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Visiting the Badlands with Kids

Visiting the Badlands with Kids

Are you thinking about visiting the Badlands with kids? We visited the Badlands National Park with our toddler and it is one of my favorite national parks to visit with toddlers or kids. However due to the terrains at the park it takes a bit of planning. In this guide we will give you our top tips for visiting the park with kids alongside our favorite family friendly Badland hikes.

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How to get to Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park is located on the I-90 near to the town of Wall in South Dakota.  When we visited Badlands National Park we decided to drive from Rapid City as we found that there were a lot of  child friendly amenities there.

The drive from Rapid City to Badlands National Park was easy and took us just under an hour door to door. 

However if you want to stay closer to the park there are accommodation options at Wall and if you like camping or have an RV then you can also camp in the park and enjoy the dark skies. 

Looking for the perfect South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary that features the Badlands NP  then check Out this Post! 

Planning a Trip to Badlands National Park with Kids Tips 

Mum and child at Badlands NAtional Park

Visiting Badlands National Parks with Kids

Best Time of Year to Visit Badlands National Park with Kids

South Dakota can get cold in the winter – and by cold – I mean very cold! This is why Winter is the least crowded time to visit Badlands National Park. However if you visit in Winter you will also find the trails can be quite snowy and icy. For this reason I don’t recommend this as the best time of year to visit Badlands National Park with kids. 

Normally I would recommend visiting any National Park out of season, but to be honest summer is one of the better time to visit Badlands National Park. That is because all of the trailheads should be open and the weather should be pleasant to complete them in 

However if you are visiting Badlands National Park with toddlers or children who are not beholden to the school term times then you are best to go in the weeks immediately after Labor Day. The weather at this time will still be good but the crowds will be much less. 

After summer, the best time to visit Badlands is the shoulder months adjacent to summer when the weather will still be pleasant but the crowds will be less. 

Best Places to Stay Near Badlands National Park with Kids 

If you are visiting the Badlands as part of a larger South Dakota road trip and want to stay in one place, then we recommend Rapid City.

This is the most central to most of the South Dakota attractions such as Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Keystone, Dinosaur Park and Custer State Park.

When we stayed in Rapid City we stayed at Fairfield Inn & Suites. We liked the fact that we could have separated rooms to our kids and the property came with a kitchenette and access to the water park next door. 

The La Quinta  next door to the Fairfield Inn and Suites also has easy access to the water park. 

However if you want somewhere to stay that is very close to the Badlands then there are lodges to stay in in the nearby Wall. 

Or there are camping and RV options within the National Park itself. There is also the Cedar Pass Lodge in the park itslef. 

Buy a National Parks Pass

If you are planning to visit two or more parks in a year then a National Park Pass could be a money saver. The pass known as the America the Beautiful Pass is an 80USD pass that grants you access to all the National Parks and some national monuments. 

You should try and work out how many parks and included attractions you will visit in a year to see if it would be a cost saving to you. However it is worth noting that it does not grant access to the State Parks such as Custer State Park. 

And there 

We have a complete South Dakota Summer Packing List here for to make your trip planning easier!

Top Tips for Visiting Badlands with kids

So now you know everything you need to plan before visiting Badlands National Park with kids, we will turn our attention to our top tips for what to do in the park with kids. 

Go Early 

I recommend visiting any National Park early in the morning as it is a better time to see wildlife and to beat the crowds. The park gets more crowded the later in the day you go.

We arrived at the park to see sunrise and it was simply breathtaking and we pretty much were the only people in the park. 

Early evening is also a great time to visit as is slightly less crowded but for me early morning is definitely the time you want to go.

Bring Snacks

As any parent will tell you a hangry child stuck in a car or on a hike is a nightmare scenario. Badland National Park like many national parks does not have many amenities including places to buy food and drinks.

Therefore you need to bring snacks your kids enjoy with you. Be sure you have plenty of snacks with you so you can enjoy your time in the park.

What to Pack for Badlands with kids

What to Wear in South Dakota in Summer - Badlands Packing List

What to Wear in South Dakota in Summer – Badlands Packing List

We have a general information on what to pack for Badlands NP. However if you are packing for children going into the park oyu will want to make sure you:

  • Take plenty of water – it can be hot on the trailheads and there are few places where you can refill water bottles. 
  • Pack layers whatever the season – early in the morning and evenings can get quite chilly in the Badlands. Therefore be sure to pack adequate layers with you. 
  • Take hats and suncream to protect from the sun – there is not much shade in the park so be sure to have wide brimmed hats and sun cream with you. 
  • Pack good hiking boots – even if you aren’t planning on going on the notch trail (which requires sturdy boots), we recommend bringing hiking boots with you to protect your feet on the trails. 
  • Respect the wildlife – the wildlife in the park is one of the best things to do. However remember it is wild and be sure to keep a safe distance from the animals, even the prairie dogs. 

For a more complete Badlands packing list check out this post. 

Best Things to do in Badlands with Kids

I love national park with kids, but it surprised me with how many things there are to do in the Badlands with kids. Some of our favorite things to do at Badlands with kids are: 

Find the Prairie Dogs at Roberts Town

Roberts Prairie Dog Town Sign

Best Things to do at Badlands with kids – Roberts Prairie Dog Town

Roberts Town is not on the main Badlands Loop road but is one of the offshoots. However it is worth the slight detour. 

Prairie Dog Town is located in the Sage Creek Wilderness Area of Badlands National Park and kids will love seeing these black tailed prairie dogs in the flesh. 

For those that don’t know Prairie dogs are a part of the squirrel family and are about 15 inches tall. These little critters are most active during the day when the sun is out so you can swing to the Prairie Town whenever is convenient in your itinerary. 

However be sure to keep your children well back from the Prairie Dogs as they do bite. 

It is also worth noting that this area is a great location to see other wildlife such as bisons. 

Spot the Bison

Bison Stampede in Badlands National Park

Wildlife spotting in Badlands with Kids

As well as the Prairie Dogs, there are also lots of great wildlife spottings to be had in Badlands.

Now Yellowstone is most well known park for its bison but we actually had better bison experiences in Badlands. We even got to see a herd stampede which was astounding.

Drive the Scenic Loop Road

Bison in the Badlands NP

Bison in the Badlands NP

Badlands National Park has a great scenic drive. There are plenty of look outs on the drive and opportunities to get onto some easy trail heads – more on this later. In fact there are over 13 overlooks in the park where you can pull aside and see some amazing vistas of buttes, wildlife and more. 

These overloops are also very accessible so can even be enjoyed if you are traveling to Badlands with a toddler or baby. 

In total the loop road is only 40 miles long and is just off the I-90 which makes it a very accessible national park. 

Junior Ranger Program

As with all National Parks, Badlands runs the junior ranger program. To join the program visit the visitor center to collect your work book and instructions. The program is open year round however in Summer they also run a ranger-guided program to help your little one earn their badge and certificate. 

Hunt for Dinosaurs

In 2010, a child taking part in the junior ranger programme found a sabre tooth tiger skull in the park.  If you have an avid dinosaur fan, this is a great place to learn more about dinosaurs especially on the Fossil Exhibit Trail – and who know history may repeat itself. 

Go horse riding through the park

Although my little one was not old enough at the time of visit this is something we plan on doing during our next visit. 

Bookings for this can be made by calling Hurley Butte Horseback Riding and gives you a real cowboy experience in the park. 

Go Stargazing

The Badlands National Park is so remote it has a great Dark Sky Stargazing programme.

Hiking in Badlands with Kids

However the top thing to do in Badlands with kids is of course go hiking. 

The Badlands National Park has lots of trails of varying difficultly levels so there are hikes that can be done with kids of any age. 

Notch Trail

Notch Trail Sign

Best Badlands Hikes with kids

This is perhaps the most famous of all the trails in Badlands National Park.

One of the reasons that this is so well known is because you have to climb up and down quite a scary looking ladder to make it onto the trail.

As much as we would have loved to do this hike, I didn’t think it looked particularly family friendly certainly as we were travelling with a toddler. I personally wouldn’t recommend this trail for those with young families or even contemplate doing this even wearing a carrier!

Once you are on the trail however, it is only a mile and a half. However as the sign points out, the Notch Trail involves some rough terrain so you will need to require sturdy boots. For more information on what to wear in Badlands National Park check out this post. 

This trail is also along an ledge, which really isn’t safe for those with young children. However if you are traveling with older children and teenagers who can support themselves on the ladder and are confident hikers then can can out this on your Badlands to do list. . 

Door Trail

The Door Trail is one of our favorites to do with young children or toddlers in Badlands National Park. This is a quarter of a mile boardwalk trail that is exceptionally easy and can be done by families even with very young children.

Window Trail

This is another short and easy hike that can be done even by the youngest families visiting Badlands.

It is a very short walk at totalling a mere 0.25 miles. And the fact that this is another board walk trail makes it very easy to do with children. 

And if you do complete this trail you will be rewarded with amazing views of the canyon.

Fossil Exhibit Trail

Of all the trails we did in Badlands, this was my dinosaur mad kids favorite. This is another short boardwalk trail but kids will love all of the replica fossil statues on the trailhead. 

For more information on the best and easiest hikes in Badlands National Park click here.

Things to Do Near the Badlands National Park with Kids

If you want to spend more time in the Badlands area there are actually lots of things that you can do nearby. 

Some of our favorite things to do near the Badlands with kids are:

Wall Drug

Yes it is touristy but Wall Drug is a definite must if not just to get some amazing souvenirs. 

No matter which way you are driving to the Badlands from (Rapid City or Sioux Falls) you will see the highway side littered with giant billboards advertising Wall Drug. You have to make a stop here.

It also has a cafeteria where you can grab refreshments. I would personally recommend getting the coffee and the donuts. 

MinuteMan Missile Site

A short c. 20 minute drive from the Badlands Visitor Centre is the Missile Site.

The Minuteman Missiles are a part of the Cold War history and were located in the great plains ready to be fired if need arose. At the site you can see the Missile launch areas as well as learn about the Cold War history. 

Rapid City

Rapid city is the gateway to Mount Rushmore and has plenty to do for families. From the dinosaur park, the presidential walk and Storybook island, there is lots to do in the city with children. 

Have you been to Badlands with kids? What are your tips? 

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Saturday 18th of May 2019

We loved Badlands NP, but when we went we were only able to stay a short time, I"d love to go back and visit some of the places you mentioned. Great photos, by the way!