Did you know there are oceans on land? Not the traditional oceans you’re imagining right now, but oceans of grasses and they’re right here in the United States. You can find the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States in the southwestern part of South Dakota, home to Badlands National Park. Let’s take an in-depth look at Badlands National Park including a brief history, a list of things to do, where to stay and the best time of the year to visit this national treasure.
A Brief History of Badlands National Park
Native American settlers have used the area of Badlands as hunting grounds for 11,000 years. Modern history begins closer to the later 1800s as new settlers and homesteaders began to stake their claim on the meadows and buttes in the area. As more people moved towards the area, the value of its natural resources became clear to conservationists including Theodore Roosevelt.
Badlands was established as a National Monument on January 29, 1939, but would not be established as a National Park until November 10, 1978. The park currently sees just under 900,000 annual visitors across its 242,000 acres.
What to Do Once Your Arrive at Badlands National Park
President Roosevelt spoke much about the surreal beauty of Badlands stating:
“The Bad Lands seem to be stranger and wilder than ever, the silvery rays turning the country into a kind of grim fairyland.”
Roosevelt is speaking on the unique grasslands, spires, buttes and geological formations that can be found at Badlands.
Scenic drives and hikes are at the forefront of Badlands National Park. One of the more popular drives is the Badlands Highway 240 Loop Road. This loop will last you an hour nonstop but with so many things to stop and look at the drive will likely last you a few and even several hours. The drive offers several views of rolling plains and buttes and be on the lookout for some great wildlife viewing including bison, bighorn sheep and prairie dogs.
Badlands offers several hikes and trails of all different distances and skill levels. If you’d like something easier try the Door or Window Trail, both at less than a mile. More moderate hiking includes the 4-mile Medicine Root Loop and the 10-mile Castle Trail. For a great view try Saddle Pass. Saddle Pass clocks in at only a quarter mile but is uphill.
There are much more things to do at Badlands National Park, including GPS adventures, ranger-guided tours, back country camping, museums, exhibits and the fabulous night sky of Badlands is one of most brilliant in North America. Make sure to get to a good viewing spot for some of the best sunrises and sunsets in the entire country.
Where to Stay at Badlands National Park
If you want to stay at the park and still get utility hookups, you do have an option at Cedar Pass Campground which contains 96 sites that afford great views of Badlands right out of your front door.
If you need something that is a little more specialized for RV camping we suggest the Badlands/White River KOA situated in Interior, South Dakota. This KOA actually made our list as one of the top five RV parks in South Dakota so you know it has the fun and amenities RVers need.
When to Go to Badlands National Park
At around 900,000 annual visitors Badlands National Park will have some foot traffic but the openness of the park doesn’t make for too many clogged areas. Summer sees daytime temperatures reach the high 80s and low 90s so it can definitely become warm.
I suggest you go see Badlands in the spring. Temperatures can fluctuate quite in spring with temperatures varying between 30 and 80 degrees. I choose spring because it’s a good compromise between foot traffic and weather, and you get to see some unique grassland blooms.
Try a combination of driving and hiking to see the uniqueness of Badlands on which Theodore Roosevelt noted:
“…are so fantastically broken in form and so bizarre in color as to seem hardly properly to belong to this earth.”