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Badlands National Park - Beam Me Up, Scotty!

view of Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park

Gosh, what does one say about Badlands National Park in South Dakota? It's just kind of funky. Entering the park felt like we had left Earth and arrived on a different planet. It's a spectacular mixed landscape of prairie, rugged canyons and towering rock buttes layered with a full painter's palette of colors. According to the National Park Service, erosion is occurring rapidly. In a mere 500,000 years, predictions are that the Badlands will be gone. We'll all be gone by then, too. So, might as well go for a visit now.

Badlands National Park is located about an hour and a half east of Rapid City, South Dakota. To drive there from the Black Hills along Interstate 90 is to encounter roadside sign...after sign...after sign...after sign (no kidding) advertising Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota. You might chuckle reading the signs out loud for a bit as the miles roll on the odometer. There are advertisements for donuts, coffee, gifts, jewelry, and every other item under the sun. The signs catch your eye. After a while, well, the novelty wears off.

Seriously, go ahead and explore all that Wall Drug has to offer if you're curious. Especially if you are in need of a rest, want some free ice water (their claim to fame), have the munchies, or are interested in picking up a souvenir. It's a place that's been around for quite a while and has been a much-loved pit stop for many travelers. However, after reaching the I-90/Highway 240 Interchange at Wall, we were't actually all that curious to explore there this time around. One of us had already visited years ago. Honestly, we were ready to explore the national park. So, we turned south and kept on chugging to the Badlands. We'll catch Wall Drug next time around.

When we arrived at the Badlands Pinnacles Entrance Station, we showed our National Park Pass at the booth and collected our literature. Oh, how we love receiving literature. Take the time to read the information the National Park Service provides. It really is interesting and helps you to better understand the area you're exploring. Don't skip it or pitch it. Read it and share it. While some information can be found on the National Park Service website, the cell service is not always strong or available at some of the parks. The hard copy map and descriptions they provide in the literature can be helpful during your visit.

With informational brochure in hand, we rolled through the gate and into the park. The anticipation felt was somewhat similar to that of being a kid on a Disneyland ride wondering what would lie ahead. That anticipation quickly turned to excitement as the landscape gradually changed from prairie with grass and wildflowers to a funky new terrain. From all directions there was so much to see that our eyes didn't know where to look first. Until! We spied a bighorn sheep standing near the edge of the road. Cool.

The sheep was eating the greens next to the roadway while modeling her tag and collar complete with radio antenna. Excellent. We slowed to snap a quick photo and then left the sweet gal alone to enjoy her feast. Badlands National Park is home to about 250 bighorn sheep. It's all part of an effort to conserve the species which saw a serious decline in population by the mid-1900s. According to the National Park Service website, conservation efforts have increased the bighorn population in the United States to about 80,000. If you keep a sharp eye, you might spy sheep and other wildlife like prairie dogs and bison. Be on the lookout for rattlesnakes. They're there, too. However, we're pretty okay not seeing snakes.

As we continued through the park on the Badlands Loop Road, also known as Highway 240, we pulled off at several of the lookout locations to get a closer view of the terrain and take photos. Stepping out of our van, we were quick to take notice of the soil. The park service describes it as popcorn soil and that's a pretty good description. It's formed when clay, mixed with sand and silt, absorbs water and dries out. It was hard to stop looking at it. It was chunky, crunchy and loose. Much like the floor in a movie theatre after someone accidentally dumps their jumbo bucket of popcorn. Interesting.

As we moved through the park, we found the colors of the landscape magically intriguing. Bright pops of yellow wildflowers made an appearance, along with green and yellow prairies. Rocks were layered in colors of yellow, red, white and charcoal against the bright blue sky. Beautiful.

Badlands National Park got its name from the Lakota. For hundreds of years, they called it "mako sica" or "bad lands." Makes sense as it is a strikingly stunning, yet challenging terrain to traverse.

Before we left the park, we stopped at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. It's there you can visit the museum, watch a film about the park, and browse the park store. Visitors can also observe work being done at an on-site fossil lab. Yes, a lot of archaeological research takes place in Badlands National Park and the park encourages visitors to stop in at the lab to learn about park discoveries.

A second visitor center, White River, is located on the Pine Ridge Reservation. This particular center is only open during the summer.

In previous blog posts, we've mentioned the National Park Service Junior Ranger Program. The kiddos can participate in the program at Badlands, too. It's a fun thing to do with your children and they can earn a pretty neat badge.

As you know by now if you follow us, we travel with our pup. Dogs are allowed. Bring your leash. You can't bring your pup into the buildings or on the trails, but you can take them for a walk with you in the public areas. There's lots of room to enjoy a walk with them.

We visited Badlands National Park near the end of our trip west and were headed for home. Therefore, our stay only lasted a couple of hours. But know that Badlands National Park has Cedar Pass Lodge that offers cabin rental for those wishing to stay the night in the park. Stargazing there would be amazing. Hungry? There's a restaurant as part of the lodge. Two campgrounds can be found in the park, but do your homework before you go. There are restrictions on vehicle and trailer length. For those who like to rough it, back-country camping is allowed with some restrictions.

Badlands National Park turned out to be a great adventure for us and well worth a visit. The 244,000-acre park is open year-round, but the hours vary with the seasons. Always check the national park website at before you go.

Thanks for reading about our visit to Badlands National Park. If you like the post, tap the heart icon at the bottom of the page and then share it with a friend. Be sure to check out the Gallery on for some extra photos from our previous trips. We'll be posting again soon.

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