Much like the Black Hills, the Badlands was a name given by the Lakota people. They used the term mako sica, which meant “land bad.” The name was no exaggeration. The Badlands National Park is a completely different landscape than the Black Hills National Forest. This is a landscape that has been ravaged over the years by the unforgiving South Dakota weather. Take a look back in time and experience just how the heavy rain, blistering heat, and paralyzing cold wreak havoc on a landscape that looks like another planet. It’s hard to believe that the Badlands National Park is just an hour east of the lush green and granite spires of the Black Hills.
The Badlands National Park consists of 244,000 acres of sharply eroded spires, massive buttes, and a colorful pallet of reds, yellows, oranges, and more. The deep gorges once spelled doom for anyone or anything unfortunate enough to become trapped. While still dangerous, they guide your eyes to a flatland of the largest protected mixed grass prairie in the United States. The Badlands National Park is desolation at its truest sense but still maintains a sense of beauty and wonder. Because of the harsh extreme South Dakota weather, the landscape changes every day.
New fossils are being discovered by rangers, paleontologists, and park visitors every day. The Badlands National Park also preserves the world’s greatest fossil beds of animals from the Oligocene Epoch of the Age of Mammals. From ancient camels, giant rhinoceros-like creatures, saber-toothed cats, and more, these fossils paint a picture of the local ecosystem from millions of years ago. Driving on the Badlands Loop Road, you’ll have the opportunity for many scenic stops, hiking trails, as well as information about the creatures that inhabited this area over 33 million years ago! We would like to remind all of our guests that all fossils, rocks, plants and animals are protected and must remain where you find them.
While the Badlands National Park seems simultaneously empty, beautiful, and desolate, the area does contain a diverse ecosystem. In fact, wildlife is abundant within the park’s boundaries. Keep an open eye while driving on Badlands Loop Road and you might see bison, pronghorn antelope, mule and whitetail deer, prairie dogs, coyotes, eagles, hawks, turtles, snakes, bluebirds, vultures, and more. In fact, Black-footed ferrets were near extinction with only 18 in existence by 1986. In 1994, the Black-footed ferret was reintroduced into the Badlands prairie, and are a crucial part of keeping the ecosystem balanced as they mainly prey on prairie dogs. However, these animals are nocturnal, so you might have a hard time catching a glimpse of one. If you plan on hiking in the Badlands, we’d like to urge our guests to stay alert on the trails. The Black Hills and Badlands are home to the Prairie Rattlesnake, which is venomous. Stay aware of your surroundings at all times and, if you’re hiking or climbing, be sure to look before placing your hand in rock holds or edges to grip.
Just as with Custer State Park and the Wildlife Loop, you can spend as much or as little time as you’d like at the Badlands National Park. Our guests could easily spend the majority of their day on the Badlands Loop Road and in Wall Drug, or they could just decide to take a few hours, hit a couple of the lookout points and continue with their day. Either way, the Badlands National Park is one destination you won’t regret visiting.
Private: Non-Commercial Vehicle; $15 - Valid for 7 days
Individual - hike, bicycle; $7 - Valid for 7 days
Motorcycle; $10 - Valid for 7 days
Badlands National Park Annual Pass; $30 - Valid for one year from month of purchase
Ben Reifel Visitor Center
Hours of Operation
Mountain Time Zone
8 a.m. - 4 p.m. (Winter Hours)
8 a.m. - 5 p.m. (mid-April to mid-May)
7 a.m. - 7 p.m. (Summer Hours)
8 a.m. - 5 p.m. (early September to late October)
White River Visitor Center
Hours of Operation
Open seasonally, summer only.
Open daily, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.