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The Best Time to Visit Badlands National Park in 2024

The Best Time to Visit Badlands National Park in 2024

What's the best time to visit Badlands National Park?

The best times to visit Badlands National Park are spring and early fall, offering mild weather and fewer crowds for activities like hiking and camping. Named for its challenging terrain, the park experiences less severe weather during these seasons, resulting in visitor comfort and safety. These months also feature ranger-led programs and opportunities to see local wildlife, including the annual bison roundup.

The rugged landscape of Badlands National Park in South Dakota, USA, is a must-visit for anyone looking to explore the typical American West. The stunning natural landscapes, including colorful canyons and steep spires, are reason enough to visit.

On the hundreds of square miles of park land, you can also see animals living and dead—modern species such as bighorn sheep, and fossils of animals including saber-toothed cats.

A trip to Badlands National Park is a must-visit on any trip to South Dakota. Keep reading for advice on when to visit, when to visit to save money, and more.

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 best time to visit Badlands National Park is during the spring (April-May) or early fall (September to early October), when you get the best combination of good weather and fewer crowds.

Badlands National Park got its name from local Native American tribes (the Lakota people called it Mako Sika, or “bad lands”) thanks to its harsh terrain and extreme temperatures.

Summers are exceedingly hot, while winters can be bitterly cold. Visiting in the spring or fall is the best way to escape the worst of the weather. According to the National Park Service, average high temperatures in April are 62 degrees Fahrenheit, before rising to 72 degrees Fahrenheit in May.

September and October have similarly mild weather. Average high temperatures in September are around 81 degrees Fahrenheit, while the average daily high temperature in October is 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

is still a chance of storms, freak wind events, and drastic temperature changes, they are just less frequent than in winter or summer. Always check the official park website or local weather forecast before you head out to see if there are storms or hazardous conditions predicted.

The weather is perfect for outdoor adventures and for all skill levels, such as:

  • Driving the scenic routes
  • Backpacking
  • Camping
  • Horseback riding
  • Bicycling

Besides taking in the stunning landscapes, in the spring and fall you can spot some of the prairie species that call Badlands National Park home. Throughout the spring, you can see species such as prairie dogs and bighorn sheep, usually from standard lookout points.

In the fall, you can see the famous Badlands bison roundup, when rangers collect and tag bison to monitor the local population. Ranger programs and other guided events are usually available at the park starting in April or May until early October.

Learn more about the park by going on a guided geology walk, attending an evening program, or staying overnight for the night sky program. Most visitor centers are also open during this time and have longer hours than during the winter.

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 the winter, from November to early March. During the winter, you have fewer accommodation options within the park itself.

Cedar Pass Lodge, the only lodging inside the park itself, is only open from mid-April to late October. However, Sage Creek Campground is open all year round and free to visitors, although you will need good cold-weather gear if you want to camp here in the winter.

If you want to stay near the park but not within park grounds, then winter is definitely the least expensive time to visit. Most visitors to Badlands National Park stay in Rapid City, which is about an hour away.

Hotel rates are the lowest in the winter, and most places offer at least a 20% discount compared to peak season rates from November to February.

Rapid City also has a regional airport which visitors coming from further afield may want to use to get to Badlands National Park. Rapid City Regional Airport usually has the lowest airfare rates in January.

The closest big airport is Billings, which also has the lowest rates in the winter. Road tripping is always an option, and the cost of driving your own car will be the same all year round.

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 in the winter. From November to March, the park sees far fewer visitors than during the rest of the year.

Potential visitors to Badlands National Park are usually scared off by the harsh conditions in the winter. Average daily high temperatures in January are just above freezing, but after nightfall, average temperatures are just 11 degrees Fahrenheit.

Frequent snows and storms block off trails and scenic drives, while harsh winds make it feel even colder. There are also fewer things to do during the winter.

Some visitor centers such as the White River Visitor Center close for the season, and there are fewer ranger activities planned. For the independent visitor, none of this is a problem. The joy of trails with few people and the sparse landscape covered in snow is enough.

As long as you have sturdy cold-weather gear including trekking poles, warm layers, and shoes with good grip, you’ll get to enjoy beautiful snow-covered landscapes, frozen waterfalls, and other gorgeous scenery.

A lot of the species in Badlands National Park are built for the cold weather, so just because you visit in winter doesn’t mean that you won’t spot wildlife.

You’ll actually get more intimate experiences with herds of bighorn sheep and bison when there aren’t crowds of other people that spook the animals or cause traffic jams around popular viewpoints.

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 during the summer (June-August), which has very hot weather and lots of crowds.

Badlands National Park has extreme weather not just in the winter. Summers tend to be very hot. Average high temperatures in July jump to 92 degrees Fahrenheit, and there are many days when high temperatures are over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

There are no sources of water outside of visitor centers, so the risk of dehydration on hot days is high. Summer is also the rainiest season, especially the month of June, which receives over 3 inches of rain on average.

Sudden downpours can cause flooding. The clay terrain of the Badlands easily turns into mud, which makes for unpleasant hiking even if there is no rain.

Many people pack their sunscreen, water, and kids and come to the Badlands in the summer anyway. Expect traffic on popular scenic drives, long lines to get into parking lots, and lots of crowds at popular lookout points where you can see wildlife.

Even getting to Badlands National Park can be a pain, as popular summer events such as the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally mean the roads fill up with visitors and hotels raise their rates.

Summer is probably the best time to visit with kids, and not just because that is the time they are most likely to have time off from school.

Summer has the biggest choice in terms of events and other fun things for kids, such as the Junior Ranger Program. Amateur stargazers should try to visit during the Badlands Astronomy Festival in July.

Badlands National Park by Month: Climate & Activities

Man standing in South Dakota's Badlands National Park wearing a coat and long khaki pants during the best time to visit the park

Michael Gordon/Shutterstock

Still unsure about the best time to visit Badlands National Park? Take a look at our summary of the weather and climate by month below:


January in Badlands National Park is cold and often snowy, with temperatures ranging from -12 to -1°C (10-30°F). This month is ideal for winter photography, capturing the stark beauty of the landscape, and spotting wildlife like bighorn sheep against the snow.


February continues with cold weather, perfect for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on the park’s trails, enjoying the solitude of the winter season, and attending ranger-led programs at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.


As spring approaches, temperatures in Badlands National Park range from -6 to 7°C (21-45°F). March is great for witnessing the beginning of the thaw, hiking on trails like the Notch Trail, and observing the early signs of wildlife emerging from winter.


April brings milder weather, with temperatures around 1 to 14°C (34-57°F). Enjoy the blooming wildflowers, explore the Badlands Loop Road for scenic views, and attend the park’s Earth Day celebrations.


May sees warmer temperatures from 7 to 21°C (45-70°F). It’s an excellent time for bird watching, as migratory birds return, hiking in areas like the Sage Creek Wilderness Area, and enjoying the colorful sunsets.


June brings warm weather, with temperatures between 14 to 27°C (57-81°F). Explore the park’s backcountry trails, enjoy stargazing under the clear night skies, and visit the Fossil Exhibit Trail to learn about the area’s ancient past.


July is hot in Badlands National Park, with temperatures from 18 to 32°C (64-90°F). Early morning or late evening hikes are best, like the Castle Trail, to avoid the heat of the day, and attending the park’s nighttime astronomy programs.


August continues with hot weather, offering temperatures from 17 to 31°C (63-88°F). Enjoy wildlife viewing, especially bison and prairie dogs, take a scenic drive through the Pinnacles Entrance for stunning landscapes, and explore the park’s visitor centers.


As fall begins, temperatures in Badlands National Park range from 11 to 26°C (52-79°F). September is perfect for hiking and exploring less crowded trails, photographing the changing colors of the landscape, and attending the Badlands Astronomy Festival.


October sees cooler temperatures from 3 to 18°C (37-64°F). Enjoy the crisp fall air on trails like the Door Trail, witness the wildlife preparing for winter, and explore the park’s rich geologic formations with less heat.


Fall temperatures in November range from -3 to 10°C (27-50°F). This month is ideal for quiet exploration of the park, photographing the unique rock formations without the crowds, and enjoying the serene winter-like landscape.


Winter brings colder temperatures ranging from -9 to 2°C (16-36°F). December offers a peaceful park experience, with opportunities for winter photography, spotting winter wildlife, and enjoying the stark beauty of the Badlands under a blanket of snow.

Frequently Asked Questions

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


Here are just a few additional questions that can help you with planning a trip to Badlands:

How many days do you need in Badlands National Park?

You should spend at least two days in Badlands National Park. This gives you a chance to explore the pretty landscapes and hopefully check out the night sky.

Is it worth going to Badlands National Park?

It is absolutely worth going to Badlands National Park. The colorful, rugged rock formations are difficult to find anywhere else in the world.

How crowded is Badlands National Park in July?

July is the most crowded month in Badlands National Park. Expect long lines at visitor centers, but since the park is vast, you can beat the crowds by heading to a lesser-known trail.

How long do you need to drive through Badlands National Park?

How long it will take to drive through Badlands National Park depends on the route you are taking. The most popular road, Badlands Loop Road, takes about an hour.

Does Badlands cost money?

The Badlands National Park charges a standard entrance fee like most other National Parks. Vehicles must pay $30, while individuals pay $15.

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

The best time to visit Badlands National Park is in the spring or fall, when the weather is mild, and the crowds are more manageable. Winter is for hardier visitors, but a great time to visit to beat the crowds and peak season hotel prices.

So, with so much to see and do and plenty of amazing times to visit, what are you waiting for — book your trip today and experience for yourself all that Badlands National Park has to offer. Happy travels!