What's the best time to visit Badlands National Park?
Fall and spring are the best times to visit Badlands National Park, balancing milder weather with fewer visitors. These seasons offer full access to park facilities and the chance to learn about the region’s history. Spring, especially May and June, is prime for viewing the park’s diverse wildflowers, with the blooming season lasting until September.
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!
Overall Best Time to Visit Badlands National Park
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
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
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
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.
Badlands National Park by Month: Climate & Activities
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
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.
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. Happy travels!