The Best Badlands Photo Spots (+ Our Favorites)


Photography in Badlands national park Bighorn Sheep in the snow

Badlands National Park has a wide range of excellent photo spots including overlooks, wildlife and action photos on hiking trails. It’s a wide open landscape with rugged buttes, spires, canyons, ravines and colorful rock layers. So, it really is hard to go wrong with your camera in the Badlands of South Dakota.

In this guide we show you our favorite Badlands photos from the two trips we’ve taken.

Our Badlands Photography Experience

Two hikers posing for a photograph in Badlands National Park
Here we are at the Badlands welcome sign in April 2021

In truth, we didn’t expect Badlands to be so photogenic when we first visited the park in September 2021. We had great weather and the park was quiet, but we had beginner level skills and photography equipment at the time, so we didn’t make the most of it.

The second time we visited Badlands in April 2021, we had better equipment and far more experience. But this time the weather didn’t play ball! We had heavy snow clouds and dull colors throughout. Nevertheless, it didn’t put us off and we still enjoyed the trip. Read more about us.

Love photography? Take a look at our travel photography gallery.

Photo Spots On Badlands Hiking Trails

Wooden sign in the Badlands with a magpie sitting on top of the pole
Magpie resting on a trail sign

There’s 10 hikes in Badlands and you’ll find some of the best photo spots in the park scattered around its trail network.

Let’s take a look at some of the hikes:

1. Door Trail

Man standing on a an eroded formations in South Dakota
Mark hiking a section of Door Trail
Eroded ravines and gullies in Badlands National Park
Ravines and buttes on Door Trail
Unique formations on the door trail
Eroded formations behind the Badlands Wall

Door Trail is a unique Badlands photo spot because it’s the only place in the park you can venture behind the Badlands Wall. You have endless opportunities to use eroded formations to frame the landscape and wall.

It’s one of the best spots to photograph ravines, gulleys and buttes from close up. It also has a wide open and flat view so you can get straight horizons. If the weather is good, you’ll have a massive blue sky above the formations.


2. Window Trail

Windows trail is a great photography location in badlands national park
Trailhead for the Window hike
View through the window trail
View through the Window

The Window is probably the easiest photo spot to reach in Badlands. It’s a short and easy walk from the main parking lot near northeast entrance, and it leads to a great view of typical Badlands formations.

3. Notch Trail

Two hikers climbing a wooden ladder on notch trail in the Badlands
Here we are climbing the Badlands ladder on Notch Trail in September
Man on wooden ladder hiking in the Badlands
Mark hiking up the ladder in April
The Badlands ladder from the top looking down
Looking down at the Badlands ladder
Woman sitting on a rock overlooking a great Badlands photography spot on Notch Trail
Kristen at the Notch Trail summit in September

Notch Trail is the most popular hike in Badlands National Park because it features adventurous elements, including a 50-foot wooden ladder climb up a steep rock face. We had the ladder to ourselves when we visited in both April and September, but it gets much busier in the summer months.

The whole trail is picturesque but the ladder, narrow cliffs and summit views are the three best photo spots on the Badlands Notch Trail. If you plan to take action photos of people hiking, this is the trail you should hike.

Further Reading: How to hike the Badlands Notch Trail

4. Castle Trail

Wooden boardwalk and trail sign leading through grass to rocks and a blue sky
East side of Castle Trail
Castle Trailhead wooden steps leading to rocky formations with clouds in the sky
West side of Castle Trail

Castle Trail is the longest maintained trail in Badlands National Park. It guides you through a section of the Badlands Backcountry so it’s a great area for wildlife photography.

As you can see in the photos above, Castle Trail is a maze of spires, buttes and fins at each end. But the middle of the trail leads to open prairie filled with interesting Badlands formations.

Badlands Wildlife Photography

The good thing about taking photos of wildlife is that animals make great subjects no matter the weather. In fact, the second time we visited Badlands when it snowed we managed to take much better photos of anumals.

Here are some of our favorites with tips on where to see animals in the park:

1. American Bison

A photo of an american bison grazing on grass in Badlands National Park
Close up view of an American bison
A bison in the Badlands eating vegetation
A bison grazing in the snow at Badlands

On May 9th, 2016, the American bison was officially named the national mammal of the United States. They can be found in many parts of the country, but we saw bison for the very first time in Badlands so it’s a fond memory for us.

One of the best regions to see bison in Badlands National Park is near Sage Creek Campground. And because Badlands is so much quieter than other national parks with bison, you can observe the animals from a safe distance for quite some time.

Photo Tip: A bisons tail is a good indicator of it’s mood. If the tail hangs down and switches naturally, the bison is calm. But if the tail is standing straight up, be careful because it may charge.

2. Bighorn Sheep

Two bighorn sheep walking on the side of the road in Badlands National Park
Two bighorn sheep in the Badlands
Photo of a bighorn sheep standing on the edge of a road in Badlands National Park with snow on the ground
A bighorn sheep roaming around the park in the snow

You’ll see lots of bighorn sheep scattered across the Badlands when you visit the park. They can regularly be found on cliffs, in prairie and in the backcountry.

But you also stand a good chance of seeing bighorn sheep walking along the main Badlands Loop Road through the park. So you might get a great photo right from inside your car. We took both the photos above from inside our car in different seasons.

3. Prairie Dogs

Two prairie dogs running through Sage Creek Campground
Two prairie dogs at Sage Creek Campground
Prairie dogs protecting their holes at Sage Creek campground surrounded by grass
There’s always at least one prairie dog standing guard

How cute are these fluffy little rodents?!

Prairie dogs belong to the Sciuridae family just like ground squirrels and chipmunks. The most common species is the black-tailed prairie dog, which is the one you’ll find in Badlands.

Sage Creek campground is where to go if you want guaranteed prairie dog photos. But you should also check out Roberts Prairie Dog Town for more opportunities. You’ll definitely need a telephoto lens (ideally longer than 100mm) if you want to get close ups.

Best Scenic Overlooks

There are 15 scenic overlooks in Badlands National Park. We won’t discuss every single overlook in this guide, but if you want to see them all you can read our guide to the best things to do in Badlands.

Here are some of our favorite Badlands overlooks for photography:

1. Yellow Mounds Overlook

Bright yellow and red colorful mounds at an overlook in Badlands
The bright colors of Yellow Mounds Overlook on a sunny day
Yellow Mounds overlook at Badlands in the snow during April
Much duller colors at Yellow Mounds Overlook in the snow

Take one look at Yellow Mounds Overlook and you’ll know exactly how it got it’s name. Almost all of Badlands looks the same, but Yellow Mounds is completely unique so don’t miss it on a photography trip to the park.

It’s definitely not as attractive or outstanding with overcast weather, but even in the snow you can still see the vibrant colors. Like with most overlooks in the park, it looks more appealing under sunlight.

2. Big Badlands Overlook

Striped formations in Badlands as far as the eye can see
Vibrant red rock layers at Big Badlands Overlook

Big Badlands Overlook is a great photo spot because it perfectly showcases the reddish stripes of the Brule Formation that are synonymous with Badlands.

Next time we visit Badlands, we’ll go to Big Badlands Overlook for sunrise.

3. More Overlooks

Panorama Point in the snow at Badlands National Park
Snowy skies at Panorama Point
Woman posing for a photo on the Pinnacles Overlook
Kristen enjoying this particular overlook more than others!
A light snow dusting the Badlands in South Dakota
Views from Badlands Wilderness Overlook
Wide open landscape filled with dramatic ravines and buttes with colorful rock layers and thick clouds in the sky
Dramatic ravines and canyon with very clear rock layers
Wooden boardwalk jutting out into a wide open prairie with heavy clouds above
Wooden boardwalk at Wind Prairie Overlook

The beauty of a photography trip to Badlands is that most of the park can be seen right from the car. You’ll stop at all the overlooks and the photo spots are all right there from the overlooks!

Depending on the sunlight in the park, you’ll notice different colors in the formations. Pierre Shale, is the bottommost layer in Badlands and it was deposited 75-69 million years ago. It might be difficult to imagine, but a shallow inland sea once occupied this region. Many of the fossils found in the Badlands are ancient marine life.

Until you visit Badlands for the first time, it can be hard to appreciate the sheer vastness that makes the park special.

Badlands Loop Road

Photo of an empty road slightly curving and disappearing into rock formations with thick clouds in the sky
The quiet Badlands Loop Road in April
Straight road leading to colorful rock formations with thick clouds above
Fun perspective photo using the loop road

We think the loop road cutting through the park provides some of the very best Badlands photo spots. It’s so easy to drop down close to the yellow lines and take a fun perspective photo as the road disappears into the buttes and domes.

It’s important to know that we pretty much had the park to ourselves in April and late September. We do not recommend trying to capture road photos if you visit Badlands in the busy summer months. It’ll cause you and other drivers problems.


Visitors camping in Sage Creek Campground
Our camping spot at Sage Creek Campground

Sage Creek Campground not only provides great wildlife viewing experiences, but you also have access to the Sage Creek Wilderness hiking region. Badlands is one of the only open-hiking national parks in the country, which means you can quite literally hike anywhere in the entire park.

Many of the badlands formations have eroded in the Sage Creek area, so you’ll find grasslands that are frequented by bison, deer and coyotes at night.

There’s really not much going on a Sage Creek campground. It’s just a circular dirt road surrounding a grassy area with one dump toilet. Look for numbers on wooden poles to secure your spot.

Can’t find a campground? Use our exclusive 30 day free trial of The Dyrt PRO to find both free and paid campsites near Badlands or use Dyrt Alerts to snag a spot at sold out campgrounds.

Cooking gear and lights inside tent sage creek campground badlands
Our dinner set up at Sage Creek Campground

Don’t forget that Badlands has one of the best dark night sky environments in the US, so it’s a magnificent astrophotography location with very little light pollution.

Our plan to was to capture a few astro shots when we camped at Sage Creek, but it was so windy we couldn’t keep our weighted tripod still. Our tent actually blew down in the middle of the night!

Badlands Photography Tips

Man holding an America the beautiful pass in from of yellow Mounds overlook
Use an America the Beautiful pass to gain free entry into Badlands
  • Overlooks – Make use of the 15 overlooks along Badlands Loop Road. These viewing points will look different throughout the entire day so you should visit them more than once.
  • Crowds – If you want to get away from the crowds, head for Castle Trail, Deer Haven Trail or the Sage Creek Wilderness.
  • Dawn and dusk – If you’re visiting Badlands primarily for photography, we recommend staying the night so you can experience both sunrise and sunset. You’ll get the soft light, golden hours and active wildlife.
  • Weather – Be prepared for extreme weather. Summer is very hot and winter is very cold. Bring extra food and water because there are no stores or restaurants in the park.
  • Gear – Bring the right camera gear. You’ll definitely need a wide angle lens to capture the vast landscape and you’ll need a telephoto lens for wildlife or capturing detail in the formations. We recommend a tripod for stability, sunrise, sunset and astrophotography.

More Photo Spots

More From South Dakota

Want more South Dakota content? Head over to our South Dakota Travel Guides to explore Mount Rushmore, Badlands, the Black Hills and beyond. 

We hope our Badlands photography hiking guide helps with planning your visit to South Dakota!

Please let us know if you have any questions in the comments below.

Happy Snapping,

Mark and Kristen

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2 thoughts on “The Best Badlands Photo Spots (+ Our Favorites)”

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


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