It's known as “The Wall”— a natural barrier through the dry plains of South Dakota stretching for hundreds of miles. Created by the forces of water, carving amazing pinnacles and gullies, The Wall and its cliffs have been transformed for the past half million years. The Badlands Wall may not be the typical attraction for some tourists, but the landscape of Badlands is a sight to behold.
The Wall is just one of the highlights of the South Dakota National Park. In fact it seems like a backdrop to bison, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep. Visitors feel a truly Western experience, from the dry, hot air to the fossils scattered on the ground. Badlands is a stunning park allowing all who visit to get away and relax in a completely different world.
Badlands National Park consists of nearly 243,000 acres of eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires along with the largest, protected mixed grass prairie in the U.S. Of that, over 64,000 acres have been designated as official wilderness and include some very important areas. Sage Creek Wilderness is the site of the reintroduction of the black-footed ferret - the most endangered land mammal in North America. Also, the Stronghold Unit is co-managed with the Oglala Sioux Tribe and includes the sites of 1890's Ghost Dances.
Established as Badlands National Monument in 1939, the area was redesignated as a National Park in 1978. The area contains the world's richest Oligocene epoch fossil beds, dating 23 to 35 million years old.
When to Visit
The park is open and a pleasure to visit year-round. Although temperatures may reach 100° F, summer remains the most popular time to visit. Even still, Badlands remains one of the lesser traveled parks in the U.S. If you really want to avoid any crowd, plan a trip during spring or fall. The winter can be bitter cold but snow accumulation is rare.
The most convenient airport is located in Rapid City. (Find Flights) The park is about 75 miles east of Rapid City, very doable as a day trip. From I-90 at S. Dak. 240, the park is only 3 miles south. If you are traveling from Kadoka, travel west for 27 miles.
There is an entrance fee for Badlands National Park. Prices of 7 day passes range depending on your mode of transportation: Private, non-commercial vehicles - $25; Individual (hike, bicycle) - $12; Motorcycle - $15.
Visitors may also purchase the Badlands Annual Pass for $50 allowing for free entrance for one year. All other national park passes may be used as well.
The Wall: Try Big Badlands Overlook for a spectacular view from above.
Cliff Shelf Nature Trail: Short – half-mile – and steep, this trail takes visitors through an amazing microenvironment in the badlands.
Fossil Exhibit Trail: This paved trail showcases an area dense with fossils; casts of some are displayed at the trailside.
Pinnacles Overlooks: Unbelievable views of the Badlands Wilderness Area and bighorn sheep.
Sheep Mountain Table: A grass-topped table scattered with yucas. If you go to the juniper grove at the end of the road, you will be surrounded by a stunning collection of rock spires and pinnacles.
Stronghold Table: Getting to this attraction involves a good amount of driving and there is a high chance of getting lost. But the reward is a chance to stand in the place where a group of Sioux danced the Ghost Dance for the last time.
Two campgrounds are located within the park, both with 14-day limits. Cedar Pass and Sage Creek are open year-round and are filled on a first come, first serve basis. Heavy snow may close them in the winter, but these campgrounds rarely fill up to the maximum. Cedar Pass is $22 per night while Sage Creek – a more primitive site – is free.
Inside the park, Cedar Pass Lodge is open mid-April through October. Badlands Inn is another option offering 20 affordable rooms.
Areas of Interest Outside the Park
Custer State Park: Located just south of Mount Rushmore, this state park is only about 58 miles away from Badlands National Park. Activities include hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, rock climbing, fishing, chuckwagon suppers, and jeep rides to see the bison. Contact 605-773-3391 for more information.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial: Keystone, SD is home to one of the most famous national monuments in the U.S. Colossal visages of Washington, Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Lincoln look over the Black Hills. It is only 25 miles away from Wind Cave National Park and 96 miles from Badlands National Park.
Wind Cave National Park: A little farther away – 144 miles away from Badlands National Park – Wind Cave is a charming national park with much to offer under the surface. Activities include hiking, backcountry camping, horseback riding, guided cave tours, and wildlife viewing. Contact 605-745-4600 for more information.
25216 Ben Reifel Road, Interior, SD 57750