Visiting Badlands National Park with Kids: An Amazing Trip in 2023

father and two sons hiking on the Door Trail at Badlands National Park

Are you planning on visiting Badlands National Park with kids? This is your guide to planning the perfect trip. From rock climbing to fossil hunting, Badlands is an amazing national park for families to visit.

When we planned a Badlands trip with our four and seven year old, we didn’t find a lot of information about visiting Badlands National Park with kids. However, with research and a good itinerary, we found out that Badlands National Park is a great family destination! From when to go, to what to do, this is what we learned on our visit to Badlands National Park with kids.  

What is the Best Month to Visit the Badlands?

We visited the Badlands with our kids in June. In the morning, we had beautiful hiking weather in the 70s and low 80s. By midday, it got pretty hot.

We recommend visiting Badlands National Park in May, June, October or November.  In the summer months, the park is more crowded, and the weather is iffy.

Badlands National Park can feel like a desert, especially in July and August. Even if you go in Spring or Fall, be prepared for intense sun and fluctuations of temperature.

If you do decide to travel when school is out, be sure to hit the trails early in the morning – before 9 AM when most folks arrive.

Little boy looking through binoculars at striated mountains of Badlands National Park

What to Pack for Badlands National Park with Kids?

How to Get to Badlands National Park?

The Rapid City Airport is a 55 mile drive and is the closest airport to Badlands National Park. 

You also can try a bit of a road trip from Sioux City.  It is a 3.5 hour drive, and you will pass through Sioux Falls, Mitchell and Chamberlain.  Along the way you will see the “Dignity of Earth and Sky” statue, a beautiful statue of a Native American woman.  

We found direct flights and flew into Bismarck, North Dakota. It was a 4 hour road trip. The landscape was very pretty. We enjoyed one night in Bismarck where we visited the Space Aliens Grill and Bar (highly recommended!), and visited the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum (great for kids!). It was a bit off the beaten track, but if you like wide open spaces driving, you might like this.

Grassy hills of South Dakota

How Many Days do you Need in Badlands National Park?

Two days in Badlands National Park is perfect with kids. We felt like one day would have left us with some FOMO, but any longer with kids could have gotten old.

You can definitely see a lot of Badlands National Park in one day. If you only have a day, see our one day itinerary in Badlands National Park for tips to hit the highlights.

Striated hills of Badlands National Park

Where to Stay Near Badlands National Park with Kids?

Where to stay can be challenging. There are not a lot of places to stay around the Badlands.

We ended up staying in an AirBNB in Philip, South Dakota. It was the closest we could find, and still was a 40 minute drive from the park. The country is very pretty in this area.

Close to the park, we recommend:

  • Cedar Pass Lodge: Nice clean cabins with a kitchenette and a front porch.  Lots of space for kids to play.  Restaurant on site serves breakfast and is known for their Indian fry bread.
  • Frontier Cabins Motel: Pricier but cabins are large and comfortable. There is a cedar log playground on site for kids, and a store for purchasing supplies. 

Cedar Pass Lodge sign with windows reflecting the Badlands rocks

If you are willing to stay in a roadside motel, staying in Wall, SD isn’t a bad option. It is close to the park and there is a small downtown with dinner options and Wall Drug. It’s not very scenic and feels a bit touristy, but the plus side is its very convenient to the park.

Old fashioned sign stating Wallcome to Wall Drug

Where to Stay Outside of Badlands National Park?

If you decide to stay further from Badlands National Park, your best option is probably to stay in Rapid City. Rapid City isn’t very scenic, but there are some good restaurants downtown and it is convenient to the highway.

We recommend:

What to do in Badlands National Park with Kids

  • Visit the Ben Reifel Visitor Center (see the Fossil Lab!)
  • Become a Junior Ranger
  • Take a Scenic Drive
  • Hike with Kids
  • Search for Fossils
  • Eat Indian Pizza at Cedar Pass Lodge
Little boy on a rock formation at Badlands National Park

Best Family Hikes in Badlands National Park

We spent two days hiking in Badlands National Park with our two boys 4 and 7. These were our favorite hikes with kids. Read more about the best hikes in the Badlands for families at our Badlands hiking guide.

Little boy climbing up a ladder on Notch Trail in Badlands National Park

Where to Eat with Kids Near Badlands National Park

  • Cedar Pass Lodge: The Cedar Pass Lodge has excellent Indian fry bread and a decent breakfast if you are in the park early.
  • Wall Drug: Wall Drug is quite the staple in the area, and its hard to visit Badlands without dropping in. From hot beef sandwiches to fresh donuts, families will enjoy exploring this iconic complex.
  • 3 Amigos Cantina: Located on Main Street in Wall, this is the place to go to grab a margarita after a long day’s hike. The kids menu has Mexican standards like quesadillas and tacos.
  • Wagon Wheel Bar: Located in Interior, this bar is surprisingly family friendly and serves the basics… pizza and beer.
Indian Fry Bread from Cedar Pass Lodge

Planning your Visit to Badlands with Little Kids

Most folks enter the Badlands through the Pinnacles Entrance near Wall, South Dakota.  It is best to wake up early and get there before 9 AM. Beat the crowds and avoid the heat of the day.  If only spending a day, read our one day itinerary for Badlands National Park.

Cost is $30.00 for a private vehicle, and a pass is good for 7 days.

Be sure to drive the Badlands Loop Road from the Pinnacle Entrance to the Visitor Center. You are sure to see wildlife and some extraordinary overlooks. For more on the best overlooks in the park, check out our list at our One Day Itinerary in Badlands National Park.

Father and Son hiking on a trail in front of pyramid like sand structures at Badlands National Park

Kids love the Ben Reifel Visitor Center : Hours: 8 am – 4 pm (Winter), 8 am – 5 pm (April & May), 7 am – 7 pm (Summer), 8 am – 5 pm (Early September to Late October)

The visitor center has a Fossil Preparation Lab with real paleontologists at work. Kids will love the exhibits, and the ability to ask questions.

Don’t miss the Cedar Pass Lodge to try their Famous Indian Pizza. They also have a great souvenir shop.

Little boy walking through an opening in the rocks at Door Trail in Badlands National Park

After this, hit the trails. The best trails for really little kids are the Fossil Exhibit Trail, and the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail . If you have a carrier, the Door Trail is a great option.

The heat can be intense in the summer.  Be sure to bring lots of water, sunscreen, and hats. 

Little boy hiking in front of large rock formations at Badlands National Park

The kids will want to play on the rocks. Put them in high traction close toed sneakers or hiking boots.

At the end of the day, let the kids cool off at the splash pad at Wall Drug. It’s a great place for little ones to run wild and get out their energy.

Splash Pad at Wall Drug

Thank you for reading our post about Badlands National Park. We absolutely loved it, and hope your family also has a great time. Let us know if you have questions, we would love to hear from you!

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