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The Best Time to Visit Badlands National Park in 2023

The Best Time to Visit Badlands National Park in 2023

The breathtaking, almost otherworldly landscape is the biggest draw to Badlands National Park. Dramatic pinnacles and buttes scatter the terrain and hint at the conditions that continue to shape the land.

Arid and windy weather in the park exposed older layers of earth while sculpting them into the canyons and peaks seen in Badlands. Along with changing how the land looked, the erosion that shaped these badlands helped expose incredibly old fossils.

Many folks come here to explore the land by hiking and camping in the park. Stargazing and learning more about the cultural and geological history of the are other popular activities.

Though the park is open year-round, not all facilities are available every season. Check out this guide to learn the best time to visit Badlands National Park to get the most out of your trip!

Why You Should Visit Badlands National Park

American bison on the plains showing why you should visit Badlands National Park

Geoffrey Kuchera/Shutterstock

One of the best reasons to head to Badlands National Park is to see the million years old geological formations. These formations are a product of deposition and erosion. Over millions of years deposits of rocks stacked up only to be revealed once more through the movement of rivers and winds throughout the park.

Fossils from different animals that lived in the area are now preserved in the park thanks to the special conditions. Erosion helps to reveal the old fossils, which come from different eras in the land’s history, from alligators that once inhabited the inland sea to millions of years old species of horses.

Present-day animals are another draw to the park. When you enter the Badlands, expect to see American bison. Prairie dogs also reside in large colonies in the park. If you’re patient, you may spot the rarer bighorn sheep or the endangered black-footed ferret.

Hiking and stargazing are popular activities in the park. Archeological evidence shows that people have been visiting this area for a long time. For the Lakota, this area has special significance as a gathering place.

Read Next: The 21 Best National Parks You Can Visit in the U.S.

Overall Best Time to Visit Badlands National Park

Sunrise over the scenery showing the overall best time to visit Badlands National Park in South Dakota

Paul Brady Photography/Shutterstock

The overall best time to visit Badlands National Park are the seasons of fall and spring. Visiting during these times allows you to avoid the most extreme weather in the park and has a few other benefits.

While these times are still popular for visitors, the park won’t be nearly as busy as it is during the summer. Many families plan vacations when children are out of school, so attendance should drop off once school is back in session.

Another advantage to visiting during these times is that most facilities will be open. Since one of the major draws to the park is learning about the region’s unique history, coming when visitor’s centers are open is a plus.

Planning a visit during the spring provides the best opportunity to see some of the area’s diverse wildflowers. May and June are the best for viewing flowers, but the season continues through September.

Cheapest Time to Visit Badlands National Park

Rock formations and peaks shown during the cheapest time to visit Badlands National Park


The cheapest time to visit Badlands National Park is during late summer and mid-fall, typically the off-season for travel in the United States.

These drops in cost apply to transportation expenses needed to visit Badlands National Park, like airfare and gas. Prices in the park, like entrance fees, stay steady all year. However, facilities and lodging might vary in cost depending on the season.

Another advantage to traveling during the off-season is avoiding extreme weather. Trips planned during summer need to account for severe heat, while snow and subfreezing temperatures are ordinary in the winter.

The off-season offers slight relief from these conditions while saving you money. But be prepared for inclement weather no matter when you travel!

While off-season travel helps save money, there are ways to enjoy a cheap Badlands National Park vacation during the peak season. Rather than booking more costly accommodations, try camping for a less expensive and more rustic experience.

Least Busy Time to Visit Badlands National Park

Rock formations shown during the least busy time to visit Badlands National Park

Clifford Pugliese/Shutterstock

The least busy time to visit Badlands National Park is during the winter from December to February. If you decide to visit during this time, be prepared for cold temps, snow, and road and facilities closures.

Note that many visitor centers in the park aren’t open for the winter season. This means you won’t have as many opportunities to learn about the geology and history of the land.

If you still want to see fossils and learn about their origin, consider visiting during spring or fall. Visitors won’t be at peak levels, but it’ll still be a bit busier than winter time. 

Some park facilities may still be open during the winter with shortened hours. Many roads remain open, including the famous Badlands Loop Road, with multiple overlooks to observe the snow-covered landscape.

If you decide to visit during this time, come prepared for snowy and icy conditions. Always check the weather before heading to the park since cell service can be unreliable.

Worst Time to Visit Badlands National Park

Park shown draped in winter snow during the worst time to visit Badlands National Park

Jiratthitikaln Maurice/Shutterstock

The worst time to visit Badlands National Park is typically late summer, one of the hottest and busiest seasons in the park. August in particular is challenging for those who want a quiet visit.

During early August, enthusiasts gather for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, about an hour’s drive from the park. Since many participants travel from around the country to attend, expect extra visitors to visit the park as well.

Though we’ve put this among the worst times to visit, some people love the hustle and bustle in the park during this time. If you love driving motorcycles and want to join the crowd, this might be one of the best times for your visit!

As mentioned above, winter is one of the least busy times in the park, with poor weather conditions and season closures of facilities. For many, this makes winter the worst time to visit the national park.

Things to Consider

Stormy day with clouds overhead during the best time to visit Badlands National Park

Don Fink/Shutterstock

With the suggestions in this guide, you may already know the best time to visit Badlands National Park. There are a few other things to consider before heading out on your trip. 


Planning a safe trip ensures a good travel experience for you and your party as you adventure through the park. Consider these safety tips before heading to the South Dakota national park.

  • Cell Service. In many parts of the park, cell service is unavailable. For this reason, cell phones should not be used as your only means of navigating Badlands. Pick up a map at one of the visitor centers.
  • Road Conditions. Many of the park’s roads are not paved. Consider this when planning routes and determining where you can bring your vehicle safely.
  • Extreme Heat. During the peak summer season, temperatures reach 100 degrees. Prepare for this hot and dry weather by dressing appropriately, wearing sun protection, and carrying enough water to avoid dehydration.
  • Unpredictable Weather. Weather changes quickly in Badlands National Park, which can drastically change how easy and safe it is to move through the park. Check the weather to avoid getting stuck in the mud and other conditions caused by storms.
  • Ice and Snow. During winter, visitors need to be aware of icy and snowy conditions that make the park more challenging to navigate. Check the park’s conditions to learn about closures ahead of time.
  • Wildlife. While wildlife provides one of the main draws to the park, interacting with animals can be dangerous. Provide plenty of space between yourself and the wildlife to ensure your safety and that of the animals.

Native American Culture and History

When visiting Badlands National Park, remember to keep in mind the people who have lived in the area for centuries. Native American groups use this land, and their culture should be respected during your visit.

  • Pine Ridge Reservation. The park’s south unit is managed in cooperation with reservation leaders. Consider that you’re visiting an ancestral homeland where many Lakota still live. Act like a respectful guest when you visit this park.
  • Famous Figures. The Badlands were home to prominent indigenous figures like Red Cloud and Crazy Horse. Head to the White River Visitor Center to learn more about these leaders and other important folks in the community.
  • Cultural Experiences. Check ahead to see when you can participate in or observe cultural events with music, dancing, and crafts. These cultural experiences enhance any Badlands National Park trip.
  • Assimilation. People who lived in Badlands National Park were forced to assimilate by the US government and those who did not had their land taken. Remember this history of stolen land as you move throughout the park.

Frequently Asked Questions

Sign greeting visitors to the park for a frequently asked questions section on the best time to visit Badlands National Park


These are some of our most frequently asked questions not covered elsewhere in the article. Check out these answers to find out even more about Badlands National Park.

Can you see the Northern Lights in the Badlands?

Yes, you can see the Northern Lights here but the chances of seeing them are usually low. While the skies are perfect for stargazing, seeing the aurora borealis depends on more than just being in the correct location.

For the best odds, plan a trip to the Badlands during times of high geomagnetic activity. Look for the lights around midnight. Even if you don’t stop the northern lights, you may see the Milky Way, planets, and other features of the night sky.

What city is closest to the Badlands National Park?

Rapid City is the closest city to the park and the second-largest city in South Dakota. There are smaller towns closer to the park, but unlike these smaller towns, Rapid City has a regional airport with direct flights to and from many other U.S. cities.

Does it cost to drive through the Badlands?

The park entrance fee ($30) will be the same whether you’re entering the park for a few hours or days. A pass covers a private vehicle and all passengers inside for seven days.

How far is Mount Rushmore from the Badlands?

Depending on what part of the park you’re in, Mount Rushmore takes between ninety minutes and two hours to reach from Badlands. Other nearby national park sites include Devils Tower National Monument and Windcave National Park.

So, What’s the Best Time to Visit Badlands National Park?

The best time to visit Badlands National Park varies based on the activities and sights you want to see in the park. Overall, the best time to go is during the fall and spring months, when visitor numbers are manageable and temperatures are pretty mild.

For the cheapest trip, try visiting during late summer to mid-fall. Prices on accommodations and flights tend to drop during this time. Camping instead of booking hotel or cabin accommodations can also drop the price of your trip! 

If you want to go when the park isn’t busy, winter is the best time. Visitors numbers take a nose dive from December to February when temperatures drop and snowfall is common. Look out for road closures and be sure the inclement weather won’t affect your travel plans! 

Late summer, especially August, is probably the worst time to go to Badlands National Park. It’s the hottest time of year here. The Sturgeon Motorcycle Rally also brings thousands of tourists to the area and it gets busy!

Winter may be the worst time to go if you’re looking for ideal, mild weather and full park road and facility openings. 

You’re sure to enjoy your stay no matter when you travel when you keep these considerations in mind. From the mind-blowing scenery to the interesting things you’ll learn about history and culture while you’re here, it’s definitely the trip of a lifetime.