Badlands Photography: South Dakota’s Captivating National Park

by Mark and Kristen Morgan
Bighorn Sheep Badlands Photography Telephoto Lens

Badlands is more like ‘Goodlands’ when photography is concerned. South Dakota’s popular National Park is fairly isolated but once you arrive, you know it’s worth the extra effort.

Surprisingly excellent wildlife spotting, an extra-terrestrial landscape and a light-pollution-free night sky create the perfect environment for photography to thrive.

Here are all of our Badlands resources to help plan your visit:

The easiest way to display our many photographs is to break them up into subsections. We hope our favorite images will inspire you to visit Badlands National Park!

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Badlands Hiking Trails Photography

Door

Badlands wall from door trail overlooking sharp rocks

Door trail allows you to get ‘behind’ the wall and opens up this spectacular landscape.

Sharp ravine gullies on door trail badlands

Door is one of the only places you can explore the gullies and ravines created by erosion and deposition.

Mark on rock at the beginning of door trail badlands

Mark climbing some of the rocks at the beginning of Door trail for a better vantage point.

Window

Window overlook at the end of window short trail badlands photography

Window is a very short walk from the car park and this is the view for your efforts!

Notch

mark and kristen climbing the notch trail wooden ladder

Mark and Kristen climbing the Notch trail ladder. We had the tripod and a 10 second timer set up for this one so had to run up the ladder!

Kristen climbing the notch trail ladder from above

See what we mean? Looks steeper from the top! On the way down, there’s a moment where you need to work out whether to turn and go backwards or chance it forwards.

Kristen at the end of notch trail enjoying the badlands view

The awesome views over White River Valley from the end of Notch trail. Badlands visitor center is somewhere down to the right center of the photo.

Read our complete hiking walkthrough for Badlands best hike – The Notch Trail.

Castle

Badlands signpost listing all hiking trails

Badlands main hiking trails are all signposted from a carpark not far after arriving via the Northeast entrance.

Badlands Wildlife Photography

Bison

Side profile view of bison in sunshine walking through field near sage creek campground

America’s national animal can be found in many parts of the country but Badlands gave us our very first sighting! The Bison here were solitary and walked right through Sage Creek Campground.

Side profile bison photography at badlands national park SD

It was much quieter here than other National Parks so we were able to observe this Bison with no distractions or other tourists. This guy was lapping up the sunshine!

Bighorn Sheep

Beautiful Big Horn Sheep Badlands wildlife photography

This photo of a Bighorn Sheep is one of our favorite wildlife photos from our entire year around the world. We had never seen one before and didn’t expect it, so the surprise was amazing. Plus, we just caught this Bighorn perfectly with our telephoto lens.

Prairie Dogs

Three prairie dogs congregating over one hole sage creek campground

How cute are these fluffy little rodents?! These 3 were congregating on one hole in the morning sunlight at Sage Creek campground.

Solo prairie dog on the lookout and running between holes badlands

This Prairie Dog was mischievous as he ran between holes, while keeping an eye out for predators!

Badlands Scenic Overlooks Photography

Bright cloudy sunset over badlands landscape

We were fortunate during our Badlands visit to have changeable weather, which is great for photography. A sunset illuminated the clouds perfectly on Sage Creek Rim Road!

Rainy dark clouds at sunset over badlands national park

And here is the change in weather! These dense and dark rain clouds persisted for a good few hours!

Mark on edge of rock face in badlands cloudy sky

Without Mark as the perspective, it’s hard to determine and appreciate the size of these rocks.

Awesome looking rock formations white river valley badlands

This is the perfect image to see the layers of fossil soils at Badlands, look at the thin bands of red in the rock. It’s hard to imagine there was once a sea covering this entire area. 

Badlands Camping Photography

Sage creek campground badlands national park

Welcome to Sage Creek campsite – Badlands, South Dakota! There’s not much here, just a circular dirt road surrounding a circular grassy area with one dump toilet. Look for numbers on wooden poles to secure your spot.

Cooking gear and lights inside tent sage creek campground badlands

 If you plan to spend the night, don’t forget your camping essentials! We made a typical camping meal of spaghetti, tomato sauce and cheese … but spruced it up with some Spam we had bought at the Spam museum in Austin, MN on the way to Badlands!

Minuteman Missile Museum (Nearby & Awesome)

Building exterior minuteman missile museum

Minuteman Missile Museum is definitely worth a visit if you have a spare hour after visiting Badlands. This museum tells the important (and possibly forgotten?) story of the Cold War.

Wall (Nearby Town)

Wall drug store from the outside and car park

Wall is a tiny town close to the Northwestern entrance to Badlands. It’s the only town within a few miles of the park that has hotels. This drug store is advertised for miles and miles along the I-90!

More Photography Guides

 Badlands is definitely worth a visit if you can work it in to a wider road trip. We didn’t see Bighorn Sheep like these again on our entire 3 month US road trip.

Although the rock formations here aren’t as mesmerizing as the Grand Canyon, they’re still interesting enough to make the effort.

For photographers, the key is to stay a night. Sunrise, sunset, golden hours, stars and animals. You won’t get any of those on a 10am-3pm visit!

Don’t forget you can read our complete guide to visiting Badlands for more information.

-Happy Snapping-

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Leave a Comment

2 comments

G dog May 16, 2020 - 3:11 pm

Great photo’s your both really good at taking them now and I suppose it helps when you’ve got scenery like that.

Reply
Mark & Kristen Morgan May 16, 2020 - 5:21 pm

Thanks Graham! Yes, landscapes like Badlands make photography much easier! There are plenty more like this to come!

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