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  • Writer's pictureMick McMurray

3 Days in Badlands National Park

Updated: 3 days ago

The Door Trail at sunrise with jagged rock formations, and a cloudy sky in the background
The Door Trail at sunrise

Traveling to Badlands National Park in South Dakota and spending three days in Badlands National Park in South Dakota was an experience unlike any other. With its rugged terrain and stunning landscapes, this park offered us a chance to connect with nature in a truly immersive way. Over the course of three days, we explored the park's vast wilderness areas, hike along its numerous trails, and witness incredible views from its overlooks. Wildlife photography is a big interest to us and the park is home to a diverse array of wildlife, including bison, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and coyotes, which adds to the excitement of exploring its landscapes. Additionally, we took in the park's unique geological formations, which include towering rock spires, deep canyons, and colorful badlands formations.

We stopped here as part of a road trip. To see the start of the trip click HERE

Badlands NP Illustrated Trails Badlands NP Recreation Map

Badlands National Park is an area of beautiful pinnacles and dramatic canyons and is home to many species of wildlife. We got here in mid-August of 2022.

We were excited to continue the trip because we had never been to South Dakota before and were looking forward to visiting all of these new locations.

We stayed in the Cedar Pass Campground near the Visitors Center at the Badlands National Park. It was a nice campground with a lot of room, and all the sites were pull-thru. We had water and electric hook-ups and there is a dump station. We stayed here for 3 nights. There was so much to see in just 3 days that we didn't do much hiking but maybe we will get back there someday.

Day #1

After setting camp we went to an area I called the Pinnacles, an area of jagged formations where we had a beautiful sunset and moonrise. It was a perfect, relaxing evening after a long day of driving. I was photographing the pinnacles and the sunset and was surprised when I turned around and saw the full moon rising.


On the second day of our Badlands National Park adventure, we embarked on a scenic drive along the Badlands Loop Road. The road commences near the visitors' center on SD 240 and gradually transforms into Sage Creek Rd./Rim Rd. Along the way, we were treated to a series of breathtaking vistas of the stunning Badlands. Our drive took us through Roberts Prairie Dog Town, where we encountered countless prairie dogs inquisitively peering at us. We were also fortunate enough to spot several herds of bison grazing in the open areas. As the road loops around, we had the chance to explore the charming town of Interior before returning back into the park. The Badlands Loop Road is a must-see for anyone visiting the park, offering an unforgettable journey through the heart of this unique landscape.

Inspired by the spectacular moonrise we witnessed the night before, we ventured out to the Door Trail area to catch a glimpse of the full moon rising over some distant spires. The trail began with a well-maintained boardwalk, which eventually led us to an overlook before continuing onto a craggy terrain. As the sun began to set, we were treated to a breathtaking display of colors, and the moonrise was nothing short of awe-inspiring. Adding to the magic of the moment, we were delighted to spot some bighorn sheep in the area, who graciously posed for us. The Door Trail area is a perfect spot for anyone who loves to bask in the natural beauty of the Badlands, and the moonrise made it an unforgettable experience.

Day #3

The following morning, we returned to the Door Trail to witness the sunrise and hike out through the marked trail amidst the small peaks and canyons. As the photo indicates, the temperature was surprisingly comfortable even before the sun had risen. The daytime temperature was in the mid-80s, and the nights were cooler in the mid-60s. We have observed that at most of the parks we visit, there are hardly any visitors early in the morning, except for a few photographers. We encountered only two other individuals at sunrise at the Door Trail, which is usually a popular destination during the daytime. If you are someone who cherishes tranquility and solitude in nature, visiting the Door Trail early in the morning is highly recommended.

After our invigorating hike, we ventured north on SD 240 out of the park and drove on Interstate 90 to reach Wall, South Dakota, to explore the famous Wall Drug Store. We arrived there a little early and took a stroll around the surrounding shops and stores. As soon as the store opened, we joined a group of around 30 people waiting eagerly outside, sitting on the benches of the boardwalk. Wall Drug Store is a must-visit for anyone passing through the area, offering a unique shopping and dining experience that has been popular for decades. The store boasts an eclectic collection of merchandise, ranging from western wear to vintage memorabilia, and a wide selection of food and drinks, including their famous homemade donuts and 5-cent coffee. Visiting Wall Drug Store is a great way to round out your trip to the Badlands. At this time the Sturgis Motorcycle rally was going on so there were hundreds of bikes on the road and in town.

The Door Notch Trail area in Badlands National Park is a photographer's paradise, offering a variety of wildlife and landscapes to capture in stunning detail. One of the highlights of our visit was photographing the majestic bighorn sheep and deer that call the area home. Watching these animals roam freely in their natural habitat was truly a humbling experience, and we were fortunate to capture some amazing shots. The rugged terrain and scenic vistas provided a picturesque backdrop for our photoshoot, with the unique geological formations of the Badlands adding an element of drama and beauty to each shot. If you are a photography enthusiast, the Door Notch Trail area is a must-visit location in the park.

For the camera and setup I use for wildlife photos see the Photography Gear Guide

In conclusion, Badlands National Park is a treasure trove of natural beauty, offering a stunning array of landscapes, wildlife, and geological wonders. From the rugged terrain and colorful rock formations to the diverse wildlife that calls the area home, there is something for everyone to appreciate and enjoy. Whether you are a hiking enthusiast, a photography buff, or simply seeking a peaceful retreat in nature, the Badlands will not disappoint. The park offers a range of trails, activities, and scenic vistas to explore, each more awe-inspiring than the last. Our visit to the park was truly unforgettable, and we cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone looking for a unique and unforgettable adventure in nature.

Do you want to see the next stop on the road trip? It was 108 miles from Badlands National Park to Custer State Park On to Custer State Park

Lorna's Tips and Lessons

It was quite hot during our trip here, and I recommend not only having an integrated hydro backpack, as I discussed in the First Trip To Yellowstone post but also having a high-quality small ice chest for your vehicle. We purchased a Yeti ice chest specifically for traveling and it has been a great investment. Additionally, having an electric ice maker can be a luxury, but it is a great option if you have the space for it. We go through a lot of ice, and the ability to make ice at the campsite is a real convenience for us.


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