Teddy and I took a 12 day road trip through five western states in the summer of 2022. One of the states we were able to explore was South Dakota. During our time there, we visited spots like Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Devil’s Tower, and Badlands National Park. I’d been to the Badlands in 2018 with my Dad, but Teddy had never visited before. If you have only one day to spend in the park, these are our recommendations on how to spend a day.
Plan to Enjoy Sunrise or Sunset (or both!)
Some of the most beautiful views of the park are during the early morning or evening when the sky is changing. If possible, plan to be in the park for at least one of these during the day.
Drive the Scenic Badlands Loop Road + Listen to the GyPSy Guide
I had never used a GyPSy Guide prior to this 12-day road trip but think they are so worth the money. We downloaded the GyPSY guide for both Glacier and the Badlands. Once you begin your drive close to the park (from either entrance) you can turn on your GPS in the guide and it will narrate information about what you’re approaching whether that be about wildlife, geology, history, or other information. It’s like having a Park Ranger in your vehicle with you and it really is enjoyable to listen to.
Go for a Hike
Some of the most popular hikes in the park are the Windows Trail, the Door Trail, the Castle Trail, and the Notch Trail. There is also an open hike policy in the park which means you’re allowed to hike off-trail. If you pursue that option, do so wisely.
- Door Trail – .75 Miles Round Trip
- Windows Trail – .25 Miles Round Trip
- Notch Trail – 1.5 Miles Round Trip
- Castle Trail – 10 Miles Round Trip
Visit the Town of Wall
The town of Wall includes the famous Wall Drug. While I would still highly recommend checking out the store (and grabbing donuts for your drive), you can also enjoy a great meal and grab coffee in town. When Teddy and I visited, we had lunch at the Badlands Saloon & Grille and I had the Badlands Rattlesnake Pizza. It included Ranch, light mozzarella, cream cheese, sliced jalapeno, crumbled bacon, pineapple, and raspberry preserves. It was probably one of the oddest topped pizzas I’d ever had but I thought it was so good. They also served drinks in aluminum cups and I told the waiter I thought they were the coolest and she let me take them home with us. So you bet I flew them back to PA in my luggage and I now use them for cups in our camper. We stopped for drinks to go with our donuts form Wall Drug at the the Wall Stompin Grounds Coffee House. I got a latte and Teddy got chai. We loved them both.
Check Out the Visitor Center
If you enter from the east Entrance, toward the end of the scenic drive you’ll get to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. I do love to learn, but I personally find most Visitor Centers at National Parks pretty boring. This one however I was intrigued by. They do a great job showcasing the animal species that used to roam the Badlands areas. Y’all, these species are WILD. They had replicas of these animals displayed and while I forget all the names, they did have a three toed horse that kind of looked like it was crossed with a deer called the Mesohippus, a saber tooth cat called the Hoplophoneus and a unique type of rhinoceros known as a Metamynodon. I didn’t know so many unique creatures lived in the area so I thought seeing what they likely would have looked like to be pretty cool.
1 Day Itinerary
- Stay Overnight at the Badlands Frontier Cabins. They’re right near the entrance of the park.
- Get up before sunrise and drive into the park from Wall.
- Find a pullout like the Big Badlands Overlook, Panorama Point or the Doors Trail and enjoy the view!
- Go for a morning hike before it’s too crowded or too hot on either the Notch Trail or the Castle Trail
- Head out of the park and into Wall for a break in the day. Grab lunch at the Badlands Saloon and Grille and then pick up a donut at Wall Drug.
- Grab coffee or tea at Stompin Grounds Coffee House and head back into the park
- Pick a hike or walk you didn’t do this morning like the Windows and Doors Trail
- Head to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to check out the exhibits
- Drive on the Sage Creek Rim Road which is less traveled than the Loop Road
- Find a spot for sunset and enjoy the views from Pinnacles Overlook or Norbeck Pass. Now may be a great time to snack on those donuts.
- Settle back into your cabin for the evening