Becoming A Badlands Junior Ranger

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One of the first National Parks we visited with our kids was Badlands National Park in South Dakota. The Badlands junior ranger badge was the first of many badges they earned as we visited the National Parks. We would love to share everything we know about becoming a Badlands junior ranger and things to do in Badlands National Park with kids.

What is the Junior Ranger Program?

The junior ranger program is an activity-based program available at almost all National Parks. While created for children, anyone can participate in the Junior Ranger Program. One great feature of the program is that it is specific to the National Park you are visiting. Each Junior Ranger packet has information to help your child learn more about the National Park you are visiting.

How Do You Earn A Badlands Junior Ranger Badge?

You’ve likely driven a long way to arrive at Badlands National Park. Once you arrive you will find there are three entrances into the park. Regardless of which entrance you come into you will want to head to the Ben Reifel visitor center to earn your badge.

Picnic area just outside Ben Reifel visitor center.

Once you arrive at the visitor center you will go in and tell the rangers you are there to earn your Junior Ranger Badge. When we visited the Badlands the visitor center was only open to talk to the ranger or use the restroom (due to Covid). However, normally you can speak to the ranger, visit the bookstore, or visit the fossil preparation lab.

Typically I believe they will hand your child the Badlands Junior Ranger activity book. The child is then required to complete a certain number of activities to receive their junior ranger badge. The requirement is dependent upon their age. There are a variety of fun activities for the child to complete from mazes, Badlands bingo, and matching the scat of animals 🙂

Once your child has completed the required activities they will take their book back to the rangers. Some rangers like to ask the children questions about the things they learned. I always think it’s cute to hear the answers they come up with.

Next, the ranger will ask the children to raise their right hand and take the Junior Ranger pledge. While this pledge generally says something to the effect of “I promise to explore, learn about, and protect special places like Badlands National Park”, the park gives the rangers permission to add their own flair to the pledge. It is always my favorite part to hear what the rangers add 🙂

Badlands Junior Ranger Badge Online

Maybe you are unable to make it to Badlands National Park in person. Don’t fret, the National Parks has done a great job giving you a first-hand experience online. If you go to Pick Your Park Adventure Badlands you will be able to access the tour and earn your very own Badlands Junior Ranger Badge. Once you finish the steps online you simply email or contact the park on social media and share 3 things you learned. The rangers will then send you your official badge.

Personal Tips For Visiting Badlands National Park With Kids

One thing I didn’t realize when we headed out to the Badlands was how remote this National Park was. Depending on where you are staying, I suggest packing a cooler with plenty of drinks as well as food options for your family. While there is a small town, Wall, about 15 minutes away, there really isn’t much in the way of fast food options or large grocery stores.

My understanding is that the Badlands can be brutal during the summer months (like most places are 🙂 You want to be sure to pack plenty of water for each member of your family. Our family loves our Takeya water bottles. They keep water cold for a good 24 hours.

Shoes with good rubber grip are also helpful at Badlands National Park (and all National Parks as a matter of fact). As I mention below our family hiked the notch trail. I was so thankful that we had purchased shoes with good traction while on this trail. We found Altra Lone Pike Trail Shoes to be a great option for our family. They are super flexible and light but provide great stability and traction at the same time.

Buffalo eating grass at Badlands National Park

One tip that the ranger gave us helped us find the best place to see animals in the park. He told us to drive on Sage Creek Road. Sage Creek Road is a gravel/dirt road that is a loop. We saw a bison first thing when we turned onto the road. As we made our way down the road we saw pronghorn and bighorn sheep as well. We did not drive the whole loop. Once we saw several bison and bighorn sheep we decided to turn around and head back to our campsite.

Things To Do In Badlands National Park With Kids

Part of receiving your Badlands Junior Ranger badge will be exploring all that the park has to offer. Here are some ideas of family-friendly things to do in Badlands National Park.

Drive Through The Park

This one probably sounds silly because it’s pretty obvious but you want to take time to drive through the park and take in all the beauty. I was completely taken aback by the beauty of the Badlands. I guess because the name gives it such a negative connotation I never imaged it would be as stunning as it was.

Take A Hike

There are eight established hikes to choose from at Badlands National Park. Here is a quick list of all of the trails along with the rating the National Park system has given them.

  • Door Trail (easy) 0.75 miles/1.2 km (round trip)
  • Window Trail (easy) 0.25 miles/.4 km (round trip)
  • Notch Trail (moderate to strenous) 1.5 miles/2.4 km (round trip)
  • Castle Trail (moderate) 10 miles/16 km
  • Cliff Shelf (moderate) 0.5 miles/0.8 km
  • Saddle Pass (strenous) .25 miles/.40 km
  • Medicine Root Loop (moderate) 4 miles/6.4 km
  • Fossil Exhibit Trail (easy) 0.25 miles/0.4 km
Scare your mama to death ladder on the notch trail 🙂

Our family hiked the Notch trail and rather than moderate to strenuous I think I would have given it the family rating of (you’re going to be scared to death-ha!) The Notch trail is known for the log ladder. My family enjoyed the adventurous challenge of the hike but it was definitely scary. I would say if you have very young children (without a child carrier) or have anyone in your family afraid of heights you might want to choose from another one of the trails listed above.

Have A Picnic

There are four picnic sites available at Badlands National Park. My family enjoyed the picnic spot right outside the Ben Reifel visitor center. From what I can remember there were about 5 picnic tables with shelters over top. There are also restrooms available inside the visitor center.

Another popular picnic spot is Conata. This picnic area is just down Conata Road and features picnic tables and a vault toilet. The last two picnic areas can be found at Big Foot Pass Overlook and White River Visitor Center.

Get Out And Explore

It goes without saying that one of the best ways to experience Badlands National Park is just to explore. Our kids loved climbing on all the different formations. One thing you have to be aware of and give your kids a heads up is that it is often way easier to go up than to come down. Our kids loved climbing near the picnic tables right outside the Ben Reifel visitor center.

Infographic sharing what to do in and around badlands national park with kids.  5 tips are given: animal site seeing, take a hike, see prairie dogs, minuteman missile national historic site, and wall drug.

Things To Do Near Badlands National Park

See Prarie Dogs

As a Badlands Junior Ranger your child will be asked to locate prairie dogs as part of their bingo activity. This is one square you don’t want to skip. We found the prairie dogs to be one of the most adorable things we saw in South Dakota and the Badlands.

There are two locations where the prairie dogs can be seen. The first location is Roberts Prarie Dog Town which is the only accessible prairie dog town in Badlands National Park. Roberts Prarie Town can be accessed 1.5 miles east of the Sage Creek Basin Overlook. Whether listening to their adorable squeaks or watching their heads poke up from their little burrows in the ground, this stop is one you don’t want to miss when touring the park.

ranch store building

Located off I-90 exit 131 on the way into Badlands National Park, the Ranch Store is another location to view prairie dogs. In addition to viewing the prairie dogs, you can also feed the prairie dogs at this stop. From late May through mid-September you can purchase unsalted peanuts for $1 from the store and feed the prairie dogs. We visited in October so the store was closed. We didn’t feed the prairie dogs and we definitely did not touch them but we were still able to get out and grab a picture with the adorable little guys.

Minuteman Missle

For an interesting look into an instrumental hidden part of the Cold War you want to be sure to stop at the Minuteman Missle National Historic Site. While it may not be of particular interest to the younger members of your family, there is a lot of rich history to be learned at this stop not far from Badlands National Park.

At the visitors center, there are some interactive displays to help you learn the story behind the Minuteman Missles. You can also visit Delta-01 and participate in a paid tour or you can visit Delta-09 and enjoy a free cell phone-guided tour. Your children will also have the opportunity to earn a junior ranger badge at this stop as well!

Wall Drug

For miles and miles out from Badlands National Park you will begin seeing signs for Wall Drug. We could not take the suspense and had to check out this place for ourselves. Located just North of the Badlands in the town of Wall, you won’t have to travel too far to check it out for yourself. It’s difficult to even explain what Wall Drug is but here goes nothing.

children standing in front of wall drug store

One thing Wall Drug is famous for is its homemade donuts. The restaurant at Wall Drug features not only sweets but a full breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu. The restaurant is family-friendly and a great place to grab a meal together.

Once you’ve filled your tummy you may want to explore the multiple shopping areas in the store. Even though Wall Drug originally started out as a pharmacy, it now features something for each person in your family. Whether you forgot your charger or your child is looking for a new toy, you will enjoy seeing all that Wall Drug has to offer.

Once you’ve shopped until you are ready to drop you want to head out to the backyard. The backyard is filled with several photo opportunities making it a great place to take an Instagram-worthy picture with your kids. Once you get the perfect shot you can head indoors where you can see an animatronic dinosaur.

Our family really enjoyed stopping in at Wall Drug and we think your family will as well 🙂

Badlands is an incredibly stunning park that your family is sure to enjoy. The Badlands Junior Ranger program is full of learning and exploring which provides your child the perfect opportunity to learn more about Badlands National Park. If you plan to visit the Badlands or any of the National Parks and you have a fourth-grader be sure to check out our article, Every Kid Outdoors: Family Guide To The National Parks. In the meantime be sure to pin this article below to refer to in the future. We hope your family has an incredible adventure. Stay Peachy!

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