The Badlands National Park is one of the most underrated parks in North America, covering over 240,000 acres of land, 64,000 of which are protected as designated wilderness area. The park is home to hundreds of species of wildlife, including the American Bison, Black-Footed Ferrets (an endangered species in North America), and Big Horn Sheep. Native Americans who inhabited the area gave the park its name, as they described the land using this adjective due to the extreme temperatures, drought, and tough land. The Badlands and its highly recognizable scenery with incredible rocky formations of steep buttes and pinnacles became a National Park in 1978.
For visitors interested in learning more about the origins of the park, the Ben Reifel Visitor Center is a good place to start. The park also offers multiple trails and beautiful scenery such as the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail – a steep 0.5 mile trail, leading to 300 feet elevation offering views of White River Valley, and the peak of Eagle Butte. Similarly Sheep Mountain Table also offers gorgeous views of the Badlands from above and it can be reached both by car through a dirt road or on foot.
Enter The Door Trail
The Badlands are often referred to as “The Wall” since the buttes form a continuous line dividing the area like a wall. So the word door is used very loosely in this scenario, as it is simply an opening in between the Badlands Buttes. The Door Trail starts a short walk away from the parking lot which is shared between the Door trail, the Window trail and Notch trail. The easy 1.3km (round trip) in and out trail starts on a boardwalk leading down to a rocky scorched ground. The trail is marked by a series of 11 signs leading to a stunning view point of the Badlands and the surrounding canyons and pinnacles with sharp drops. Regardless of being an easy hike, with the terrain being rocky and bumpy it is not recommended for visitors with limited mobility.
Badlands Loop Scenic Byway
The Badlands Loop Scenic Byway is a 39 mile looped two lane highway heading from the town of Cactus Flat to The Wall. Along the way. you can appreciate the eroded layered rock formations. The scenery changes between grassland featuring different species of plants and wildlife and rocky cliffs. There are multiple scenic stop opportunities including the Pinnacles Overlook and Yellow Mounds Overlook with outstanding views of the Badlands wilderness area. With the road winding around the scenery, the Badlands Byway makes a pleasant drive, especially for acceleration triggered drivers. There are also 8 hiking trails to consider, and make sure to keep an eye out for wildlife including deer, buffalo, ferrets, prairie dogs, and birds.
Fossil Exhibit Trailhead
Set in a spectacular location surrounded by spires and buttes, the Fossil Exhibit Trailhead is a short 0.2 mile trail, taking a look at some of the Badlands inhabitants of the past 75 million years. Along the trail, visitors can touch fossil replicas of animals such as Titanothere, Ammonite, Alligators and Horses which lived in the area and got fossilized in the sediments. The trail is fully accessible via a boardwalk and it can get busy. From the fossil findings, geologist discovered that the Badlands were once submerged under water and over the years the water evaporated forming the eroded, colorful layered rock formations we know today.
While the park is open all year round, visiting in fall or spring is ideal, as summer and winter offer extreme temperatures. Entering Badlands National Park requires a seven day pass at $25 per car. It is a good idea to carry refreshments with you, since Cedar Pass Lodge is the only location where food is served. The park has ample picnic area possibilities and two official campites. The Cedar Pass Campground with 96 sites, which can be reserved at $25 per night, and the Sage Creek Campground a 22 site free campground is available a first come and first serve basis. Alternatively, visitors can opt for a more rugged back-country camping, which can happen anywhere in the park as long as it is 0.5 miles from the road and is not visible from the trail.
When in South Dakota, not visiting the Badlands National Park would be a shame. With multiple trails and scenic viewpoints, a rich history with fossil discoveries to back it up, it’s definitely a bucket-list item to check off you’re list.
Shots from Badlands National Park
Here are some of our favorites shots we got while exploring Badlands National Park
Where Is It?
With 4 different entrances to the park, it’s best to check the map to see the closest entrance to the trail you want to follow. Coming from the west on I-90, the north east entrance can be reached by taking exit 131. While driving from the east on I-90, exit 110 leads to Pinnacles entrance.
Badlands National Park
South Dakota, United States
(Plus Code: 85MVVM46+54)