The Best Places to see Badlands National Park
The Badlands National Park is a beautiful, rugged landscape in South Dakota. The park offers some of the most stunning views, from the eroding buttes to the blooming wildflowers. Whether you're an amateur photographer or just looking for a great idea, here are some of the best viewpoints at Badlands National Park.
Before choosing where to go in the Badlands National Park, it is essential to understand the layout. Badlands National Park is divided into three Units. The North Unit, where most people visit. The Stronghold Unit is southeast of the North Unit. The Stronghold Unit is not paved but accessible. This is where Sheep Mountain Table is located.
The last Unit is the Palmer Creek Unit. It is not accessible without permission from landowners surrounding this area and a high-clearance vehicle. We are going to focus on the Northern and Stronghold Unit views. Here is a Map of all three units of Badlands National Park
Driving through the Northern Unit Is simple. The most widely known and traveled route is the Badlands National Park Driving Loop, or Badlands Loop Road. The Southern Unit can prove difficult, if not dangerous for driving, and is not recommended during wet or bad weather. Visit the Badlands National Park White River Visitor Center before exploring.
Badlands Northern Unit Views
- Pinnacles Overlook - Quite the best view in the Northern Unit of the Badlands. Pinnacles Overlook is the first viewpoint when entering the park's Northwest entrance near Wall. This is also where animals congregate, especially 1 hour before and after sunset. You can see the Badlands Loop Road and Sage Creek Rim Road from this vantage point. A stairway takes you down to the overlook and gives you plenty of opportunity to see from different angles.
- Hay Butte Overlook - This is my favorite. Only a few people travel down this dirt road. It does have a washboard surface, but it is well worth it. Further to the West, the dirt road leads you to Sage Creek Campground.
- Cliff Shelf Nature Trailhead - This one is only visited for sunset sometimes because the Pinnacles are so popular. There is a trail and a great overlook; the sun illuminates the features below. A quick turnaround provides a view of the sun setting. It's a great spot.
- Panorama Point - This place has a 4.9 rating on Google. It has one of the most expansive and exciting views in the park. You can walk, sit, or explore many places from this one location.
- Big Badlands Overlook - Located just inside the east entrance of Badlands National Park, many feel this is the best place to view the sunrise. Any time of day provides a great view and distinct red hues of strata lines throughout.
Note: There are a few places to easily pull over throughout the Northern Unit of the Badlands. The road is freshly paved and provides points to get out for a while and look. Bring your binoculars to check for animals!
Badlands Stronghold Unit Views
- Sheep Mountain Table Overlook - This is perhaps my favorite accessible location in the park. It is accessible directly from Bombing range road. The dirt road that leads to Sheep Mountain Table is bumpy because of ridges in the street or washboard. This road leads to the top of the table and has a spectacular view at Sheep Mountain Table Overlook.
- Two-wheel trails go beyond this point, but a high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle is needed. Refrain from attempting to view Sheep Mountain Table Overlook in wet or bad weather. You could get stuck. It is always best to see this part of the park with a professional guide.
- There are very few roads in the Southern or Stronghold Unit of the Badlands. It is best to hike this region. If hiking, report to the White River Visitor Center and begin your hike here. Checking in with the Park Service is always best. Hike in groups of two or more, and use offline maps as cell phone signals are hard to find or unavailable. GPS-based maps work best out here.
Palmer Creek Unit of the Badlands
- The Palmer Creek Unit of the Badlands is much like an island surrounded by private land. The only way to access this park area is by obtaining permission well in advance. Contact the White River Visitor Center for more info. Plenty of preparation is needed to hike this part of the park.