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Visiting Badlands National Park with Kids

In background, a boy in a gray shirt and khaki bucket hat looks at an information panel at Badlands National Park, with rock formations visible in the distance. in front, the words " Visiting Badlands National Park with Kids" and "SiouxlandFamilies.com  Facebook.com/SiouxlandFamilies"

Many attractions, eateries, and other places are closed during the COVID-19 outbreak. Please check with individual businesses to make sure they are open before visiting, and take precautions to avoid spreading disease when possible. 

My family went on a road trip to the Badlands and the Black Hills in late summer 2019, and it was my first time ever going! I know for a lot of people in the Siouxland area, it's a popular vacation spot, and it wasn't hard to see why. If you're like me and you've never been before, or if you have been but maybe stick to the same few places every time and want to know more about the area, read on! I'm excited to share my insights based on our visit!

Where is Badlands National Park?

Badlands National Park is in Wall, South Dakota, and there are several entrances. Siouxland visitors will probably want to start at the northeast entrance if heading straight in to the park, or the pinnacles entrance if coming from Wall first. 
  

How to get to Badlands National Park from Siouxland

Badlands National Park is about a 5 hour drive from downtown Sioux City, and the easiest way to get there is to drive north on 29, then turn left at Sioux Falls to take I-90 the rest of the way! If you do that, cities along the way include:


There are also some smaller towns, but they're few and far between. I definitely recommend stopping at some or all of those 3 places for gas, diaper changes, potty breaks, and leg stretching!

Where to stay near Badlands National Park

Visiting Badlands National Park might sound like, well, a bad idea. But it's actually spectacular! We stayed one night at Frontier Cabins in Wall, and they were less than 10 minutes from the Pinnacles Entrance to Badlands National Park. We took advantage of this, plus the fact that the Badlands are in the mountain time zone and we are used to central time, to wake up early and head to the park just after sunrise. There were still other people there, but it was much less crowded than a typical national park experience, and our timing meant we caught a group of bighorn sheep right along the road not far from the entrance! We would never have gone that close to the animals while hiking, for our safety and out of respect for them, so we were pretty thrilled to accidentally get the best view ever. They didn't seem bothered by us at all and I got some great pics from the car window!

two rustic wooden chairs sit outside a wooden cabin at Frontier Cabins in Wall, South Dakota
Frontier Cabins in Wall

Roadside rams! Great surprise at Badlands!

a closeup shot of a bighorn sheep eating grass in Badlands National Park in South Dakota
The bighorn sheep were SO cool!

Another option is the Cedar Pass Lodge, which is the only lodging within the park, and offers both cabins and a campground for RV's or tents. The cabins are easy walking distance to the Ben Reifel Visitors Center, so we caught a glimpse of them while there, and they looked nice from the outside! The Cedar Pass Lodge also has a gift shop and restaurant, which have been closed for COVID, but in general are a nice amenity! Like most places to stay inside national parks, the cabins at Cedar Pass tend to book very far in advance, so I recommend making a reservation as soon as you're sure you want to go! 


Hiking with kids at Badlands National Park

After our sheep excitement, we went hiking! There are over a dozen trails at Badlands National Park, and hiking off-trail is also permitted. We decided to start with the Notches Trail and found it was a scenic, easy hike, until "the ladder." I would recommend it for most kids ages 12+, or maybe for 8+ if you have a tween who is good with heights and will be sufficiently careful on narrow ledges. We turned back at the ladder because my husband and I were both babywearing.

a man walks along a trail at Badlands National Park with a boy next to him, and a smaller boy in a carrier on his back
Notches Trail in Badlands National Park

The Ladder on Notches Trail in Badlands National Park


We also tried "the Fossil Trail" which I would call an educational walk, not a hiking trail. A short, smooth path along a boardwalk featured information panels frequently with information about the prehistoric creatures who used to live in the Badlands, plus actual 3d casts of their fossils. My kids loved the fossil trail, but they also loved getting off the path to climb a little! I definitely recommend this trail for young families and in particular for families who have someone who needs to ride in a stroller, wagon, or wheelchair.

an information sign reveals facts about prehistoric dogs alongside a cast of a fossil from one, along Fossil Trail in Badlands National Park
Information panel about prehistoric dogs along the Fossil Trail in Badlands National Park

a boy stands atop a rock formation in Badlands National Park
This rock formation right by the Fossil Trail was easy for kids to climb!


Ben Reifel Visitors Center at Badlands National Park

We also stopped in the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, and I definitely recommend it to families with young children. There were museum quality displays about the rock formations, the prehistoric and modern flora and fauna of the Badlands, and the people who lived in and around the Badlands historically, plus a working fossil lab, cute gift shop, and lots of helpful rangers on hand. If you are looking for a national parks stamp or a junior ranger program booklet, this is the place to stop! Both of our boys enjoyed filling out the junior ranger workbooks, and were thrilled that they got free pencils to fill them out with that said "Badlands National Park Junior Ranger Program" on them.



There was also a cute picnic area behind the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, which makes a great place for a snack or meal break!


What to pack to visit Badlands National Park with Kids

To visit Badlands National Park with kids, I recommend packing:

  • National Parks Pass
    • A pass is required to enter Badlands National Park, and a variety of options are available, from day passes to lifetime passes! If you have a 4th grader, be sure to check out the "Every Kid in a Park" pass option for a FREE pass that gets your whole car in for free! We got one for our fourth grader and it was great!
  • Diaper supplies for anyone who needs them
    • Include a blanket or changing mat, as there are not changing tables available other than at the Visitors Center
  • Hand/Face wipes
  • Sunscreen
  • Hats
    • There is very little shade on the trails we visited. Hats were a must for us!
  • Camera! You'll want to remember this fun!
  • Water
  • Snacks or a meal 
    • Other than Cedar Lodge, there is not food available in the park, and it would be easy to accidentally end up farther from your car than intended, or loving the park so much you want to stay longer than planned, so I recommend packing at least a snack even if you aren't planning to eat in the park. Better to have it and not need it than vice versa!
  • Weather appropriate hiking clothes. 
    • The vegetation is pretty sparse, so I recommend dressing for temperature rather than for protection from bugs and plants like you would to hike in Iowa. According to the National Parks website, the temp in Badland National Park can be as cold as  -40 and as hot as 116! We were lucky when we went and it was in the 60's and 70's!
  • A carrier for babies or toddlers for most trails. 
    • I used Kinderpack brand carriers with a cool mesh panel when we went; any sturdy carrier that fits your kids well without additional support (i.e. from you hands) would work well. 
  • A stroller or wagon if desired 
    • The Fossil Trail and Visitors Center were both easily accessible to a stroller or wagon, although a carrier would definitely work in both of those places too!


a mom in a pink shirt and black baseball cap holds a toddler in a purple and white hat in a slate blue carrier while the pair stands in front of a rock formation at Badlands National Park. below the image, the words "visiting Badlands National Park with kids" and above the picture, " SiouxlandFamilies.com"


For more information on Badlands National Park

To find out more about Badlands National Park or to buy a pass online, visit the official Badlands National Park website from the National Park Service. You can also connect with them on Facebook!
Once you're done in the Badlands, the drive from Wall, SD to Rapid City is only about an hour! I'll have another post soon about visiting Rapid City and the Black Hills with kids!




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