The Great American Road Trip: Guide to The Badlands National Park
The Badlands stole my heart. It did then and it does now. The only way to describe it is otherworldy. It is a mesmerizing mix of vast grasslands, peppered with playful prairie dogs (But don’t touch! They carry the plague. Oddly enough you can feed them here) and harsh terracotta colored buttes, spires, sod tables and canyons. And don’t get me started on the night sky. It quite literally stopped me in my tracks on the way to the bathroom at 2 am and took my breath away. Never have I seen a sky so blanketed with stars and the milky way so big and bright. It feels like you could reach out and touch it.
It is important to note that this is a harsh habitat, with the relentless sun baking you from the time you wake up in your tent at 6 am to the time the sun goes down at night. There are no trees for shade. It will exhaust you and fry you. I recommend getting an early start (though not hard since the sun wakes you up very early) and heading off for your morning hike. Seek shelter from the midday sun in the visitor center or grab lunch in the teensy town of Wall. Wall Drug Store is an attraction in it’s own with a rather sweet entrepreneurial history. We even drove into Rapid City, SD one day for a couple hours to avoid sunburn and heat exhaustion. When the midday sun breaks, you can head out for an afternoon hike!
Words of caution: Beware of Rattle Snakes. Keep a safe distance with all wildlife, but take extra precaution with these guys. They hide out in the tall grasses, under rocks, and in shaded crevices. Watch your footing and handholds. In addition to wildlife, the Badlands are known for unpredictable weather and afternoon thunderstorms and hail. The terrain is made of extremely parched dirt, clay and ash that will turn to thick muddy sludge in the rain, making footing and trails hazerdous. The open plains also leave you vulnerable to lightening.
We got caught in a supercell storm one evening with 70 mph winds, torrential rain and seemingly endless lightening. It snapped our tent poles and ripped a giant hole in the tent, flooding our gear. Rookie mistake!
Home base: We stayed at Sage Creek Primitive Campground within the park. There’s no need for reservations and there are no designated camp spots. It’s essentially a giant circular plot with pit toilets. First come, first serve, but there is plenty of space and rarely fills up. And it’s free! I loved this little slice of heaven. We laid out on our blanket every evening, listening to the crickets and prairie dogs and watching the land transform before us in the penultimate light. The warm breeze, the smell of sweet grass, the rosy sky, the howling wolves. The whole land breathes a sigh of relief.
Getting there: Located along Interstate 90, you could easily miss this natural beauty tucked into the grasslands of The Great Plains.
Park Headquarters: 25216 Ben Reifel Road, Interior, SD 57750.
Northeast Entrance (I-90, Exit 131): 21020 SD Hwy 240, Interior, SD 57750.
Pinnacles Entrance (I-90, Exit 110): 24240 Hwy 240, Wall, SD 57790.
Interior Entrance: 20640 SD Hwy 377, Interior, SD 57750.
You can find the official Badlands Visitor Guide here.
Keep a look out for two Badlands hike reviews next week. Keep adventuring!