Picture this: 244,000 acres of protected wilderness, prairie grasslands, and striking geological formations. At the Badlands National Park, an awe-inspiring natural marvel, ancient history radiates from the landscape – one that dates back millennia, which has been revealed in its rich fossil beds. Against the horizon lies rugged beauty, a scenery filled with tall grasses, spires, eroded buttes, and pinnacles jutting from the craggy landscape – once the home to archaic animals. For a glimpse into why these peaceful South Dakotan lands draw visitors from all over the globe, read on.
Geological wonders are just that: wonders. Thousands of acres of the park are encompassed by strikingly colored formations – the Yellow Mounds, Chadron Formation, Pierre Shale, Brule Formation, Rockyford Ash, and Sharps Formation – that not only peak curiosity, but lend a question as to how our Earth has been affected by things like glacial erosion, weathering, and large bodies of water. Views of the Badlands should be experienced, if only for a moment.
With nearly 250,000 acres of wilderness, hiking amidst the park is aplenty. Experience the Badlands up close and personal, whether you’re a seasoned hiker or outdoors novice. For an easy hike, try the Window or Door Trails; for the more experienced, opt for Saddle Pass or Cliff Shelf.
The park isn’t just for visiting; you can stay overnight, too. Whether it’s in the Badlands backcountry, or in one of the campgrounds – Cedar Pass or Sage Creek – sunrises and sunsets can be experienced year-round. Plus, who wouldn’t want to sleep under the stars amidst blooming wildflowers and breathtaking scenery?
Sleeping outside isn’t for everyone, but don’t worry – the Cedar Pass Lodge offers private cabins, an inn, and RV parking. There’s also a restaurant and gift shop should you need to stock up on goods.
Fossils in the park have revealed the remains of ancient animals, evidence of our planet’s long-standing history. Remnants of oreodonts, creodonts, camels, three-toed horses, rhinos, land turtles, and antelope-like animals amongst other reptiles, birds, rabbits, beavers, and deer-like mammals have all been found within its perimeter.
Roaming along the prairie grasses, find 39 different species of mammals – such as bighorn sheep, bison, and pronghorn. Not to mention, nine reptile species, six amphibian species, 206 bird species, and 69 different types of butterflies. Sixty-nine! Even if you’re not into animals that much, being surrounded by so much wildlife is a life-changing experience.
At nearly a quarter-million acres of wilderness, this destination is a breath of serenity. And although there are trees and shrubs dotted along the landscape, more than half of the park is covered by ankle- and waist-high grasses blowing in the breeze. Plus, the park boasts more than 400 species of plants.
The ‘White River Badlands,’ famous for its well-preserved fossils dating back to the late Eocene and early Oligocene eras, is the largest fossil bed of its kind, contributing to significant research in paleontology in North America. Oligocene fossils revealed many ancient animals species, while marine fossils provided evidence of a sea that once existed here 75 to 67 million years ago. Head along the Fossil Exhibit Trail for a look at replicas and exhibits of the area’s former residents. Aspiring paleontologists can even watch scientists at the working Fossil Prep Lab.
Everyone knows that constellations are at their prime when seen well away from the lights and pollution of modern cities. The park is revered for its star-filled sky, and during summer, astronomy lovers can get their hands on telescopes Friday to Monday at the Cedar Pass Campground for an even closer look.
If you’re short on time, or just want to see the Badlands without worrying about whether you have the right hiking shoes, you’re in luck. You can take a drive along the Badlands Loop Road, also known as Highway 240, for panoramic views and scenic lookouts of the park’s prairie grasses and countless formations.