2 Days in Badlands National Park – Itinerary and Free Camping
Two days spent in Badlands National Park will give you all the time needed to explore the area. South Dakota is one of the most beautiful states that is often overlooked for its neighbors such as Wyoming and Colorado. The area around the Badlands is home to a few small towns such as Wall, Scenic and Rapid City that can be explored at night!
This Badlands National Park Itinerary will highlight some of the best hikes and one of the most beautiful free camping spots in all of South Dakota.
Road Tripping South Dakota – Badlands Itinerary
Whether you are traveling to South Dakota by car or airplane, the best way to explore the National Park and surrounding area is by RV. Staying at hotels is certainly a good option, but we feel that having a small RV or trailer would be the best fit. There is a-lot of driving involved, and having an RV to eat, drink, relax and drive around in will make the trip the most comfortable for those long days.
The Best Time to Visit – South Dakota Itinerary
South Dakota gets very hot in the summer and cold in the winter. This makes Spring and Fall the best times to visit if you want to avoid major crowds and high heats.
April / June is the best time to visit or wait until later September / October.
One of the good things about the Badlands in the summer is that it gets very windy, which helped make it feel cooler than 98 degrees when we visited in late June.
Badlands National Park Itinerary – Guide for South Dakota
Day 1 – Wall & North Badlands (Amazing Free Campsite)
Day 2 – Hiking in the Badlands & Ben Reifel Visitor Center
After your visit to the Badlands head over to the Black Hill of South Dakota!
Day 1 – Wall South Dakota and Badlands Overlooks
On the first day of your Badlands National Park trip you have to visit the small town of Wall. The town is located only 10 minutes from the northern entrance into the Badlands. Wall is a very small town and is really only 1 block long worth of shops, stores and places to eat. It will only take an hour or two to walk around and check out all the unique items inside Wall Drug and the other stores.
You will see signs for Wall Drug from over 300 miles away… its kind of ridiculous. We were expecting this huge store with all kinds of crazy things to do and check out, but it ended up just being a normal touristy destination. Its worth checking out, but dont get your hopes up with all the signs! Here is a great article about Wall Drug!
After spending some time in Wall, drive 10 minutes down the road to the entrance into Badlands National Park. Make sure you FILL YOUR GAS TANK because the Badlands is a huge park and gas stations are spread out.
Depending on how much time you have left in you day we recommend heading right after you pass the Pinnacles entrance station. This will take you along Sage Creek Rim road which offers amazing views of the Badlands, Big Horn Sheep, Bison, Ferrets, Prairie Dogs and even Rattlesnakes. The road has plenty of pull offs and overlooks that you can stop at only a few miles down the road.
The Sage Creek rim road is long and eventually leads out of the park. Once you see the signs that indicate you are leaving the park we recommend turning around. Once you do leave the Park the surrounding landscapes becomes a-lot less interesting and you would need to drive another 30 miles or so to get back into the park from another entrance, which is why we recommend turning around.
You can stop at any overlook or any point on the road and hike inside the national park. You do not have to stay on any certain trail, but be cautious when you venture off by yourself. There are rattlesnakes and other animals!
Below is a picture from an overlook only a few miles down the road from when you make the right onto Sage Creek Rim Road.
Free Campsite in Badlands National Park – AMAZING VIEW
After spending your first day exploring Wall and Badlands National Park with this Itinerary, sit back and relax in the most beautiful free campsite in all of South Dakota. (Nomad Dispersed Camping)
The “campsite” which is actually BLM (Bureau of Land Management) is government land that anyone is allowed to camp on for free! It is located right outside of the national park and only 1 mile down the road from the Pinnaces North Entrance.
You can sleep in your car, tent or bring an RV to the BLM land and find a spot without making any reservation.
The picture below is of a Van camping on the border of the cliff on the BLM land.
Day 2 – Hiking in Badlands National Park – The Best Trails
This Badlands National Park Itinerary consist of so many different amazing hikes with different terrain to tackle. You can embark on a backcountry hiking adventure, an easy flat hike or even strenuous hike that requires climbing huge boulders. Whatever type of hiking experience you wish to take part in, the Badlands has it all. The Northern Unit of the Badlands has the best trails, but during the summer months some of them can become very crowded.
The Best Hikes in Badlands National Park – Badlands Itinerary
The most famous hike in the Badlands is the Notch Trail located near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. The hike is fairly short at only 1.3 miles long but consist of some amazing terrain and overlooks that make it so fun. There is a small wooden rope ladder that is built into the side of a cliff that you need to climb. We hiked with our dog so this was not an option, and took the dog up a narrow passage next to the ladder. With the proper hiking shoes and using your hands to stop yourself from sliding the climb is not too bad.
Sage Creek Loop – Hiking in Badlands National Park
This loop in total is 22 miles long, but you can get a true appreciation for how big the park is from only a portion of this hike. We ended up hiking only 3 miles along this trail before turning back, but it was beautiful. This trail is a lot less popular than the Notch Trail and in my opinion offers even better views and photo opportunities. During our hike we passed only two other groups of people which made the hike that much more exciting.
The hike takes you along the outside of the Buttes and Canyons and gives you a unique view from the bottom compare to the top like the rest of the park. This trail is popular with backcountry hikers and you can choose to stay a night inside the park with a permit from the visitor center.
Fossil Exhibit Trail – Easy Hike in the Badlands
There are a couple of small and really easy hikes to enjoy the badlands without breaking any sweat. The Fossill Exhibit trail is only .5 miles long and has a-lot of interesting signs and historical information posted during the hike. The trail is essentially flat with only 13 feet in elevation gain and is one of the easiest hikes in the park.
The Door Trail – Badlands National Park Itinerary
This trail is located in the same parking lot as the Notch Trail, just at the other end. The trail is said to be .8 miles long but truly is about .2 miles long if you don’t want to venture out onto the rocks. The trail starts with a wooden walkway leading away from the parking lot and takes you directly to a scenic overlook of the Badlands. You can choose to venture out onto the rocks and make your own path, or just enjoy the view and head back to the car.
Sheep Mountain Table Trail – Hikes in the Badlands
This trail is located near Scenic, South Dakota which is about 30 minutes from all of the other trails in this Badlands National Park Guide. This trail is around 15 miles long and is an out and back trail. The views from this trail do not compare with those such as the Notch Trail or Sage Creek Loop but is a lot less crowded. If you are looking to get away from the crowds and enjoy a long and challenging hike this is perfect.
Exploring Badlands National Park in 2 Days – Itinerary & Guide
Badlands National Park is an amazing place to go hiking and experience the outdoors. The Boondocking location right next to the park entrance is one of the coolest destinations to camp for a night or even a week.
You could easily spend a week or two exploring the park if you have enough time, but if you are just passing by on a road trip two days should be enough! After you are done exploring the Badlands head over to the Black Hill’s to see Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park.
Check out our Itinerary for road tripping Alaska!