There is a reason Badlands National Park is a protected place, and one of America’s treasures. There is
nothing comparable to the striking landscapes this place has to offer. In all my experience, Badlands is
probably one of the harder National Parks to visit. There are only about 10 miles worth of trails, one
paved road, and a couple of dirt roads. So, what about the rest of the park? It’s a free to explore at your
own risk, kind of like a, create your own adventure. So why would you want to elope here? One look at
the striking beauty of the pink and red cliffs, with dramatic canyons, and green canyons will make you
fall in love instantly. And like all National Parks there are rules and regulations when it comes to eloping
here, but do not worry, I have put together a Badlands National Park Elopement Guide for you.
Badlands National Park is kind of in the middle of nowhere. Literally, the nearest city is Rapid City, South
Dakota (one hour away), which only has a population of around 75,000 people and a small regional
airport. This means it’s kind of expensive to fly into. However, Badlands National Park is only 4 hours
from Sioux Falls, South Dakota and about 5-6 hours away from Denver, Colorado. But once you get to
South Dakota, Badlands is a hop skip and a jump away from Interstate 90.
Remember you are in the great planes when you are planning your Badlands National Park Elopement,
so think the Oregon Trail game. Ok it’s not that bad, but there are little to no trees, the summers are
hot, and the winters are cold. The best time to visit would be the shoulder season (spring or fall), which
means you will either get the fresh green of new growth or the beautiful oranges and yellows of fall
colors as your back drop. You really cannot go wrong.
Beginning in March the temperatures begin to rise, but that does not mean that snow in not a
possibility. It’s not uncommon to have snow up until the summer months, but typically by May it’s
mostly turned to rain. And this is when the wildflowers come out. And in late spring, you can start to see
the wildlife start to come out for the year.
Early summer is still rainy, but the temperatures will most likely be in the 70’s if not higher. Keep in mind
there is not shade in the middle of the day, and the sun can be brutal mid-day, so maybe try to shoot for
an early morning or late evening ceremony when the sun is lower in the sky. This time of year, the
planes might just put on a show with a little afternoon thunderstorm. In addition to the unforgiving sun,
this is when all the crowds come to Badlands, so you might be battling sunburn and people.
The best time to visit badlands in my opinion. The temperature can still be in the 60’s during the day, and the crowds are by far fewer. Plus, the fall colors just add to the dramatic beauty. But keep in mind that snow typically start in November, so make sure you plan ahead and bring appropriate gear. Finally, the best thing about Badlands National Park in the Fall.. NO SNAKES!!!
Winters can be brutal. Blizzards, temperatures below zero, snow for days, and did I mention the cold? But all this aside, choosing to elope in the winter is a good way to get the place to yourself, just makes sure to bring some extra layers, like a ton of extra.
What to Pack for your Badlands National Park Elopement
Regardless of what season you choose to elope in, it’s always smart to bring the following items to your ceremony:
- Special Use Permit
- Marriage License
- A change of clothes
- Appropriate footwear (at least to get to the ceremony location)
- Jacket or sweatshirt
- Water and snacks
- Headlamp or flashlight (that is not your phone)
- Rain jacket
A permit is required for all weddings within in the boundaries. You will want to apply for a special use permit earlier than you would think, which has a $100 nonrefundable application fee. This is in addition to the park entrance fee of $30 per car. The park does not say how long the permit takes to process, but I would suggest applying as soon as you can.
Planning for a Badlands National Park Elopement can be difficult, especially if you are having to plan for your guests too. If you do not want to sleep among the Bison or your guests to sleep with the prairie dogs (aka camping), there are a few lodging options nearby.
- Rapid City, South Dakota is located only about one hour to the West. This might be a good option if you have a lot of people coming. Rapid City is the second largest city in South Dakota, even though it only has approximately 80,000 people, but it still has hotels, restaurants, bars, and other accommodations.
- Cedar Pass Lodge, Interior, South Dakota. This is a combination of cabin, an RV park, and a campground. Its a bit more primitive than a typical lodge, but it’s all worth it to wake up in the middle of the Badlands.
- Wall, South Dakota. Ever heard of Wall Drug? Well, if you haven’t by now, you sure will by the time you get to Badlands. There are signs everywhere, in fact I saw a sticker for Wall Drug on a stop sign outside of Yosemite National Park. Regardless of the tourist attraction, Wall does have some hotels and other accommodations.
Where to Elope
The park is a free for all in terms of where you can go, however I would suggest asking your photographer where their favorite spots are if you are from out of town. If you are somewhat local, I would suggest making a date out of it. Otherwise here are my top suggestions:
- Panorama Point
- Sage Creek
- Anywhere on the Rim Road
- The Door/ Notch Trail
Basically, you cannot go wrong with any location, but keep in mind any limitation of your guests which may rule out some locations. Badlands National Park only has about 10 miles of maintained trails, however, that does not mean you have to stick to those locations, off trail travel is allowed (if you are prepared), but make sure you and your guests are prepared!