The South Dakota Badlands are an untamed region of extreme landscape with sheer cliffs and little vegetation. While the name may put some folks of the idea of visiting the Badlands, the fact is the unusual, and uncommon beauty and challenging terrain also draw many outdoor enthusiasts.
Recognizable by high cliffs, the Badlands National Park is roughly an hour’s drive from Rapid City, South Dakota, making it easily accessible for a long day trip or a weekend adventure. The Badlands were initially shared by over 22 indigenous tribes who considered the land sacred, if unforgiving. The Lakota dubbed the area Makȟóšiča, which literally means “bad lands”.
The small cities and towns surrounding the Badlands are perfect for a more rustic adventure than say flying out to Napa. They are home to awesome outdoor activities and landmarks such as the Badlands Observatory, geological museums, the Watiki Waterpark, decommissioned missile silos, and even a rodeo.
So, if this is your first time visiting South Dakota and you are considering the best area to stay in the Badlands, here are a few options. Whether you’re looking to lodge in a rustic cabin, a boutique beauty or a classic Badlands motel, we’ve got you covered!
Best Areas to Stay in the Badlands
- Best area for first-timers/tourists: Hermosa
- Best area for budget travelers: Wall
- Best area for luxury travelers: Rapid City
- Best area for safety: Rapid City
- Best area for families: Hermosa/Interior
- Best area for food: Rapid City
- Best area for nightlife: Wall
Places to Stay in the Badlands
1. Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park is a 242,756-acre park located in southwestern South Dakota. Badlands National Park features dramatic landscapes, awe-inspiring layered rock formations, spires, and canyons. Roaming throughout the Park are herds of bison and bighorn sheep. Prairie dogs also love the region and can be found in one of the country’s most expansive, untouched open prairie grasslands.
Want to learn more about the parks natural history? The Fossil Exhibit Trail is a boardwalk with uncovered dinosaur bones and tracks. The Badlands National Park is jointly managed by both the Oglala Lakota Tribe and the National Park Service. A wholly independent island of land in the western quarter, the Palmer Creek Unit, is the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
While tours of Badlands National Park are available, you may want to explore it on your own. The park has several entrances. The main gate, Pinnacles entrance, and the Northeast Entrance are easily accessed from Interstate-90.
The Interior entrance is south of the Park. The Badlands Loop Road, Highway 240, connects scenic lookouts and historical markers. And there are extensive hiking trails throughout the park, beginning at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.
If you want to stay the night in the area, there are several choices for the Badlands National Park hotels. One of the best places to stay in Badlands is a seasonal resort, Badlands Inn. Near the Park is the Badlands budget motel, Days Inn. Just make sure you check availability before you book!
Things to do near Badlands National Park
- Creston Dinosaur is a roadside dinosaur attraction aching to share some selfies with you. It stands 60 feet long and 20 feet tall and was originally painted pink and red. Erected in 1933, some claim it to be the world’s oldest roadside dinosaur.
- Oglala Lakota Living History Village is open daily. This unique living museum details the past and present culture of the Oglala Lakota Country.
- The Delta-01 Launch Control Facility is one of many Cold War relics and silos you can find in the Dakotas. This landmark provides an eerie snapshot of the United States’ recent past, and can be accessed on this Badlands Park tour.
- Harry’s Hideaway Restaurant is one of the closer restaurants to the Park. Hearty portions of American fare and comfort food at affordable prices highlight this unassuming local favorite.
- Sage Creek Wilderness Area is a unique animal preserve in the heart of Badlands National Park. Herds of Bison roam the open grasslands, making it a prime destination for wildlife lovers.
- Kids love Roberts Prairie Dog Town. Also part of Badlands National Park, this is the largest prairie dog town in the park. Open flat grassland with small mounds indicates the underground homes of these critters, and the high-pitched squeaks let you know the animals are watching!
Places to stay near Badlands National Park
See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Rapid City, South Dakota
Wall, South Dakota, is a small but bustling town straddling U.S. Highway 14, with iconic restaurants and plenty to do while you are in the area. One of the town’s main attractions is Wall Drug. This monster, cowboy-themed drug store-cum-shopping mall is one of South Dakota’s most popular attractions, seeing millions of visitors each year!
Grab a cup of coffee or a burger, or a glass of their free ice water (which for some reason has its own cult following) do some shopping, admire some artwork, and take in the sights at this South Dakota institution. It also has a dinosaur statue; its very own brontosaurus. I’m sensing a theme here…
Other unique landmarks in the area are the Delta-09 & 10 Minuteman Missile Silos. Free and open to the public, these historical landmarks, both decommissioned nuclear missile silos played a vital part of America’s nuclear deterrent during the Cold War.
Things to do in Wall
- Wall Drug & Dinosaur is a South Dakota institution. Founded in 1931, this landmark drug store greets 2 million guests yearly. Shop, dine, marvel!
- Free to the public, the National Grasslands Visitor Center is a beautifully constructed museum and visitor center that tells you all about America’s grasslands.
- Badlands Saloon & Grille is a rustic local favorite tavern and restaurant, serving regular pub fare, located on Wall’s main street just a minute from Wall Drug.
- If you are looking for open green space to stretch your legs and let the kids run, Wall Public Park in downtown Wall is the perfect place. Kids can play on the equipment while adults can sit watchfully in the shade. Bring a picnic along!
- New Wall Lake is a nature preserve southeast of downtown Wall. The artificial lake is excellent for fishing or spending a day on the water.
- Visitors of a golfing persuasion can reward themselves with glorious walk around the 9-hole Wall Community Golf Course.
- Visiting Wall in the summer? Be sure to check out Wall Rodeo Grounds for the Annual Wall Celebration Rodeo!
Places to stay in Wall
Kadoka is roughly 20 minutes from Badlands National Park and is best known for the Badlands Petrified Gardens. Often overlooked, it is always fun to explore Kadoka. Popular local attractions include a nine-hole golf course, a city park, and an outdoor pool. Rockhounding (collecting pretty and interesting rocks) is a popular activity in this tiny town.
Badlands Distillery is also located in Kadoka and offers tastings and tours. If liquor ain’t your thing, they casn hook you up with a quality cup of Joe.
Within walking distance of the distillery is the Americas Best Value Inn, Kadoka. Across the I-90 cloverleaf is the Lakota Lodge. However, if you are wondering where to stay overnight in the Badlands with kids that are pet friendly and on a budget, the Budget Host Sundowner Motor Inn is a great option, coming with a bumper free breakfast.
Things to do in Kadoka
- Kadoka was initially built as a stop on the Milwaukee Railway. The one-story depot is now a historical landmark and museum highlighting South Dakota prairie artifacts.
- Jackson County Library is a small old-fashioned library that houses roughly 23,000 volumes. On top of being a place to catch up on some peaceful reading, it is also the center for meetings and other town events.
- An iconic roadside stop, the Sunset Grill serves hearty food in a small-town setting and is one of the only restaurants in town. Consequently, it’s pretty popular!
- Scrappy, the Whitetail Deer, made of crushed car parts, is a quirky statue and something fun to break up the Badlands scenery. Despite being made of old scrap, the statue itself is remarkably beautiful.
Places to stay in Kadoka
See Related: Best & Fun Things to Do in Deadwood, South Dakota
Interior is an unincorporated town in Jackson County, South Dakota, established in 1907 as a spur stop for the Milwaukee Railroad. Interior is the closest area to several popular trails, including the Fossil Exhibit, Saddle Pass, Cliff Shelf, Door, and Notch Trailheads for those in the area to hike. This entrance is also closest to the Ben Reifel Visitors Center (found on the scenic loop), and is open all year round. The center provides general information and has a book, gift store, and picnic area.
This neck of the Badlands is ideal if you’re looking to sleep under the stars. A few miles south of Interior, on the banks of the White River, are substantial campgrounds, such as the Badland White River RV Park and Campground (KOA).
Things to do in Interior
- Hurley Butte Ranch offers the opportunity to see the Badlands from horseback. This iconic working horse ranch provides guided tours of Badlands National Park via horseback.
- Native West Trading Co. combines handcrafted items with a museum highlighting the Great Plains Native Cultures. This unique trading post highlights various artists, their heritage, and multi-medium talents.
- The Wagon Wheel Bar is an iconic Great Plains bar and restaurant serving local favorites, including their beloved hamburgers. The outside looks like an old west town building, and the inside is decorated with area items and knick-knacks, but the food is famous.
- One of 16 overlooks in the Badlands National Park, Big Badlands Overlook, sits just inside the Park from the side entrance near Interior. This overlook spotlights the eastern view of the Badlands.
Places to stay in Interior
Hermosa is often quoted as the “Hub of History and Adventure” – by whom, we do not know, but it’s a moniker well deserved. This small yet bustling town iswest of the Badlands, roughly 20 miles northeast of Custer State Park, and east of Mount Rushmore. The area is great for fossil hunting or panning for Fairburn agates, which is great fun for the kids.
Speaking of fun for the kids, Hermosa is famously home to Bear Park. This incredible wildlife park is known for its black bears. If you’re lucky you can see tiny, baby bear cubs frolicking!
If you are traveling with kids, Hermosa is one of the best areas to stay in the Badlands for camping with the wee ones. Hermosa has a couple of great campgrounds, including Heartland Park & Campground and Southern Hills RV Park & Campground.
Things to do in Hermosa
- Doane Robinson Tunnel is one of three frame tunnels on the road to Mount Rushmore, offering a unique view of the mountain as you approach from the south. Since Mt. Rushmore is less than 30 minutes away, you’d be crazy to miss the opportunity to see this famous American landmark.
- Four Mile Old West Town Museum is a family-run historical old west site with over 50 outbuildings and an authentic ghost town. Great for the whole family and is a pet-friendly site.
- Lazy R Bar and Grill is a family-run, favorite local restaurant serving steaks and hamburgers, among its hearty American fare.
- Bear Park is home to the largest privately owned bear population in the U.S.A. Housed on 200 acres, the three-mile drive through several enclosures with black bears, elk, reindeer, cougars, bobcats, bighorn sheep, and buffalo.
Places to stay in Hermosa
See Related: Best Things to Do in Sioux Falls, South Dakota
6. Rapid City
Rapid City, South Dakota, is a great jumping-off point for many of the area’s attractions, with the R.C. Regional Airport only nine miles away. It’s roughly an hour from the main gate to the Badlands National Park and a half-hour from the world-famous Mount Rushmore National Monument. And just outside of town is Spearfish Canyon, a creek-carved gorge and limestone cliffs, older than the far more famous Grand Canyon and home to beautiful views.
This is the place to be if you want to break up your outdoor excursions with some culture, history, fine eats, and retail therapy.
The Rapid City Executive Golf Course is less than three miles from downtown near Shipwrecks Bar & Grille where you’ll be able to source some tasty food.
Some of the best hotels and lodging options in South Dakota can e found right here. If you are looking for rooms with character, perfect for couples and solo travelers, the Hotel Alex Johnson, in the heart of Rapid City, is the best hotel in town to bed down. It is a charming historic hotel with onsite dining at Paddy O’Neill’s Irish Pub.
Things to do in Rapid City
- Haven’t had your fill of dinos yet? Constructed in 1936, Skyline Wilderness Park Dinosaur is a quirky stop and one of the area’s original attractions. Dinosaur Park is located on a sandstone ridge with panoramic views of the Black Hills and is free to the public.
- Journey Museum covers the Black Hills’ history and the indigenous peoples’ complex cultures. The Journey Museum & Learning Center’s vast collection chronicles humanity’s journey through time and takes about three hours to tour.
- Colonial House Restaurant & Bar is a Badlands icon, serving hearty American breakfast, lunch, dinner, and desserts that your tastebuds will thank you for.
- Mount Rushmore National Monument is one of America’s national treasures, and a perfect way to see the cliffs and the surrounding Custer State Park is through a private tour.
- Whether staying at the resort or just playing for a day, Waitiki Indoor Waterpark offers 30,000 square feet of water-centric fun and is the Dakotas’ biggest indoor water park.
Places to stay in Rapid City
What is the Badlands known for?
The Badlands are known for harsh conditions.The Badlands National Park is known for challenging trails, archeological finds, and big game hunting.
It is also the location of the largest stretch of undeveloped grassland in the United States. The Badlands are also known for a uniquely prominent cliff feature, which stretches a hundred miles through Badlands National Park.
What is the best area to stay in the Badlands?
If you are looking for a home base to take in all the Badlands area has to offer then Rapid City is the best place to stay. A range of hotels to fit most budgets and a list of things to do and places to eat make this the best choice for families, RVers, or solo travelers. If you want to be in the thick of things in the Badlands National Forrest, several campgrounds will offer basic amenities without breaking the bank.
Where is a good place to stay in the Badlands near the Delta-09 Minuteman Silo?
The town of Wall is closest to the decommissioned Minuteman Silo – and offers a couple of great options. If your visit to the area is on a budget, the Super 8 by Wyndham checks all the boxes, while the coolest place in Wall is the popular Badlands Frontier Cabins. For clean beds with great amenities, at a reasonable price, the Best Western Plains Motel is the best place to stay in Badlands.