The Best Time to Visit Badlands National Park

Magnificent Badlands
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Badlands National Park, located 75 miles east of Rapid City, South Dakota, is vast. While crowding usually isn’t a problem at this park, where visitors are spread out over 244,000 acres, it is best to visit after Labor Day, between mid-September and mid-November when kids are back in school, and the weather is the most favorable.

Whenever you decide to visit, use this guide to help you plan your vacation to this national park known for its rugged landscapes, geologic deposits with rich fossil beds, and mixed-grass prairies, which are home to bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and the elusive black-footed ferrets.

Weather at Badlands National Park

The climate in the park is often unpredictable, with year-round extreme temperatures ranging between -40 degrees Fahrenheit and 116 degrees Fahrenheit. Summers are typically hot and dry, with the occasional thunderstorm tossed in, and winters are commonly cold, with multiple inches of snowfall. June is the wettest month with the most rainfall, and December and January are the driest time periods.

No matter when you visit, be aware that sudden weather variations can occur. It’s important to dress in layers, bring plenty of water, and be prepared while out hiking or exploring viewpoints. In the summer, make sure you’re set with hats, sunscreen, and sunglasses. In the spring, it’s important to be equipped with rain jackets and water-resistant footwear. Snow and ice are common in the winter months, with 12—24 inches of snowfall on average—warm, buildable layers are necessary. Check the local forecast daily so that you’re informed of weather patterns, whether you’re out in the elements on a trail walk or inside your car driving. Learn about the day-to-day weather on the park’s local website.

Peak Season at Badlands National Park

While Badlands National Park typically doesn’t get too overcrowded, at least relative to other parks in the National Park System, entrance stations, visitor centers, restrooms, and the popular Loop Road are busiest in the summer months—July and August—when kids are off from school, and more families are touring the park. Due to the uptick in sightseers, the best time to visit the park is during the shoulder seasons of spring, April through June, and fall, September through November. If you find yourself in the park during the peak season of summer, be sure to hit the trails as early as possible to avoid crowds and the heat. Also, dawn and dusk—golden hours—are the best time to view and photograph wildlife.

Popular Events

The Badlands have special happenings at the park year-round. Ranger programs are popular for those who want guided tours of the park to maximize their time and learn about geology, wildlife, paleontology, or astronomy. Reserve your experience at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. Open year-round in the North Unit of the park, the Ben Reifel Visitor Center has an educational film to watch and a bookstore and interactive museum exhibits. This is also a good place to stop before heading out on a drive or hike. Chat with park rangers about what to expect and ask where wildlife was spotted recently to give yourself the best chance at viewing the animals.  

No matter what the season, you can drive around the South Unit of the park. This perimeter drive is a great way to see the landscapes and spot wildlife. The White River Visitor Center, located in the South Unit, is open every season, except for winter. On the North Unit of the park, tourists can drive the Sage Creek Rim Road or the Badlands Loop Road each season, which are prime wildlife spotting locations.

In the summer only, visitors can stop in the Fossil Preparation Lab, where you can observe and interact with paleontologists working on fossils.  

In the spring, summer, and fall, visit the Cedar Pass Amphitheatre for an astronomy tutorial, which lasts between 30 and 90 minutes. Park rangers and astronomy volunteers will have telescopes on hand and provide information on what can be seen in the night sky.

January

This month expect the average high to be around 34 degrees Fahrenheit, while the typical low is 11 degrees Fahrenheit. The usual precipitation is .29 inches.

Events to check out:

February

The average high temperature in February is 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 16 degrees Fahrenheit is the average low. The typical precipitation is .48 inches. Dress warm and be sure to check the daily forecast as sudden drops in temperature can happen.

March

Slightly warmer highs, at around 48 degrees Fahrenheit, and lows at 24 degrees Fahrenheit, should be expected this month, as well as a bit more rain at .9 inches. Dress in layers, and be sure to stop in at the visitor's center to discover the best places to go in the park for this month.

April

This month, you can expect highs to be well above freezing at 62 degrees Fahrenheit on average and above freezing at night at 36 degrees Fahrenheit. More rain is on the horizon as well at 1.83 inches. Bison will shed their winter coats in the spring and can be spotted throughout the park wallowing in the dirt. Keep a safe distance from all wildlife.

May

While the weather is the most favorable thus far, reaching 72 degrees Fahrenheit on average during the day and 46 degrees Fahrenheit at night, expect more rain at around 2.75 inches. Wildflowers can best be seen late spring through early summer. Sunrise and sunset are the best times for photography and wildlife sightings.

June

Prepare for rain this month as you’ll see the most rain in a given year at 3.12 inches on average. The weather will be in the low 80’s during the day and around 56 degrees Fahrenheit on average at night. Watch out for prairie rattlesnakes, the largest species in the country, which become more active as the temperature warms up.

July

This month is hot and sunny. Be prepared with sun protection as the high averages 92 degrees Fahrenheit and the low averages 62 degrees Fahrenheit. Bison breed during the summer months, and bulls can be seen fighting for mating rights, with a bellow that can be heard for miles.

August

August experiences less rain, yet the average highs are above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Expect the largest numbers of visitors this month and plan ahead accordingly.

Events to check out:

  • The most popular summer activity in the area is Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which happens the first full week of August. Be sure to book hotels and make arrangements well in advance, especially if outside of the park, as the area swells with visitors.  

September

The hot sun tapers off this month, bringing the average daytime high down to 81 degrees Fahrenheit. Rain is still possible, however, so plan accordingly. Children are back in school, and families have largely left the park, making this season the best time for a visit.

October

This month usually exhibits the best weather. It’s not too hot, not too cold. Expect a high of 68 degrees Fahrenheit and a low of 39 degrees Fahrenheit. Bicycling, a fun way to experience the park, is best done when the weather is cooler and traffic is minimal.

Events to check out:

  • Learn about Native American culture through art, dance, music, and a parade at the annual Black Hills Powwow or He Sapa Wacipi. This three-day festival attracts hundreds of spectators from around the country.

November

Dry, at around .41 inches of rain, and a bit cooler at 50 degrees Fahrenheit on average, this month is still quite pleasant to visit if you dress accordingly. Snow, however, can occur, so dress appropriately and plan ahead. Big crowds are nearly all gone by November, giving you plenty of space to explore.

December

Expect this month to be cold and snowy. On average, the daily high will be just above freezing at 39 degrees Fahrenheit and the low will be well below freezing at 17 degrees Fahrenheit. If you plan on hiking, wear warm layers and good sturdy boots. Bison stay in the park year-round and can be spotted rooting in the snow with their massive heads during the winter months.

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