Avoiding the Crowds
The vastness of the park means that overcrowding is usually not a problem. Entrance stations, visitor centers, park concessions, and the Loop Road can become busy during the height of the summer season, especially in July and August, but most roads, trails, and services are not overtaxed at any time of the year.
As with most other national parks, those wishing to avoid crowds should visit during the shoulder seasons of April to May and September to October. If you must go in summer, visit early in the day, when the numbers of people are lowest and the sun hasn't begun to scorch the earth. Dawn and dusk are ideal times to photograph the unearthly beauty of the park and are the best times to see wildlife.
Park entry fees are $15 per passenger vehicle (up to 7 days), motorcycles $10, and each person on foot or bike pays $7. Members of the Oglala Sioux tribe pay half price. Camping costs $15 per site per night at the Cedar Pass Campground; sites with electrical hookups are $28 per night. Camping at Sage Creek Primitive Campground is free.
Tips from the Chief of Interpretation
Badlands National Park's 244,000 acres of stark scenery deserve special attention on any visitor's itinerary, according to the park's chief of interpretation, Jennie Albrinck. Just a short drive off I-90, the terrain changes dramatically.
"This park is larger than all of the other National Park Service units in the Midwest combined," Albrinck notes. "We have a great diversity of stories that converge here -- the fossils, the prairie grasses and wildlife, Lakota history, pioneer history, and homesteading. It's all here waiting to be explored."
Albrinck suggests allowing no less than 2 days to fully experience the park. "Visitors to the Badlands should at least experience a night in the park. The air is so clear here that the stars shine."
She also advises visiting in the spring or fall. "The grasses are just greening in spring, the birds are migrating, and the prairie animals are giving birth to their young. In the fall, the canyons and the ravines are filled with beautiful golden colors, the birds are migrating . . . and you can enjoy an uncrowded hike, a bike ride, or just a solitary experience."
Special Regulations & Warnings
Water in the Badlands is too full of silt for humans to drink and will quickly clog a water filter. When hiking or traveling in the park, always carry an adequate supply of water. Drinking water is available only at the Cedar Pass area, the White River Visitor Center, and the Pinnacles Ranger Station. No campfires are allowed. Climbing Badlands buttes and rock formations is allowed, but it can be extremely dangerous due to loose, crumbly rock. Unpaved roads in the park can be dangerous in winter and during thunderstorms, when surfaces may become extremely slippery.
Seasons & Climate
Badlands weather is often unpredictable. Heavy rain, hail, and high, often damaging winds are possible, particularly during spring and summer. Lightning strikes are common. Summer temperatures often exceed 100°F (38°C), so sunscreen, a broad-brimmed hat, and plenty of drinking water are essential to avoid severe sunburn, dehydration, and heat stroke. Winter travelers should be aware of approaching storms and be prepared for sleet, ice, heavy snow, and blizzard conditions.
Flora & Fauna
Largely a mixed-grass prairie, the park contains 56 types of grasses, most of which are native species, including green needlegrass and buffalo grass. Wildflowers, including curlycup gumweed and pale purple coneflower, add color, with the best wildflower displays in June and July. You won't find many trees here.
Wildlife to watch for include bison, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, pronghorns, and mule deer. Darting in and out of the grass are desert and eastern cottontail rabbits. Prairie dogs thrive here; a prairie dog town is just 5 miles down Sage Creek Rim Road. You might also see a prairie rattlesnake slithering through the grass, plus several nonpoisonous snake species.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.