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Dog-Friendly Guide to Badlands National Park

Located in southwestern South Dakota, Badlands National Park is famous for its unique landscape. This park contains over 244,000 acres of pinnacles, spires, and sharply eroded buttes. All of these rocky formations are surrounded by a mixed-grass prairie ecosystem. 

The badlands were formed after an ancient sea retreated, leaving sediment behind. The sediment began to erode, carving the badlands buttes. The badlands are continually eroding even to this day and eventually, the badlands will completely erode away. 

Beyond the fantastic buttes, the modern prairies are home to plenty of wildlife, including bison herds. We didn’t encounter bison here, but we did see some other animals, including prairie dogs and bighorn sheep.

Beneath the soil, rocks and fossils are abundant. In fact, one of the most complete fossil accumulations in North America is found within this national park. 

If you are interested in visiting this unique national park with your dog, keep reading to find out everything you need to know about visiting Badlands National Park with a dog. 

Dog Policies At Badlands National Park

Per Badlands National Park’s official website, pets are permitted in the national park with some restrictions.

Pets cannot be left unattended and must be kept on a leash no more than six feet in length. Pets are only allowed in developed areas, like campgrounds, picnic areas, and areas open to motor vehicles. (Areas open to motor vehicles include gravel and paved roadways, roadway corridors and parking lots.) 

Here Glia and I are pictured standing at the edge of a parking lot. We enjoyed beautiful views but were unable to enjoy the trail heading down into the badlands.

Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on hiking trails or in backcountry areas. Badlands National Park recommends checking out the trails managed by the Us Forest Service, Buffalo Gap National Grassland. The national grassland is located adjacent to Badlands National Park. 

Despite the fact that dogs are not allowed on the hiking trails, there is plenty to see from the road. The Badlands Loop Road can be accessed from the I-90 and offers several overlooks of the unique badland formations. 

We stopped at several of the overlooks to enjoy the views with the pups. 

Camping at Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park has two campgrounds available: Cedar Pass Campground and Sage Creek Campground. Both are open year-round. 

Cedar Pass Campground was $22/night ($37/night for an electrical hook-up) in 2019 and has running water, flush toilets, and covered picnic tables. This campground is located near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. There is also a lodge near this campground. 

Sage Creek Campground is a primitive campground located on the west side of the park’s North Unit. The campground is located off of an unpaved road and vehicles greater than 18 feet in length are prohibited. There are pit toilets and covered picnic tables available, but not water. Camping is free of charge and campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. 

We did not camp in the park itself during our road trip. Before our arrival at Badlands National Park, we visited Wind Cave National Park. After visiting Badlands National Park, we found a campsite on freecampsites.net. Our campsite was nice and cheap (at $10/night with electrical hook-up), but it was not as scenic as a campsite in Cedar Pass Campground would have been. Here’s the link to our campsite in Elm Springs, South Dakota

Dog-Friendly Activities Outside of Badlands National Park

As Badlands National Park itself suggests, Buffalo Gap National Grasslands are worth a stop for some dog-friendly hiking. Find out more about Buffalo Gap at the USFS site.

If you are willing to drive a little further, Custer State Park is another great area to take your dogs from some good hiking opportunities. Custer State Park is adjacent to Wind Cave National Park, so you can find more information about visiting Custer State Park in our Wind Cave blog post

Overall Thoughts About Visiting Badlands National Park with Dogs

Since much of Badlands National Park can be enjoyed from roadside overlooks, this park is still enjoyable even when you are limited to campgrounds, picnic areas, and roads/parking lots. The colors and design of the badlands offer a unique and stunning landscape.

Even though I had been to this park before (without the dogs), I still was impressed with our drive through this park. It is easy to forget just how intriguing this unique region is. 

So if you are in the area, don’t let Badlands restrictive dog policies stop you from making a visit to this national park. 

Want to read about other visitors experiences visiting Badlands National Park with their dog, check out some of the following blog posts:

  • MyDogLikes.com discusses visiting several locations in South Dakota, including Badlands National Park on their dog-friendly travel blog.
  • GoPetFriendly.com is one of my favorite dog travel blogs. They have spent a fair amount of time in South Dakota. See what they have to say about visiting Badlands National Park with their two pups.
  • WagYourTail.photography shares their experience driving through Badlands National Park with their huskies.

And if you have ever visited the badlands with dogs in tow, let us know your thoughts below.

One reply on “Dog-Friendly Guide to Badlands National Park”

Thank you for this information! I was planning a trip up there with my dogs but didn’t think I could even take them into the park!

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