attractions in the park. 

Plan on spending about 1.5 to 3 hours driving the Badlands Loop, as there are many scenic overlooks and pull-offs along the way. 

There are two established campgrounds in the park in addition to backcountry camping opportunities. 

Furthermore, there is absolutely no shortage of incredible hikes throughout the park. Such hikes include Notch Trail, Door Trail, Saddle Pass Trail, Castle Trail, Fossil Exhibit Trail, and more. 

Make sure to plan your visit to Badlands and experience some of South Dakota’s authentic backcountry wilderness and landscapes!

Want a complete list and recap of all our US National Parks as well as free downloadable maps and other great resources? Check out our US National Parks List and Map guide!

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Free Downloadable NP List & Maps

About Me

My husband and I have three precious daughters and live in the Kansas City, KS area. One of our favorite things to do is travel across the country visiting our extraordinary US National Parks!

Let us know what you think about our content and if you have any questions, suggestions, or have any favorite memories or tips you would like to share. We would love to hear from you!

Happy Travels! Sandy

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