Finding lodging options around the National Parks is challenging. Usually any in-park options book up at least a year in advance. Campgrounds are a bit more flexible and there are usually some vacation rental options in the area, but finding a decent hotel nearby takes some work. The Badlands National Park lodging options are even more limited than other parks. There is one lodge, the Cedar Pass Lodge, and a campground. However the closest city, Rapid City, is over an hour away.
Just outside the southern entrance in Interior, there are a couple of budget options including the Badlands Inn from Forever Resorts (a concessioner of the National Park Service) and the Badlands Interior Motel and Campgrounds.
When I was searching for where to stay near Badlands National Park six months before we visited, I ran across an interesting option at the Circle View Guest Ranch for a farm stay that was just what I was looking for.
Circle View Guest Ranch Review
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The Circle View Guest Ranch is a family-run bed and breakfast just six miles outside of the Interior Entrance to Badlands National Park. It is situated on 3,000 acres of a working ranch and run by Philip and Amy Kruse, along with their three young children. Philip grew up on the ranch as the youngest of eight siblings and opened the guest house in 2000.
The family atmosphere is evident from the moment you arrive. A white board warmly welcomes the guests of the day. After checking in, you can make yourself at home in the comfortable living room, play ping pong or foosball in the game room, or explore the extensive grounds.
There are eight guest rooms, all with locking doors and private bathrooms. There are a mix of room configurations to suit couples, singles, and families including two queens, one king, one queen, a queen with bunkbeds, and a suite featuring two queens, a pull-out couch, and a kitchenette.
There are also three cabins on the ranch that are available to rent. Guests also have use of a guest kitchen in the main house. The rates include a full ranch breakfast, served daily downstairs at 7:30 am. Breakfast is a delicious affair and not to be missed. In addition to fresh eggs from the farm, we filled our bellies with sausage, hash browns, homemade biscuits, fruit, yogurt, juice, smoothies, and freshly-brewed coffee. Breakfast is a time for guests to get to know one another and socialize, as well as partake of tasty food.
After breakfast, the kids are invited to go out to the barn and feed the breakfast scraps to the chickens and collect eggs from the hen house. While we were staying, the family was also fostering a calf that needed to be bottle fed. You can tell that many of the kids staying on the ranch had never experienced farm life before and getting to help with the chores was actually a bonus. Hannah, who loved helping with the chickens during her fifth-grade Farm Camp experience, had fun climbing into the hayloft, picking up the chickens, and checking the hen house for eggs. It was really cute to listen to some of the kids exclaiming with wonder when they connected the dots between the eggs being collected and the eggs we ate for breakfast.
The ranch also has a dog, cats and kittens, peacocks, and even burros. The team at the farm can arrange for burro rides as well as set up horseback riding. So as much as you want to spend all of your time in Badlands National Park, be sure to leave some time to enjoy the ranch. Just remember to apply the bug spray whenever you step outside, especially when you are helping with the chores.
It was so convenient to stay so close to the Interior Entrance to the park. It made it possible to return to the park for dinner at the Cedar Pass Lodge (try the fry bread Indian taco) and stay for the evening Ranger Talk at the amphitheater. If you get lucky, the rangers run a Night Sky viewing program after the Ranger Talk. Unfortunately, it was cloudy during our stay and that part was cancelled. It was a major disappointment since Badlands National Park is one of the best places for dark sky viewing. It was still a relief to only drive a few miles in that dark versus making the trek all the way back to Rapid City or the Black Hills area.
Tips for Visiting Badlands National Park
There are three main entrances to Badlands National Park. If you are coming from the East, from Sioux Falls, it best to use the Northeast Entrance, which is off Exit 131 on Interstate 90. For those coming from the West, from Rapid City, take Exit 110 in Wall and use the Pinnacles Entrance (be sure to stop by the famous Wall Drug first, a must on a South Dakota road trip!) You can also enter at the Interior Entrance, in the south east corner of the park, although that isn’t off any major highways.
There are three park units: the Palmer Creek Unit, the Stronghold Unit, and the North Unit. Most visitors will concentrate their time in the North Unit and use one of the three entrances mentioned above.
My recommended itinerary if you are coming from the Black Hills or Rapid City area would be to enter at the Pinnacles Entrance. When you come to a fork in the road after passing through the tollbooth, make a right onto Sage Creek Rim Road. Note that this road is gravel so you will want to take it slow and it will be more challenging for campers or motorcycles.
The Sage Creek Rim Road will provide beautiful views of the Buffalo Gap National Grassland and the Badlands Wilderness Area. We debated whether or not to take this road, but we are so glad that we did as it was a wildlife boon.
In the distance across the grasslands we saw herds of either bison or cattle. But along the side of the road, both in the grassland and overlooking the Wilderness Area we found so many small groups of big horn sheep.
Make sure you follow the Sage Creek Rim Road as far as Roberts Prairie Dog Town. We sat and enjoyed a picnic lunch while watching these adorable little critters frolicking in and out of their holes. Tip: bring a boxed lunch or pick up something in Wall Drug before you enter the park as the only food you will find is at the Cedar Pass Lodge near the Interior Entrance.
At that point, I would recommend turning around to head back toward the Pinnacles Entrance. This time, when you get to the split in the road, make a right onto Badlands Loop Road. Along the Badlands Loop Road, there are many scenic overlooks with short hikes to viewpoints. Be sure to stop at the Pinnacles Overlook, Yellow Mounds Overlook, and Panorama Point, at a minimum.
Depending on how much time you spend at the various overlooks, it will take you two to three hours to make your way from the Pinnacles Entrance to the Cedar Pass Area. In the Cedar Pass Area, you will find the Ben Reifel Visitor Center and the Cedar Pass Lodge.
Be sure to stop into the Bed Reifel Visitor Center. There is a movie about the Badlands, as well as a fossil lab. This is where you can find out about Ranger-led walks and the topics for the evening Ranger Talks. The evening Ranger Talks take place at the amphitheater next to the Cedar Pass Campground. If you are staying nearby, like at the Circle View Guest Ranch, I highly recommend attending one of these session.
The Ranger Talk we attended talked all about the role of water in the Badlands and how animals and settlers have had to adapt to the lack of drinkable water. It was entertaining and fascinating. Maybe you will get lucky and get to enjoy some amazing star gazing with the evening Night Sky Viewing program.
In the Cedar Pass area, you will also find some hiking trails including the self-guided Fossil Exhibit Trail, the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail, and the Door Trail.
If you are staying at the Circle View Guest Ranch, you can finish off the rest of the park by taking the Interior Entrance and driving north on Route 240 to the Northeast Entrance. Make sure to stop at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site Visitor Center on your way out before you travel on.
Tips for visiting Badlands National Park:
- Wear closed-toe shoes to protect against rocks, dust, cacti, and rattlesnakes
- Bring LOTS of water as there are limited options for refilling in the park (recommended is one gallon per person)
- Stay away from wildlife, especially bison
- Wear sunscreen and a hat. Temperatures in the summer can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit
- Don’t climb on the rock formations. While they look solid, they are actually quite fragile. The Badlands erode at a rate of one inch per year and the rock is very soft and crumbly. It can actually be easier to get up then to get back down on a slippery path of loose rock and delicate handholds
- Be sure to invest in a National Parks Pass if you will be visiting a couple of parks within a year
- If you visit in June, keep in mind that it is the rainiest month of the year in the Badlands
- Also see my suggestions for things to do in the Black Hills and Sioux Falls, SD
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