Badlands National Park: A Good Place to Visit

Year Round

75 million years ago, the very first layer of shale was deposited on the floor of what is now the Badlands National Park.  Over millions more years, more and more layers were deposited by natural forces such as wind, rivers, and even a shallow inland sea.  From the base of the formations, called the Pierre Shale, to the tips, or the Sharps Formation, the Badlands National Park presents a beautiful and stunning homage to the power of nature.

Once the final layer of rock was deposited 28 million years ago, the Badlands began going through part two of what gave us the amazing maze of multi-colored peaks and valleys.  Around 500,000 years ago, South Dakota’s Cheyenne and White Rivers began carving their ways into the rock, revealing the varied  layers of rock and sediment.  Eroding at approximately one inch every year, it is estimated that the Badlands will be gone in another 500,000 years (so, don’t worry, you’ve still got time to come see them).  There are actually badlands all over the world, but Badlands National Park is one of the largest and most impressive.

The Lakota people gave the Badlands their name; because of the lack of drinkable water, harsh conditions, and extreme climates, they dubbed the lands “mako sica,” or “bad lands.”  French fur trappers traveling through called them “les mauvaises terres a traveser,” or “the bad lands to travel.”  That may have been true for those attempting to navigate back in the 18- and 1900s, but these days, the Badlands are a really great place to be. 

It would be impossible to do everything the Badlands has to offer in even several days, but here are a few musts when you go.

The Drives

The most popular of all things to do in the Badlands, the stunning byways offer hours of windshield time.  There are plentiful scenic pull-offs, informative placards to stop and read, plentiful wildlife to see, and endless photo ops of the vast multi-colored formations.  The South Unit drive will take you around the edges of the Badlands.  Sage Creek Rim Road, which is a dirt road, offers plentiful wildlife encounters and badlands formations.  The most driven of the Badlands roads is Badlands Loop Road; you will get all the best of the Badlands on this drive!  All of the Badlands drives take around one-two hours, depending on how often you stop (we recommend to plan for two hours – you’ll stop a lot).

The Visitor Centers

There are two main Visitor Centers you should plan to visit when you’re in the Badlands.  The Ben Reifel Visitor Center is the National Park’s main center.  Plan to spend at least an hour touring through the museum exhibits; you will learn about the park’s history, ecology, and wildlife.  There is a park film to view, and the Fossil Preparation Lab will help you learn all you want to know about the Badland’s paleontology.  There is also a bookstore where you can find works from both local and nationally known artists.  If you’re not planning on passing by the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, you can always stop by the White River Center.

Hiking, Biking, Horseback Riding – Oh, My!

The Badlands cover a vast amount of land, and there are endless outdoor activities available to visitors.  The park sports two campgrounds and miles of trails and backroads.  Pets are welcome outdoors, of course, and the Badlands’ backroads are an excellent place to go hiking with your four-legged friends.  There are also designated horseback riding trails.  Night viewings are held spring through fall; there are also Badlands Ranger and Junior Ranger programs, festivals, and so much more!

The Badlands National Park is a small jaunt from your cozy room at the Baymont Inn & Suites, but it is a beautiful must-see for your bucket list!