Your Guide To The Badlands National Park

The Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park: General Summary

242,756acres of vast eroded area of jagged buttes, pinnacles and spires with largest mixed grass prairie in the countrymake up the total area of Badland National Park in the USA. Located in southwestern South Dakota, the rugged terrains and scenic rocky topography of the area makes it look like something you’d expect to find on Mars. The park became a major tourist attraction due to its sedimentary layers of different colors and holding the world’s greatest preserves of fossil animals underneath. To preserve the panoramic view of this unique geological setting, the Badlands National Monument was built here in 1929. It went on to be designated as a national park on November 10, 1978. The park also includes 64,114 acres of vast area which is referred to as the wilderness area. The Badlands scenic wilderness is the site where one of the world’s most endangered mammals, black footed ferrets,were reintroduced to the wild. You can also find coyotes, buffalo, mule deer, and bighorn sheep roaming around in the wilderness of Badlands National Park. Ben Reifel Visitor Center is the Badlands Park’s main visitor center which opens regularly all through the year except on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year holidays. It has a small museum, gift shop, fossil lab and restrooms for the visitors. The visitor center shows a short informative documentary about Badlands, information about how they were formed and its wildlife. In the fossil lab, they explain the details about the fossils found in the park to the visitors. There is another visitor center in the South Unit of the park which is known as the White River Visitor Center. It is open during summer season and provides information and offers cultural exhibits for the visitors to enjoy.


Introduction

National parks can only be established in the country by an Act of the US Congress. There are a great number of national parks all around the country. All of these national parks are administered by the National Park Service. There is a set criterion for a geologic setting to qualify as a national park in the US. Broadly, it should include an exquisite landscape, a unique ecosystem and various opportunities for recreational activities. Meeting these criteria with diverse features, Badlands’ 242,756 acres of vast area was designated as a National Park in 1978. With eroded buttes and rugged terrains, Badlands is an incredible and picturesque beauty of changing topography formed by wind and water. The sedimentary layers and volcanic activity have given the area distinct colors like red, orange, purple, yellow, white, and gray. The Stronghold Unit of the park is co-administered with the Oglala Sioux Tribe and has sites of 1980s Ghost Dances. This national park has the world’s richest preserves of Oligocene Epoch fossil beds of animals. These fossil deposits are more than two to three decades old. They include skeletons of ancient animals, rocks, plants and prehistoric bones. It is a wonderful site to study the evolution of several species of mammals and plants. The Badlands National Park is not only a site to learn; there are various recreational activities that the national park offers. From camping, biking and picnicking to the various day hiking trails, you can spend an entire day – or days – at the national park and still not get bored. Although the park is open to public all year round, the temperature reaches to 100 degrees Fahrenheit sometimes from July to early August which is why there aren’t as many visitors. The winters can also be very cold, therefore, the best times to visit the park are spring and autumn. You can plan a trip from April to May or August to October to get the ideal weather conditions for your trip to the national park. With a rich history and the unique geologic setting, there is so much to learn about our ecosystem and the earth’s story on your trip to Badlands National Park.


A Brief History

There’s an interesting history behind the name of the distinctly beautiful and enigmatical Badlands National Park. The Lakota Sioux tribe called the area as MakoSica while the French called it les mauvaisesterres,or a traverse. Both the names meant bad lands or a difficult place to cross. The history of this region goes back to the Native Americans with the area. The Lakota tribe found the fossil remains of bones, sea shells, and turtle shells. This made the civilization realize that the area had been once submerged in water and that the fossil belonged to aquatic animals. Traders and trappers travelled along the paths around Badlands National Park regularly. The fossils would pique the interest of the travelers often and they would pick up some fossils. In the year 1843, the fossil remains of a jaw fragment reached the physician, Doctor Hiram A. Prout in St. Louis. Hiram A. Prout published a paper in 1846 about the jaw and stated that it was the remains of an ancient creature, Paleotherium. This triggered fossil hunters to excavate and explore Badlands for research and discovery. Fossil hunters discovered numerous new fossil species at Badlands all through the 1800’s and even today, archaeologists and scientists from around the globe have benefitted from the fossil resources of the White River Badlands.


Geological Formation

Erosion started about 500,000 years ago when the Cheyenne River pulled in streams and rivers flowing from the Black Hills to the Badlands area. The streams and rivers carried sediments from the Black Hills which built the rock layers in the region of Badlands that we see today. The rivers cut through the rock layers of Badlands giving the flat floodplain unique shapes. This area now eroded at a swift rate of one inch every year. Scientists say that this erosion will cause the land to erode completely in another 500,000 years. This will limit its life span to merely one million years. From a geological perspective, this is not a very long time period. The geological formation of the Badlands is a result of 500,000 years of erosion which contributes to the scenic beauty of this region.


Travel Itinerary for Visiting the Park

While you drive through the southwestern part of South Dakota, you might feel like you have come across the Badlands buttes out of nowhere. The distinct landscape of Badlands National Park attracts over a million visitors every year. Being one of the world’s largest deposits of fossil beds, it is a major tourist attraction. People come from far and wide to enjoy and learn from this wonder of nature. We have made a list of some essential tips for your travel itinerary to the park.  Photo by Andrea P. Coan from Pexels


How Long to Spend in Badlands

We suggest spending two full days at the Badlands National Park to experience the most exciting things about the park. However, you can even spend 3-5 hours and still enjoy your trip. If you are to spend only a day at the park, plan accordingly to ensure that you get the chance to catch the sunrise and sunset at the park because the sun casting light over the Badlands landscape is surely a beautiful view to behold. You can watch the sunrise at the Door and Windows Trailhead on the eastern side of the park while you can watch the sunset from the Pinnacles Overlook on the western side of the park.


Entry Fee to Badlands National Park

The entry fee to Badlands National Park is $20 per passenger vehicle and $10 for people coming on foot or on bikes. This entry fee gets the visitors a seven day pass with unlimited entry and exit permits to any unit in the park.


Discover Wildlife

The Saga Creek Wilderness Area in the northern part of the Badlands Park is an ideal spot to discover the wildlife at the park. You might see animals like buffalos, antelope, bighorn sheep, etc. You should explore more places and keep your cameras ready for wildlife like rattle snakes, prairie dogs, raptors, and even endangered black-footed ferrets. Carry binoculars as well to have a better view of them.


Hiking

Whether you are beginner in this sport or very good at hiking, Badlands National Park is appropriate for hiking for all. There are well-marked trails which makes hiking very easier for people by staying on course. People can take children on hikes at Badlands Park as well because of the easy trails and simple paths. Hiking enthusiasts can even go off the path and the park’s remote areas. They can camp in the remote backcountry as well. Make sure to consult a park ranger at the Visitors Center to ensure your safety and to avoid intruding private lands. Moreover, carry appropriate supplies with you on the hiking trip especially if you are going in winter or summer seasons.


Drive on the Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway

Another wonderful experience to have at Badlands National Park is driving on the Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway. This is a two-lane road that runs right through the park and offers beautiful view of various formations of the buttes in a lesser amount of time. Pull up at various pull out spots with parking space to sit and enjoy the view or take pictures.


Cycle in the Badlands

Take a bicycle on your trip and take a ride through the park. If you are planning to go with your family, your children will surely enjoy riding through the roads within the park for bicycling. You can have a look at “Bicycling in Badlands” and “Bicycling off the Beaten Path” publications to learn about bicycling routes and safety precautions.


Join a Park Ranger Program

You can also join a Park Ranger Program on your trip to the Badlands Park to take a Geology Walk. This is a great opportunity to learn about the Park’s geological history and Paleontology Lab. In the Paleontology Lab, the staff prepares fossils that are found in the park. It can be an exciting experience for and adults and children alike and provides people with the opportunity to learn in an enjoyable way.


Star Gazing at Badlands Park

The vast area with minimum air and light pollution makes Badlands a wonderful spot for star gazing. The night sky over Badlands is usually lit up with myriad stars. You can join a Park Ranger or take your own telescope with you to spend a long time staring at the stars. Even if you don’t have a telescope, the night sky over Badlands is worth watching. In summer, the Park arranges the Badlands Astronomy Festival. You can have a great time with science enthusiasts, amateur astronomers, and locals to discuss and exchange astronomical information. A trip to Badlands National Park can be a worthwhile experience for you and your family. If you get worn out by hiking and exploring, take a stop at Cedar Pass Lodge to grab a quick bite. You can try the delicious Sioux Indian Tacos or pick fry bread topped with powdered sugar for breakfast.


Top Attractions at Badlands National Park

Located on the southwestern part of South Dakota, the sharp and jagged formations of the Badlands National Park make it one of the attractions in United States that you should never miss. The park does not only offer scenic views of natural beauty but is also home to a treasure of fossils. By exploring different trails and snapping pictures of wildlife, you can have a memorable experience on your trip to this park. If you are planning a trip to Badlands National Park, you probably have an idea about the wonderful things you can do on your trip. However, there are some must see attractions in the park that you might still be unaware of. Read on to learn about the most incredible attractions at Badlands National Park and what awaits you there.


Badlands Loop Road

Badlands Loop Road is a 32 mile circuit that goes through the most famous and remarkable landscapes of the park. While you’re taking a long drive on Badlands Loop Road, you won’t be able to help but admire the scenic beauty and the vast terrain. The Loop road is the only paved road through the park which offers a wonderful drive for sightseeing. It is also the most effective route to take in bad weather. A few important things to know before setting off on the Loop road is that the speed limit on this road is 45 mph and bicycles can be used on this road. Pedestrians are also allowed on this road with pets. If you have a pet with you on your trip to the Badlands Park, you must take this road or any of the smaller paved roads because people are not allowed to take their pets on the hiking trails.


Badlands Wall

Another must see attraction on your trip to the Badlands Park is the Badlands Wall. It is one of the most prominent attractions of the park and it stretches to almost 60 miles mostly within the boundaries of the park. Rising 1000 ft above the prairie, it seems like the park’s main mountain range. These rugged cliffs have a number of hiking trails. For an easier hiking trail, you can take the Door Trail while you can take the Saddle Pass for a more challenging hike. You can also go to the South Unit of the park to enjoy the panoramic view of the park. Although much of these widespread cliffs are difficult to cover on a vehicle or foot, you can take the famous hiking trails to get a close up look of Badlands sedimentary rocks and clay substrates.


Big Badlands Overlook

If you enter the park from the Northeastern entrance, you will come across the first overlook, known as the Big Badlands Overlook. It is less than a mile away from the entrance towards the south. This overlook provides a beautiful view of the eastern as well as southeastern parts of the park, towards the Kadoka town and Pine Ridge Indian Reservation respectively. It also offers a view of the drainage of the White River. If you are a person who enjoys watching picturesque landscapes, you will certainly enjoy the canyons, spires, and unique formations from this overlook.


Ben Reifel Visitor Center

Your trip to Badlands Park must also include a visit to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. You can get a chance to watch various exhibits that are mostly related to historical culture, ecology, and fossils found at the Badlands National Park. During the day, you can also make a stop at the Fossil Preparation Lab at the Center to watch fossil experts working on the fossils. Ben Reifel Visitor Center is located at the headquarters of the Badlands National Park and it was reopened in 2006 with air conditioned theatre that can be used by as many as 97 park visitors to escape the mid-day heat. The theatre features a new film titled Land of Stone and Light. The visitor center also has improved classroom and restroom facilities. If you are to visit in summers, you can join a special ranger program offered by the visitor center like hikes, evening programs, etc. Badlands Natural History Association sells postcards, books, posters and other educational material in the visitor center.


Roberts Prairie Dog Town

Badlands National Park is mostly about unique rock formations and landscapes. But there’s plenty of wildlife to enjoy as well. The Roberts Prairie Dog Town is a large colony of black-tailed prairie dogs. They are cute little rodents which are fun to watch. An old homestead has also been turned into a network of tunnels to watch these black tailed prairie dogs. You will have to take the Badlands Loop Road all the way to the Sage Creek Rim Road and five miles further from there you will reach Roberts Prairie Dog Town. It is one of the most interesting attractions in Badlands Park for the visitors.


Door Trail Badlands

The Door Trail is a ¼ mile long trail for hikers to walk past the most iconic landscapes of the Badlands Park. The door on this trail is an opening in the Badlands Wall that opens to a view of rugged buttes. It allows the hikers to walk through the wall and has a short boardwalk that will take you through a natural passageway to a platform on the other side for sightseeing. The level path beyond that offers fascinating landscapes of the eroded canyons. The boardwalk trail makes it easier for people in wheelchairs or with walkers and parents having children in strollers to enjoy the hike. You will have to take Badlands Loop Road two miles east of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to a big road turn on the east side of the road which will take you on the road for the Door Trail and other trails like Window and Notch Trail. The Door Trail is on the north end of the trails.


Yellow Mounds Overlook

Another top attraction of the Badlands National Park is the Yellow Mounds Overlook. A long time ago, South Dakota was covered with an ancient sea. When the sea drained from the area, the black ocean mud was exposed to air and it formed yellow mounds. It is a completely worthwhile experience to watch these ancient formations that had once been deep down under large waves. It offers a breathtaking view that you can specially enjoy at sunset, watching the different colors of the mounds illuminated by the setting sun. Both sides of the roads are a favorite spot of photographers.


Sage Creek Wilderness Area

The Sage Creek Wilderness Area is an off-trail route to the wilderness area of the Badlands Park. Situated near the Pinnacles Entrance on the western side of the park, it is a path less travelled by most visitors. This route leads to the fascinating views of the fauna of the park. You might catch a view of prairie dogs, bighorn sheep, and bison. Despite being a less travelled route, the loop is easy to navigate and offers mesmerizing natural views. It important to mention here that this path does not have a trail which is why it is best-suited for who are good with compasses, maps, or GPS. Most of the area of Sage Creek consists of tall grasslands and washes. Taking a trip through this area offers a journey through the grasslands, washes, canyons, and rock formations. It provides an overview of the Sage creek Basin and the Tyree Basin. It can best be explored in two days but if you are going on a short trip you can spend a few hours here trekking through the heart of Badlands National Park.


Pinnacles Overlook

When you enter the park from the northern highway and go on for 9 miles south of the wall, you come across the incredible formations of the Badlands at the Pinnacles Overlook. It is a short, merely 0.2 mile hike to Pinnacles Overlook. When you reach near the park, there seems to be nothing exceptional about the prairie grasslands. But when the Pinnacles Overlook comes into sight only then the fascinating view become apparent. From the huge parking area just 8 miles south of the wall, you will be able to see the beautiful views of rocky pinnacles. From there on, you can go down the wooden steps to the broad ledge that offers the view of Badlands formations. Walk along the path of the ledge to a fenced overlook of the rocky formations. This picturesque view also offers the view of distant grasslands, ridges, and the eroded remains of the sedimentary layers which the river deposited that flowed from the west 30 million years ago. You can take a brief stop here to enjoy the view of the Pinnacles Overlook.


Saddle Pass Trail

Saddle Pass Trail of the Badlands National Park is a short yet difficult trail. From the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, you will have to take a left turn and then a quick right onto the Badlands Loop Road. After driving 2 miles, you will reach the Saddle Pass Trailhead on the right side. The rocky formations on this trail are colorful with pink, red, and deep purple striations. Saddle Pass Trail has a serene appearance but the trail is rugged and has an uneven and rocky slope that can be difficult to pass during or after the rain. Once you have passed this steep gully, you will reach at the top of the Badland Wall just a short distance away from the Castle Trail and Medicine Root Trail. This vantage point offers a 360 degree view over the Badlands landscapes. This trail is appropriate for children as well, so if you reach atop of the Badland Wall with family, you might as well stay for a while and enjoy the breathtaking view. If you want a better view, you can go to the left and enjoy the view from the huge butte on the western side of the Pass.


Conata Basin

Situated near the Pinnacles Entrance, Conata Basin comes right after the Yellow Mound Overlook. It offers a view to the south west of the park and, therefore, is very suitable for watching sunset. Like most of the top attractions of the Badlands National Park, Conata Basin also offers a beautiful view of the rocky formations and the rugged buttes of the badlands. It is a very appropriate spot for sunset photography. Your trip to the Badlands National Park has so much to offer. It is, however, important to plan out your trip beforehand to optimize your time of the trip. Carry a map and a phone with GPS to navigate your way through the park on hiking. Taking a stop at one of the visitor’s centers will help you with more information about your time in Badlands National Park.


Top 5 Trails in Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park is self-sufficient in various different trails that offer fascinating views and carefully picked trail maps as well as driving instructions. With unique and gothic series of buttes and spires all around, Badlands Park is home to the world’s oldest and richest fossil beds. You can hike on the 5 moderate trails in Badlands to explore the beauty and wonders of nature all around you. These 5 main trails in Badlands National Park range from 0.7 to 14.6 miles and their elevation ranges from 2,411 to 3,270 ft above the sea level. These are the most suitable places for hiking and exploring the rugged canyons that date back millions of years. Following are the top 5 trails of Badlands National Park that you must include in your travel itinerary to the park.


Notch Trail

The Notch Trail of the Badlands National Park is a 1.3 mile trail with a waterfall. It goes from the Door/Window parking lot, through the canyons and to a wooden ladder. The trail is used by many hikers that visit the park for hiking, sight-seeing, watching wildlife, and photography. It is the most suitable for use from March to October. It leads to a small opening at the top of the Badland Wall offering gorgeous views of the southern side of the park and the distant prairie grasslands. The trail begins with a steep, uneven terrain of light colored rocky formations. At a distance of less than a mile, you will come across a wooden step-wire ladder. It is best that only one hiker climbs the ladder at a time to climb for safety. On the top, you will find a steep wall above a shallow canyon and then two metal posts at a short distance. Walk a few more steps to the right to reach the overlook. The overlook offers a beautiful view of the White River Valley. The trail can be a bit difficult especially if you are not used to hiking, therefore, watch your step and choose a safe vantage point to enjoy the scenic landscape.


Medicine Root Trail

The Medicine Root Trail is a 4 mile long moderate trail that allows hikers to experience the prairie environment in the park. It passes through landscapes that are similar to those offered by the Castle Trail but this trail is relatively shorter and completes its own trail. It takes about 3 hours to complete the loop of this trail. Just near the Old Northeast Road, the Medicine Root Trail meets the Castle Trail and then again at the Castle and Saddle Pass Trail intersection. You can pass through the mixed grass prairie and enjoy the beautiful landscapes of the Badlands Park at the same time. This trail also provides you with an opportunity to watch wildlife like bison and black footed ferrets. It also goes through the beds of rocks that were deposited by a glacial steam a very long time ago. Watch out for cacti and rattlesnakes when you’re hiking on Medicine Root Trail.


Cliff Shelf Nature Trail

The Cliff Shelf Nature Trail is a short half mile trail over a boardwalk and gives hikers the chance to enjoy wildlife and a beautiful view of the White River Valley as well as Eagle Butte. Cliff Shelf’s bowl-like shape allows it to retain more water and attract a variety of wildlife for water and shade. More than 50 plant species and over a 100 bird species have been seen in the area surrounding this trail. The Cliff Shelf Nature Trail has a striking contrast to the otherwise rugged landscape of the Badlands. It passes through the rare and heavily vegetated areas. The tall badland formation above the trail brings water into the bowl-like space that allows vegetation to flourish in this limited area. Juniper trees and a variety of shrubs and grasses run along the trail. You can get some literature about the 15 marked points on the trail and make your hiking trip even more meaningful. One of the most interesting things about this trail is the amount of information and history there is about the Cliff Shelf that was once a riverbed, being the lowest point in the area. While hiking on this trail, you must watch out for wildlife as it gets attracted to this area because of water and shade.


Fossil Exhibit Trail

The Fossil Exhibit Trail is a short 0.25 mile long trail that is located on the north of Norbeck Pass on Badlands Loop Road. It has an accessible boardwalk that takes visitors through the ancient geological and paleontological history of our planet. The trail has stone tablets that describe the animals that used to be in the park many years ago. The trail also has bronze casts of fossils and ancient remnants. A boardwalk runs down the trail but hikers are free to go off trail and explore on their own. The Fossil Exhibit Trail might not feature complete skeletons of extinct animals but there are a lot of remains of extinct aquatic life for you to learn about.


Castle Trail

Castle Trail is the longest trail in Badlands National Park covering a distance of 10 miles. It joins the trailheads of the Door and Window Trails to the Fossil Exhibit Trailhead. It is a rugged terrain that takes about 4 to 5 hours to cover it completely. It passes through buttes, spires, other formations, and mixed grass prairie. Before you start hiking, note the numbered metal posts marking the trail. All trails in Badlands are marked by similar posts to provide you guidance in the vast landscape. The Castle Trail can be found from its east or west terminals on the Badlands Loop Road. The trail first passes through open prairie into rocky gullies and then reaches open space and passes by the Old North Road to the Medicine Root Trail junction. From here on, take a left on to the Castle Trail which will run along the north edge of the Badlands Wall. After the second Medicine Root Trail junction, the trail passes close to the Badlands Wall and offers beautiful views of the wall as well as mixed grass prairie on the north. The last mile of the trail goes through rugged buttes and gullies. On your return, you can take the Medicine Root Trail to have a change of scenery. Millions of years ago, Badlands was home to ancient animals like saber tooth cats, alligators, rhinos, etc. Native Americans used this land for hunting while Lakota Native Americans found fossil remains of sea life over here, concluding that this land had been once under water. Taking a hiking trip on one of the top trails in Badlands National Park is a terrific opportunity to explore the geological and paleontological history of the Earth. Nevertheless, remember to take sufficient water and sun protection along, wear comfortable hiking footwear, and keep a safe distance from the wildlife in the park.



Accommodation Options

The Badlands National Park comprises a vast area with many trails for hikers to explore the park. The towering pinnacles and gripping scenery of the park attracts over a million visitors every year. With so much to explore and long trails to hike, one needs a lodging place to take a break from the challenging and strenuous activities. There are plenty of options for lodging and camping in the Badlands National Park to relax and enjoy the view from a comfortable lodging. We have picked out some of the best options for you to consider on your trip to the Badlands National Park.


Cedar Pass Lodge

Just beside the Ben Reifel Visitor Center is the Cedar Pass Lodge. It was built in 1928 and has been there since even before the Badlands Park itself. It has a beautiful wooden interior that complements the natural scenic of the park. There are 23 cabins in the lodge and outside each cabin is a bench that overlooks the Badlands beautiful landscapes of buttes, pinnacles, and canyons. To ensure that the simplicity and natural beauty of the park is not compromised, the lodge only has a coffee pot, private bathrooms, and temperature control in the cabins.


Badlands Inn

If you are looking for a more modern ambiance and facilities, you can consider the option of the Badlands Inn. The lodge is at the entrance of the Badlands National Park and about a mile from the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. It is 18 rooms lodging and it has standard motel style accommodation. It is owned by the Forever Resorts like the Cedar Pass Lodge. The rooms have temperature controls, Wi-Fi, flat screen televisions, coffee makers, mini-fridges, and microwaves. Some of the rooms accommodate up to 4 people.


Camping Sites

Badlands National Park has two main camping sites for the visitors who want to have a closer encounter with nature. Cedar Pass and Sage Creek are two camping sites where visitors can stay for as long as a fortnight. Both camping sites do not offer electrical outlets or showers. Moreover, open fires are also not allowed at both campgrounds.


Cedar Pass Campground

The Cedar Pass Lodge has 96 sites for camping which are open during the summers. Some of the sites are also open in winters if the weather is bearable. It also has four large group-style camping sites. The Cedar Pass Campground offers facilities like cold running water, flush toilets, and trash receptacles. It also offers paid dumping stations and picnic tables.


Sage Creek Campground

Sage Creek Campground is a free of cost and primitive camping site near the wilderness area of the Badlands. Unlike Cedar Pass Campground, it does not have many facilities which mean you can only have only pit toilets and covered picnic tables. Sage Creek’s 15 campsites allow horses. A watering hole with hitching posts is half a mile southwest of the campground.


Backcountry Camping

The Badlands National Park also allows backcountry camping throughout its wilderness area. You will have to sign in with a ranger and take trailhead logs before setting out on the trip. The camps cannot be visible less than half a mile from any road, trails or camps. You should make use of topographic maps and compasses while looking for a campsite. Due to high sedimentary content, most of the backcountry water is not drinkable. You will have to take sufficient water with you to your campsite and you will have to carry your garbage on your own.


Some Important Safety Tips for your Trip

A trip to the Badlands National Park is fun and full of natural wonders. While Badlands formations look sturdy and rock solid, they are unstable and loose compositions of soil, clay, and ash. An apparently easy climb might become difficult to descend due to unsteady formations and sloppy descents. It is important for your own safety not to climb the formations during or after rain. You must also climb down from all high points if you suspect that the weather will be bad. It is best to abort your exploration and hiking if the weather conditions aggravate. Following are some handy tips that can help you quite a lot on your trip to the Badlands National Park.


Cedar Pass Lodge for Photography

The best times for scenic photography are sunrise and sunset. Ensure that the spot you choose for photography is safe and keeps you at a safe distance from the wildlife. You can stay at Cedar Pass Lodge as it offers a number of viewpoints for scenic photography.


Carry Water and Food

Both summer and winter can be extreme in the Badlands National Park. It is, therefore, important to carry sufficient amount of water and food if you go on hiking because at most locations you will be quite a distance from any stores or restaurants.


Keep your Distance from Wildlife

While exploring and hiking, it is important that you keep a safe distance from all wildlife in the park, especially during photography. A simple rule of thumb is that if you sense that the wildlife is reacting to your presence, then you are not at a safe distance from it. Beware of rattlesnakes on the hiking track and near any cervices in the formations.


Take the Right Gear with You

You should also carry some necessary items with you on your trip. While these might not be all the important things you need, you will want these necessary things on hand on your trip:

  • Different lenses and tripod if you want to do incredible photography
  • Hat and sun block for protection against the sun
  • Hiking footwear and seasonally appropriate clothes
  • Plenty of water and an easy-to-carry backpack


Afterword

With dramatic landscapes, unique layered rock formations, and towering pinnacles, Badlands National Park is an ideal vacation destination. The rugged scenic beauty of the park attracts a million visitors each year. It is home to one of the world’s ancient fossil beds and home to a nearly extinct species of black footed ferrets. There is plenty to do for visitors from making a stop at visitor centers to exploring the different hiking trails, and from enjoying the fascinating landscapes from different outlooks to camping at different campgrounds in the park. You can also find suitable accommodation like the Cedar Pass Lodge or Badlands Inn inside the park. In order to make the most of your time on your trip to the Badlands National Park, you should plan an itinerary with the top attractions of the park. Get important bookings and plan your trip accordingly. Moreover, carry the right gear with you to make your experience at Badlands memorable and worthwhile. With this comprehensive guide for your trip to the Badlands National Park, you can plan an adventurous and relaxing trip to explore nature and its wonders.

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Your Guide To The Badlands National Park

Book AuthorGoglides
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The Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park: General Summary

242,756acres of vast eroded area of jagged buttes, pinnacles and spires with largest mixed grass prairie in the countrymake up the total area of Badland National Park in the USA. Located in southwestern South Dakota, the rugged terrains and scenic rocky topography of the area makes it look like something you’d expect to find on Mars. The park became a major tourist attraction due to its sedimentary layers of different colors and holding the world’s greatest preserves of fossil animals underneath. To preserve the panoramic view of this unique geological setting, the Badlands National Monument was built here in 1929. It went on to be designated as a national park on November 10, 1978. The park also includes 64,114 acres of vast area which is referred to as the wilderness area. The Badlands scenic wilderness is the site where one of the world’s most endangered mammals, black footed ferrets,were reintroduced to the wild. You can also find coyotes, buffalo, mule deer, and bighorn sheep roaming around in the wilderness of Badlands National Park. Ben Reifel Visitor Center is the Badlands Park’s main visitor center which opens regularly all through the year except on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year holidays. It has a small museum, gift shop, fossil lab and restrooms for the visitors. The visitor center shows a short informative documentary about Badlands, information about how they were formed and its wildlife. In the fossil lab, they explain the details about the fossils found in the park to the visitors. There is another visitor center in the South Unit of the park which is known as the White River Visitor Center. It is open during summer season and provides information and offers cultural exhibits for the visitors to enjoy.


Introduction

National parks can only be established in the country by an Act of the US Congress. There are a great number of national parks all around the country. All of these national parks are administered by the National Park Service. There is a set criterion for a geologic setting to qualify as a national park in the US. Broadly, it should include an exquisite landscape, a unique ecosystem and various opportunities for recreational activities. Meeting these criteria with diverse features, Badlands’ 242,756 acres of vast area was designated as a National Park in 1978. With eroded buttes and rugged terrains, Badlands is an incredible and picturesque beauty of changing topography formed by wind and water. The sedimentary layers and volcanic activity have given the area distinct colors like red, orange, purple, yellow, white, and gray. The Stronghold Unit of the park is co-administered with the Oglala Sioux Tribe and has sites of 1980s Ghost Dances. This national park has the world’s richest preserves of Oligocene Epoch fossil beds of animals. These fossil deposits are more than two to three decades old. They include skeletons of ancient animals, rocks, plants and prehistoric bones. It is a wonderful site to study the evolution of several species of mammals and plants. The Badlands National Park is not only a site to learn; there are various recreational activities that the national park offers. From camping, biking and picnicking to the various day hiking trails, you can spend an entire day – or days – at the national park and still not get bored. Although the park is open to public all year round, the temperature reaches to 100 degrees Fahrenheit sometimes from July to early August which is why there aren’t as many visitors. The winters can also be very cold, therefore, the best times to visit the park are spring and autumn. You can plan a trip from April to May or August to October to get the ideal weather conditions for your trip to the national park. With a rich history and the unique geologic setting, there is so much to learn about our ecosystem and the earth’s story on your trip to Badlands National Park.


A Brief History

There’s an interesting history behind the name of the distinctly beautiful and enigmatical Badlands National Park. The Lakota Sioux tribe called the area as MakoSica while the French called it les mauvaisesterres,or a traverse. Both the names meant bad lands or a difficult place to cross. The history of this region goes back to the Native Americans with the area. The Lakota tribe found the fossil remains of bones, sea shells, and turtle shells. This made the civilization realize that the area had been once submerged in water and that the fossil belonged to aquatic animals. Traders and trappers travelled along the paths around Badlands National Park regularly. The fossils would pique the interest of the travelers often and they would pick up some fossils. In the year 1843, the fossil remains of a jaw fragment reached the physician, Doctor Hiram A. Prout in St. Louis. Hiram A. Prout published a paper in 1846 about the jaw and stated that it was the remains of an ancient creature, Paleotherium. This triggered fossil hunters to excavate and explore Badlands for research and discovery. Fossil hunters discovered numerous new fossil species at Badlands all through the 1800’s and even today, archaeologists and scientists from around the globe have benefitted from the fossil resources of the White River Badlands.


Geological Formation

Erosion started about 500,000 years ago when the Cheyenne River pulled in streams and rivers flowing from the Black Hills to the Badlands area. The streams and rivers carried sediments from the Black Hills which built the rock layers in the region of Badlands that we see today. The rivers cut through the rock layers of Badlands giving the flat floodplain unique shapes. This area now eroded at a swift rate of one inch every year. Scientists say that this erosion will cause the land to erode completely in another 500,000 years. This will limit its life span to merely one million years. From a geological perspective, this is not a very long time period. The geological formation of the Badlands is a result of 500,000 years of erosion which contributes to the scenic beauty of this region.


Travel Itinerary for Visiting the Park

While you drive through the southwestern part of South Dakota, you might feel like you have come across the Badlands buttes out of nowhere. The distinct landscape of Badlands National Park attracts over a million visitors every year. Being one of the world’s largest deposits of fossil beds, it is a major tourist attraction. People come from far and wide to enjoy and learn from this wonder of nature. We have made a list of some essential tips for your travel itinerary to the park.  Photo by Andrea P. Coan from Pexels


How Long to Spend in Badlands

We suggest spending two full days at the Badlands National Park to experience the most exciting things about the park. However, you can even spend 3-5 hours and still enjoy your trip. If you are to spend only a day at the park, plan accordingly to ensure that you get the chance to catch the sunrise and sunset at the park because the sun casting light over the Badlands landscape is surely a beautiful view to behold. You can watch the sunrise at the Door and Windows Trailhead on the eastern side of the park while you can watch the sunset from the Pinnacles Overlook on the western side of the park.


Entry Fee to Badlands National Park

The entry fee to Badlands National Park is $20 per passenger vehicle and $10 for people coming on foot or on bikes. This entry fee gets the visitors a seven day pass with unlimited entry and exit permits to any unit in the park.


Discover Wildlife

The Saga Creek Wilderness Area in the northern part of the Badlands Park is an ideal spot to discover the wildlife at the park. You might see animals like buffalos, antelope, bighorn sheep, etc. You should explore more places and keep your cameras ready for wildlife like rattle snakes, prairie dogs, raptors, and even endangered black-footed ferrets. Carry binoculars as well to have a better view of them.


Hiking

Whether you are beginner in this sport or very good at hiking, Badlands National Park is appropriate for hiking for all. There are well-marked trails which makes hiking very easier for people by staying on course. People can take children on hikes at Badlands Park as well because of the easy trails and simple paths. Hiking enthusiasts can even go off the path and the park’s remote areas. They can camp in the remote backcountry as well. Make sure to consult a park ranger at the Visitors Center to ensure your safety and to avoid intruding private lands. Moreover, carry appropriate supplies with you on the hiking trip especially if you are going in winter or summer seasons.


Drive on the Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway

Another wonderful experience to have at Badlands National Park is driving on the Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway. This is a two-lane road that runs right through the park and offers beautiful view of various formations of the buttes in a lesser amount of time. Pull up at various pull out spots with parking space to sit and enjoy the view or take pictures.


Cycle in the Badlands

Take a bicycle on your trip and take a ride through the park. If you are planning to go with your family, your children will surely enjoy riding through the roads within the park for bicycling. You can have a look at “Bicycling in Badlands” and “Bicycling off the Beaten Path” publications to learn about bicycling routes and safety precautions.


Join a Park Ranger Program

You can also join a Park Ranger Program on your trip to the Badlands Park to take a Geology Walk. This is a great opportunity to learn about the Park’s geological history and Paleontology Lab. In the Paleontology Lab, the staff prepares fossils that are found in the park. It can be an exciting experience for and adults and children alike and provides people with the opportunity to learn in an enjoyable way.


Star Gazing at Badlands Park

The vast area with minimum air and light pollution makes Badlands a wonderful spot for star gazing. The night sky over Badlands is usually lit up with myriad stars. You can join a Park Ranger or take your own telescope with you to spend a long time staring at the stars. Even if you don’t have a telescope, the night sky over Badlands is worth watching. In summer, the Park arranges the Badlands Astronomy Festival. You can have a great time with science enthusiasts, amateur astronomers, and locals to discuss and exchange astronomical information. A trip to Badlands National Park can be a worthwhile experience for you and your family. If you get worn out by hiking and exploring, take a stop at Cedar Pass Lodge to grab a quick bite. You can try the delicious Sioux Indian Tacos or pick fry bread topped with powdered sugar for breakfast.


Top Attractions at Badlands National Park

Located on the southwestern part of South Dakota, the sharp and jagged formations of the Badlands National Park make it one of the attractions in United States that you should never miss. The park does not only offer scenic views of natural beauty but is also home to a treasure of fossils. By exploring different trails and snapping pictures of wildlife, you can have a memorable experience on your trip to this park. If you are planning a trip to Badlands National Park, you probably have an idea about the wonderful things you can do on your trip. However, there are some must see attractions in the park that you might still be unaware of. Read on to learn about the most incredible attractions at Badlands National Park and what awaits you there.


Badlands Loop Road

Badlands Loop Road is a 32 mile circuit that goes through the most famous and remarkable landscapes of the park. While you’re taking a long drive on Badlands Loop Road, you won’t be able to help but admire the scenic beauty and the vast terrain. The Loop road is the only paved road through the park which offers a wonderful drive for sightseeing. It is also the most effective route to take in bad weather. A few important things to know before setting off on the Loop road is that the speed limit on this road is 45 mph and bicycles can be used on this road. Pedestrians are also allowed on this road with pets. If you have a pet with you on your trip to the Badlands Park, you must take this road or any of the smaller paved roads because people are not allowed to take their pets on the hiking trails.


Badlands Wall

Another must see attraction on your trip to the Badlands Park is the Badlands Wall. It is one of the most prominent attractions of the park and it stretches to almost 60 miles mostly within the boundaries of the park. Rising 1000 ft above the prairie, it seems like the park’s main mountain range. These rugged cliffs have a number of hiking trails. For an easier hiking trail, you can take the Door Trail while you can take the Saddle Pass for a more challenging hike. You can also go to the South Unit of the park to enjoy the panoramic view of the park. Although much of these widespread cliffs are difficult to cover on a vehicle or foot, you can take the famous hiking trails to get a close up look of Badlands sedimentary rocks and clay substrates.


Big Badlands Overlook

If you enter the park from the Northeastern entrance, you will come across the first overlook, known as the Big Badlands Overlook. It is less than a mile away from the entrance towards the south. This overlook provides a beautiful view of the eastern as well as southeastern parts of the park, towards the Kadoka town and Pine Ridge Indian Reservation respectively. It also offers a view of the drainage of the White River. If you are a person who enjoys watching picturesque landscapes, you will certainly enjoy the canyons, spires, and unique formations from this overlook.


Ben Reifel Visitor Center

Your trip to Badlands Park must also include a visit to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. You can get a chance to watch various exhibits that are mostly related to historical culture, ecology, and fossils found at the Badlands National Park. During the day, you can also make a stop at the Fossil Preparation Lab at the Center to watch fossil experts working on the fossils. Ben Reifel Visitor Center is located at the headquarters of the Badlands National Park and it was reopened in 2006 with air conditioned theatre that can be used by as many as 97 park visitors to escape the mid-day heat. The theatre features a new film titled Land of Stone and Light. The visitor center also has improved classroom and restroom facilities. If you are to visit in summers, you can join a special ranger program offered by the visitor center like hikes, evening programs, etc. Badlands Natural History Association sells postcards, books, posters and other educational material in the visitor center.


Roberts Prairie Dog Town

Badlands National Park is mostly about unique rock formations and landscapes. But there’s plenty of wildlife to enjoy as well. The Roberts Prairie Dog Town is a large colony of black-tailed prairie dogs. They are cute little rodents which are fun to watch. An old homestead has also been turned into a network of tunnels to watch these black tailed prairie dogs. You will have to take the Badlands Loop Road all the way to the Sage Creek Rim Road and five miles further from there you will reach Roberts Prairie Dog Town. It is one of the most interesting attractions in Badlands Park for the visitors.


Door Trail Badlands

The Door Trail is a ¼ mile long trail for hikers to walk past the most iconic landscapes of the Badlands Park. The door on this trail is an opening in the Badlands Wall that opens to a view of rugged buttes. It allows the hikers to walk through the wall and has a short boardwalk that will take you through a natural passageway to a platform on the other side for sightseeing. The level path beyond that offers fascinating landscapes of the eroded canyons. The boardwalk trail makes it easier for people in wheelchairs or with walkers and parents having children in strollers to enjoy the hike. You will have to take Badlands Loop Road two miles east of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to a big road turn on the east side of the road which will take you on the road for the Door Trail and other trails like Window and Notch Trail. The Door Trail is on the north end of the trails.


Yellow Mounds Overlook

Another top attraction of the Badlands National Park is the Yellow Mounds Overlook. A long time ago, South Dakota was covered with an ancient sea. When the sea drained from the area, the black ocean mud was exposed to air and it formed yellow mounds. It is a completely worthwhile experience to watch these ancient formations that had once been deep down under large waves. It offers a breathtaking view that you can specially enjoy at sunset, watching the different colors of the mounds illuminated by the setting sun. Both sides of the roads are a favorite spot of photographers.


Sage Creek Wilderness Area

The Sage Creek Wilderness Area is an off-trail route to the wilderness area of the Badlands Park. Situated near the Pinnacles Entrance on the western side of the park, it is a path less travelled by most visitors. This route leads to the fascinating views of the fauna of the park. You might catch a view of prairie dogs, bighorn sheep, and bison. Despite being a less travelled route, the loop is easy to navigate and offers mesmerizing natural views. It important to mention here that this path does not have a trail which is why it is best-suited for who are good with compasses, maps, or GPS. Most of the area of Sage Creek consists of tall grasslands and washes. Taking a trip through this area offers a journey through the grasslands, washes, canyons, and rock formations. It provides an overview of the Sage creek Basin and the Tyree Basin. It can best be explored in two days but if you are going on a short trip you can spend a few hours here trekking through the heart of Badlands National Park.


Pinnacles Overlook

When you enter the park from the northern highway and go on for 9 miles south of the wall, you come across the incredible formations of the Badlands at the Pinnacles Overlook. It is a short, merely 0.2 mile hike to Pinnacles Overlook. When you reach near the park, there seems to be nothing exceptional about the prairie grasslands. But when the Pinnacles Overlook comes into sight only then the fascinating view become apparent. From the huge parking area just 8 miles south of the wall, you will be able to see the beautiful views of rocky pinnacles. From there on, you can go down the wooden steps to the broad ledge that offers the view of Badlands formations. Walk along the path of the ledge to a fenced overlook of the rocky formations. This picturesque view also offers the view of distant grasslands, ridges, and the eroded remains of the sedimentary layers which the river deposited that flowed from the west 30 million years ago. You can take a brief stop here to enjoy the view of the Pinnacles Overlook.


Saddle Pass Trail

Saddle Pass Trail of the Badlands National Park is a short yet difficult trail. From the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, you will have to take a left turn and then a quick right onto the Badlands Loop Road. After driving 2 miles, you will reach the Saddle Pass Trailhead on the right side. The rocky formations on this trail are colorful with pink, red, and deep purple striations. Saddle Pass Trail has a serene appearance but the trail is rugged and has an uneven and rocky slope that can be difficult to pass during or after the rain. Once you have passed this steep gully, you will reach at the top of the Badland Wall just a short distance away from the Castle Trail and Medicine Root Trail. This vantage point offers a 360 degree view over the Badlands landscapes. This trail is appropriate for children as well, so if you reach atop of the Badland Wall with family, you might as well stay for a while and enjoy the breathtaking view. If you want a better view, you can go to the left and enjoy the view from the huge butte on the western side of the Pass.


Conata Basin

Situated near the Pinnacles Entrance, Conata Basin comes right after the Yellow Mound Overlook. It offers a view to the south west of the park and, therefore, is very suitable for watching sunset. Like most of the top attractions of the Badlands National Park, Conata Basin also offers a beautiful view of the rocky formations and the rugged buttes of the badlands. It is a very appropriate spot for sunset photography. Your trip to the Badlands National Park has so much to offer. It is, however, important to plan out your trip beforehand to optimize your time of the trip. Carry a map and a phone with GPS to navigate your way through the park on hiking. Taking a stop at one of the visitor’s centers will help you with more information about your time in Badlands National Park.


Top 5 Trails in Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park is self-sufficient in various different trails that offer fascinating views and carefully picked trail maps as well as driving instructions. With unique and gothic series of buttes and spires all around, Badlands Park is home to the world’s oldest and richest fossil beds. You can hike on the 5 moderate trails in Badlands to explore the beauty and wonders of nature all around you. These 5 main trails in Badlands National Park range from 0.7 to 14.6 miles and their elevation ranges from 2,411 to 3,270 ft above the sea level. These are the most suitable places for hiking and exploring the rugged canyons that date back millions of years. Following are the top 5 trails of Badlands National Park that you must include in your travel itinerary to the park.


Notch Trail

The Notch Trail of the Badlands National Park is a 1.3 mile trail with a waterfall. It goes from the Door/Window parking lot, through the canyons and to a wooden ladder. The trail is used by many hikers that visit the park for hiking, sight-seeing, watching wildlife, and photography. It is the most suitable for use from March to October. It leads to a small opening at the top of the Badland Wall offering gorgeous views of the southern side of the park and the distant prairie grasslands. The trail begins with a steep, uneven terrain of light colored rocky formations. At a distance of less than a mile, you will come across a wooden step-wire ladder. It is best that only one hiker climbs the ladder at a time to climb for safety. On the top, you will find a steep wall above a shallow canyon and then two metal posts at a short distance. Walk a few more steps to the right to reach the overlook. The overlook offers a beautiful view of the White River Valley. The trail can be a bit difficult especially if you are not used to hiking, therefore, watch your step and choose a safe vantage point to enjoy the scenic landscape.


Medicine Root Trail

The Medicine Root Trail is a 4 mile long moderate trail that allows hikers to experience the prairie environment in the park. It passes through landscapes that are similar to those offered by the Castle Trail but this trail is relatively shorter and completes its own trail. It takes about 3 hours to complete the loop of this trail. Just near the Old Northeast Road, the Medicine Root Trail meets the Castle Trail and then again at the Castle and Saddle Pass Trail intersection. You can pass through the mixed grass prairie and enjoy the beautiful landscapes of the Badlands Park at the same time. This trail also provides you with an opportunity to watch wildlife like bison and black footed ferrets. It also goes through the beds of rocks that were deposited by a glacial steam a very long time ago. Watch out for cacti and rattlesnakes when you’re hiking on Medicine Root Trail.


Cliff Shelf Nature Trail

The Cliff Shelf Nature Trail is a short half mile trail over a boardwalk and gives hikers the chance to enjoy wildlife and a beautiful view of the White River Valley as well as Eagle Butte. Cliff Shelf’s bowl-like shape allows it to retain more water and attract a variety of wildlife for water and shade. More than 50 plant species and over a 100 bird species have been seen in the area surrounding this trail. The Cliff Shelf Nature Trail has a striking contrast to the otherwise rugged landscape of the Badlands. It passes through the rare and heavily vegetated areas. The tall badland formation above the trail brings water into the bowl-like space that allows vegetation to flourish in this limited area. Juniper trees and a variety of shrubs and grasses run along the trail. You can get some literature about the 15 marked points on the trail and make your hiking trip even more meaningful. One of the most interesting things about this trail is the amount of information and history there is about the Cliff Shelf that was once a riverbed, being the lowest point in the area. While hiking on this trail, you must watch out for wildlife as it gets attracted to this area because of water and shade.


Fossil Exhibit Trail

The Fossil Exhibit Trail is a short 0.25 mile long trail that is located on the north of Norbeck Pass on Badlands Loop Road. It has an accessible boardwalk that takes visitors through the ancient geological and paleontological history of our planet. The trail has stone tablets that describe the animals that used to be in the park many years ago. The trail also has bronze casts of fossils and ancient remnants. A boardwalk runs down the trail but hikers are free to go off trail and explore on their own. The Fossil Exhibit Trail might not feature complete skeletons of extinct animals but there are a lot of remains of extinct aquatic life for you to learn about.


Castle Trail

Castle Trail is the longest trail in Badlands National Park covering a distance of 10 miles. It joins the trailheads of the Door and Window Trails to the Fossil Exhibit Trailhead. It is a rugged terrain that takes about 4 to 5 hours to cover it completely. It passes through buttes, spires, other formations, and mixed grass prairie. Before you start hiking, note the numbered metal posts marking the trail. All trails in Badlands are marked by similar posts to provide you guidance in the vast landscape. The Castle Trail can be found from its east or west terminals on the Badlands Loop Road. The trail first passes through open prairie into rocky gullies and then reaches open space and passes by the Old North Road to the Medicine Root Trail junction. From here on, take a left on to the Castle Trail which will run along the north edge of the Badlands Wall. After the second Medicine Root Trail junction, the trail passes close to the Badlands Wall and offers beautiful views of the wall as well as mixed grass prairie on the north. The last mile of the trail goes through rugged buttes and gullies. On your return, you can take the Medicine Root Trail to have a change of scenery. Millions of years ago, Badlands was home to ancient animals like saber tooth cats, alligators, rhinos, etc. Native Americans used this land for hunting while Lakota Native Americans found fossil remains of sea life over here, concluding that this land had been once under water. Taking a hiking trip on one of the top trails in Badlands National Park is a terrific opportunity to explore the geological and paleontological history of the Earth. Nevertheless, remember to take sufficient water and sun protection along, wear comfortable hiking footwear, and keep a safe distance from the wildlife in the park.



Accommodation Options

The Badlands National Park comprises a vast area with many trails for hikers to explore the park. The towering pinnacles and gripping scenery of the park attracts over a million visitors every year. With so much to explore and long trails to hike, one needs a lodging place to take a break from the challenging and strenuous activities. There are plenty of options for lodging and camping in the Badlands National Park to relax and enjoy the view from a comfortable lodging. We have picked out some of the best options for you to consider on your trip to the Badlands National Park.


Cedar Pass Lodge

Just beside the Ben Reifel Visitor Center is the Cedar Pass Lodge. It was built in 1928 and has been there since even before the Badlands Park itself. It has a beautiful wooden interior that complements the natural scenic of the park. There are 23 cabins in the lodge and outside each cabin is a bench that overlooks the Badlands beautiful landscapes of buttes, pinnacles, and canyons. To ensure that the simplicity and natural beauty of the park is not compromised, the lodge only has a coffee pot, private bathrooms, and temperature control in the cabins.


Badlands Inn

If you are looking for a more modern ambiance and facilities, you can consider the option of the Badlands Inn. The lodge is at the entrance of the Badlands National Park and about a mile from the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. It is 18 rooms lodging and it has standard motel style accommodation. It is owned by the Forever Resorts like the Cedar Pass Lodge. The rooms have temperature controls, Wi-Fi, flat screen televisions, coffee makers, mini-fridges, and microwaves. Some of the rooms accommodate up to 4 people.


Camping Sites

Badlands National Park has two main camping sites for the visitors who want to have a closer encounter with nature. Cedar Pass and Sage Creek are two camping sites where visitors can stay for as long as a fortnight. Both camping sites do not offer electrical outlets or showers. Moreover, open fires are also not allowed at both campgrounds.


Cedar Pass Campground

The Cedar Pass Lodge has 96 sites for camping which are open during the summers. Some of the sites are also open in winters if the weather is bearable. It also has four large group-style camping sites. The Cedar Pass Campground offers facilities like cold running water, flush toilets, and trash receptacles. It also offers paid dumping stations and picnic tables.


Sage Creek Campground

Sage Creek Campground is a free of cost and primitive camping site near the wilderness area of the Badlands. Unlike Cedar Pass Campground, it does not have many facilities which mean you can only have only pit toilets and covered picnic tables. Sage Creek’s 15 campsites allow horses. A watering hole with hitching posts is half a mile southwest of the campground.


Backcountry Camping

The Badlands National Park also allows backcountry camping throughout its wilderness area. You will have to sign in with a ranger and take trailhead logs before setting out on the trip. The camps cannot be visible less than half a mile from any road, trails or camps. You should make use of topographic maps and compasses while looking for a campsite. Due to high sedimentary content, most of the backcountry water is not drinkable. You will have to take sufficient water with you to your campsite and you will have to carry your garbage on your own.


Some Important Safety Tips for your Trip

A trip to the Badlands National Park is fun and full of natural wonders. While Badlands formations look sturdy and rock solid, they are unstable and loose compositions of soil, clay, and ash. An apparently easy climb might become difficult to descend due to unsteady formations and sloppy descents. It is important for your own safety not to climb the formations during or after rain. You must also climb down from all high points if you suspect that the weather will be bad. It is best to abort your exploration and hiking if the weather conditions aggravate. Following are some handy tips that can help you quite a lot on your trip to the Badlands National Park.


Cedar Pass Lodge for Photography

The best times for scenic photography are sunrise and sunset. Ensure that the spot you choose for photography is safe and keeps you at a safe distance from the wildlife. You can stay at Cedar Pass Lodge as it offers a number of viewpoints for scenic photography.


Carry Water and Food

Both summer and winter can be extreme in the Badlands National Park. It is, therefore, important to carry sufficient amount of water and food if you go on hiking because at most locations you will be quite a distance from any stores or restaurants.


Keep your Distance from Wildlife

While exploring and hiking, it is important that you keep a safe distance from all wildlife in the park, especially during photography. A simple rule of thumb is that if you sense that the wildlife is reacting to your presence, then you are not at a safe distance from it. Beware of rattlesnakes on the hiking track and near any cervices in the formations.


Take the Right Gear with You

You should also carry some necessary items with you on your trip. While these might not be all the important things you need, you will want these necessary things on hand on your trip:

  • Different lenses and tripod if you want to do incredible photography
  • Hat and sun block for protection against the sun
  • Hiking footwear and seasonally appropriate clothes
  • Plenty of water and an easy-to-carry backpack


Afterword

With dramatic landscapes, unique layered rock formations, and towering pinnacles, Badlands National Park is an ideal vacation destination. The rugged scenic beauty of the park attracts a million visitors each year. It is home to one of the world’s ancient fossil beds and home to a nearly extinct species of black footed ferrets. There is plenty to do for visitors from making a stop at visitor centers to exploring the different hiking trails, and from enjoying the fascinating landscapes from different outlooks to camping at different campgrounds in the park. You can also find suitable accommodation like the Cedar Pass Lodge or Badlands Inn inside the park. In order to make the most of your time on your trip to the Badlands National Park, you should plan an itinerary with the top attractions of the park. Get important bookings and plan your trip accordingly. Moreover, carry the right gear with you to make your experience at Badlands memorable and worthwhile. With this comprehensive guide for your trip to the Badlands National Park, you can plan an adventurous and relaxing trip to explore nature and its wonders.