One Day in Badlands National Park: An Epic Itinerary

view over the Badlands wall at Window Trail

From lunar landscapes to towering peaks, Badlands National Park will capture your imagination. It can seem overwhelming to try to fit everything into a day. With this itinerary, you can make the most of one day in Badlands National Park.

Stop 1: Caffeinate at Stompin’ Grounds Coffee House, Wall, SD

Coffee Cup at Stompin' Grounds Coffee House with an owl sticker on it

The Stompin’ Grounds Coffee House is locally owned and brews the perfect cup of coffee. When spending one day in Badlands National Park, you will want to have an early start to your day. Open at 6:30 every day but Sunday, its a great place to stop before you start your Badlands itinerary.

Grab a coffee and a snack. They are only 10 minutes away from the Pinnacles Entrance to Badlands National Park.

Stop 2: Drive Sage Creek Rim Road

After entering the park, turn right onto Sage Creek Rim Road. Some of the best views in the park are on this road. We recommend driving out to Sage Creek Basin Overlook, and then turning around.

Here are our favorite stops in this area in order:

Hay Butte Overlook

Landscape of Badlands striated rock formations at Hay Butte Overlook

This is our favorite overlook in the park. Be sure to get out here, and take in the extraordinary views. Even though you only have one day in Badlands National Park, don’t rush here, this overlook is special.

Badlands Wilderness Overlook

Landscape of striated rocks at Badlands Wilderness Overlook

If you arrive early in the morning, this is the place you might catch some wildlife. There are often bison in this area, so look closely!

Roberts Prairie Dog Town

Prairie Dog on top of mound at Badlands National Park

If you have never seen fields of prairie dogs, don’t miss this. The little scurrying animals are everywhere, darting from hole to hole, and poking their heads up. It’s so fun to watch them do their thing. This is an especially great stop, especially if visiting Badlands with kids.

Stop 3: Drive Badlands Loop Road

Next on your one day Badlands itinerary, turn around and head back to the Badlands Loop Road. Drive this road towards Cedar Pass Lodge.

Here are our favorite stops on this road in order:

Pinnacles Overlook

Rock formation at Badlands national park

The Pinnacles Overlook gives a wide view of the Sage Creek Wilderness area. There are several places to walk out and snap an amazing photo. There are more amenities at this site than others, so its good for strollers or wheelchairs. Look out for Bighorn sheep in this area.

Yellow Mounds Overlook

Yellow mounds at Badlands National Park

This area of the park has some beautiful colors and is worth a stop. Kids can climb around and stretch their legs at this area, and it has a different feel than the rest of the park.

Conata Basin Overlook

Striated and colorful mounds at Conata Basin Overlook in Baldands National Park

This is a beautiful overlook that really demonstrates the rich striations (paleosols) of the Badlands. You can see the yellow mounds intersecting with the interior paleosol, and the colors are gorgeous.

White River Valley Overlook

Pink and grey striated rock formations at Conata Basin Overlook in Badlands National Park

One of our other favorite views in the park, this overlook provides an expansive view of the White River Valley with the Castle formation in the distance. With only one day in Badlands National Park, this stop packs a lot of value and amazing pictures.

Stop 4: Fossil Exhibit Trail

This is a fun stop, especially with kids. It is a short 0.4 mile out and back boardwalk that features education about fossils. The exhibits have fossil replicas that you can touch. It’s a good place to hike, learn about fossils and get a sense of the age of the surrounding formations.

Stop 5: Explore Ben Reifel Visitor Center

Sign for Ben Reifel Visitor Center in front of tall Badlands Rock formations

The Ben Reifel Visitor Center has several exhibits. The best is the fossil lab where they have live paleontologists working and available for questions. It’s a great place for families to get a sense of the importance and the history of the area. Don’t miss this if you have kids with you.

Stop 6: Try Indian Fry Bread at Cedar Pass Lodge

Fry Bread with tomatoes, olives, shredded cheese and shredded lettuce at Cedar Pass Lodge

After driving through the park, now is the time to stretch your legs, and get some lunch in preparation for an afternoon of hiking. Cedar Pass Lodge has a great little restaurant with views of the surrounding rock formations. They are best known for their “Famous Indian Taco” which is great comfort hiking food.

Get lunch here and browse their souvenir shop before heading north for several hikes.

Stop 7: Cliff Shelf Nature Trail

Boardwalk leading up to panoramic of badlands wall at Cliff Shelf Nature Trail in Badlands National Park

Turn right out of the Cedar Pass Lodge and the first pull off you will see is the trailhead for Cliff Shelf Nature Trail. Cliff Shelf Nature Trail is a short 0.5 mile loop. It is one of the easiest hikes in Badlands National Park.

It is partially boardwalk, and can be done by any skill level or age group. The views of the Badlands wall are incredible, as well as the look out over the surrounding plains.

Stop 8: Door Trail

Turn right out of the Cliff Shelf parking lot, and you will encounter a larger parking lot that has multiple Badlands trailheads. This is where you can find Door Trail, Window Trail, Notch Trail, and Castle Trail.

Father and two sons hiking through the lunar landscape of the Badlands on Door Trail

With one day in Badlands National Park, you can still fit in all of these trails. Most are short, and each one provides a different view of the surrounding landscape.

We recommend doing Door Trail first. It is one mile out and back, and takes you into the lunar landscape that is Badlands. Follow trail markers as you pass through the crevices and rock formations.

little boy on boardwalk between two rock formations. at Door Trail in Badlands National Park

This is a great place to explore a bit off trail. If you have kids, they will want to take advantage of the Badlands Open Hike Policy and climb some of the surrounding landscape.

Bring lots of water, this hike has no shade and can get hot in the summer months.

Stop 9: Window Trail

Boy looking through binoculars at rock formations in Badlands National Park

Off of the same parking lot you will find the 0.3 mile in and out Window Trail boardwalk. The benches here are a great place for a break. The vista overlooks an expansive view through a window in the rocks.

Stop 10: Notch Trail

Notch Trail is not for the faint of heart. However, it was definitely our favorite trail in the Badlands. Notch Trail is moderately strenuous, and takes you 1.5 miles out and back. It has a famous ladder that you must climb to get up in elevation.

Little boy climbing ladder up the side of a hill at Notch Trail in Badlands National Park

There are some ledges that must be navigated, but the rewards are breathtaking. At the end of the trail you are treated with a beautiful view of the surrounding plains.

Expansive lunar landscape at Badlands national park on Notch Trail

If you are on the fence about this hike, just go and take your time. We did it with our four year old and seven year old, and we saw lots of families doing it without trouble.

Stop 11: Wall Drug

Dining room with stained glass ceiling at Wall Drug

Wall Drug is the perfect place to end your one day itinerary at the Badlands. A vintage drug store, Wall Drug is now quite massive. From shopping, to ice cream, to house made donuts, to a splash pad for kids, there really is something for everyone here.

Splash pad in Wall Drug Backyard

Go explore for an hour or so and get dinner. Their restaurant is known for their hot beef sandwiches and buffalo burgers.

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