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Visiting Badlands National Park: Tips for Travelers

Updated on October 31, 2011

Majestic and Inspiring

Of all the places we get to visit in our western South Dakota "backyard", Badlands National Park is one of our favorites. There is so much to see and do, from the majestic buttes and eroded spires, to the big horn sheep nimbly making their way up impossible looking cliff faces.

This site was once the location of a warm inland sea. Limestone and sandstone formed during that time, which over the eons has eroded into the fantastic buttes and spires we know as the South Dakota Badlands.

The Conata Basin, part of the protected wilderness area of the park, is the site where the black-footed ferret, once the most endangered animal in North America, has been re-introduced after a lengthy but ultimately successful breeding program that began after only four surviving members of the species were found.

At Badlands National Park you can find places to camp, hike, take in a movie, eat a bison burger, or watch the bison - from a safe distance of course!

Badlands National Park has kept us coming back for more season after season, year after year. We are not alone! Each year the park hosts over one million visitors from all over the world. If you're never seen Badlands National Park, you're missing out on a truly unique treasure.

Paleosols and Prairie Dogs

At first sight you might think the strange, almost lunar-looking Badlands must be devoid of life. Although it is extremely dry here, the park is teeming with wildlife. Black-footed ferrets prey on the abundant prairie dog towns, and swift foxes prey on both!

You'll find plenty of bison and bighorn sheep in the park as well. Make sure you keep a safe distance away, and be aware of some of the more dangerous (though rarely seen) residents such as bobcats, coyotes, rattlesnakes and porcupines.

If you stay in the Badlands long enough to watch a sunrise or sunset (something I highly recommend) you'll notice that the buttes and spires seem to change color depending on the time of day that you view them.

Most Badlands formations consist of paleosols, (from the White River Group if geology is your thing). Paleosols are ancient soils that give the formations their unique colors and properties. It's almost impossible to describe the beauty of the terrain, so just take my word for it and come and see if for yourself!

Hiking Trails

There are eight established hiking trails, all of which are accessible from the Badlands Loop Road. The Window, Notch and Door Trails are among the most scenic and the most popular in the park. Cliff Shelf and Saddle Pass are also easy, if less well known, hikes.

The Fossil Exhibit trail is fantastic to learn the rich prehistoric history of the area. It is equipped with replicas of fossils that have been found in the area.

For those who want to take it all in, the 10 mile Castle Trail may be just the ticket as it traverses several of the shorter trails. Make sure to bring plenty of water if you go, and to watch for rattlesnakes on the trail.

Visiting Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park is open 24x7. From the park entrance, take the Badlands Loop Road through the park and take in the spectacular sites.

There are several parking spots at intervals along the Loop Road. These are the entrance points for the eight designated hiking trails located on park grounds.

There is a visitor center at Cedar Pass. It contains exhibits, a bookstore and is the starting point for ranger-led activities. The visitor center is open from 8am-4pm during the winter and 7am-7pm during summer months. Camping in the adjacent campground is just $15 per night.

If you're camping, be sure to check out the ranger-led program that begins at 9 pm in the amphitheatre. This year's theme is Saturn, which you'll learn about during the show and later be able to see on one of the two telescopes provided.

If you stay after the bulk of the crowd has left, the rangers will treat you to some additional sky-gazing which may include looking at nebulas, twin stars, planets and other beautiful sights.

The Badlands are an amazing place to view the night sky; they are a vast expanse of undeveloped terrain, meaning there is almost no light pollution to block the view. If you've never seen the night sky from a low light-pollution location, you're in for an amazing treat.

Entrance fee is $15 per vehicle for a 7 day pass, or $30 per vehicle for a one-year pass.

How to find Badlands National Park

A markerBadlands National Park -
Interior, SD, 57750
get directions

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    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 5 years ago from Canada

      I love your writing style. You make the badlands sound like a fabulous land to visit. I actually enjoy that type of scenery although I must admit that the thought of running into a rattlesnake jitters me a bit. Have a spectacular New Year.

    • Yawapi LM profile image

      Yawapi LM 6 years ago

      @TreasuresBrenda: Glad you liked it! The Badlands are one of my favorite places!

    • TreasuresBrenda profile image

      Treasures By Brenda 6 years ago from Canada

      I've been to and loved the Badlands National Park. Nicely done.