Badlands National Park

This weekend kicks off National Park Week - one week every spring when the National Park Foundation and the National Park Service encourage everyone to experience nature and explore history with a weekend of free admission and several events planned throughout the week including Earth Day celebrations.  This year is the 99th birthday of the parks and they're building up to a huge 100 year celebration in 2016. In honor of National Park Week we will be sharing our travels to destinations within the park system.  Yesterday we talked about Mt. Rushmore and today we're talking about Badlands National Park, also in South Dakota.

Badlands National Park South Dakota
Badlands National Park South Dakota

The landscape of South Dakota is fascinating.  The Badlands are surrounded by grassland and it's not hard to forget that less than an hour west are mountains and forest.  When traveling interstate 90 you really have no clue that such a barren land exists to the south.  The Badlands National Park is one of those places that pictures don't do it justice.

I'll start by mentioning we barely scrapped the surface of Badlands - we had already had a long day of sightseeing, there was lots of road construction in the park that year making for crazy backups, the twins were only 7 months old and they were sick of the carseats by that point, so our trip was cut short.  We were there about 2 hours and I really wish we had more time to go on the trails.  But we did see enough that I know we can share with good faith that Badlands is a can't miss kind of place.

There is an entrance fee for the park - it is $15 per car and that fee is good for 7 days.  The expanse of the park makes it more of a driving park.  Plan to be driving, parking, getting out to look, and getting back in the car for a few miles until you're stopping again.  There are also several hiking trails you can trek if you're interested in seeing more than on the loop road.  I would really talk to the rangers at the visitors center for their suggestions on the best trail for you.

There are two visitors centers.  The primary place is the Ben Reifel Visitor Center which is very nice and I highly suggest stopping at.  Not only is it a great rest stop they also give a wonderful summary of the history of the area as well as a good gift shop.  They had more than just the typical souvenirs, more items that were specific to the area and the people of the land.  This is also the place where the kids can do their Junior Ranger program.  The second center is White River and there isn't always a guarantee it's open.

Badlands National Park South Dakota
Badlands National Park South Dakota
Badlands National Park South Dakota
Badlands National Park South Dakota
Badlands National Park South Dakota
Badlands National Park South Dakota

It's hard to explain just how ever changing the landscape within the park is - one minute you feel like you're in the desert (or on another planet) and then just down the road you recognize the familiar grasslands from your journey to the park.

Badlands National Park South Dakota
Badlands National Park South Dakota
Badlands National Park South Dakota
Badlands National Park South Dakota
Badlands National Park South Dakota
Badlands National Park South Dakota

Because we felt rushed through the park I really want to emphasize taking your time on the journey to soak it all in.  The overlooks are great.  Picnic areas are all over.  And we didn't really feel closed off from experiencing the landscape.

Badlands National Park South Dakota
Badlands National Park South Dakota
Badlands National Park South Dakota
Badlands National Park South Dakota
Badlands National Park South Dakota
Badlands National Park South Dakota
Badlands National Park South Dakota
Badlands National Park South Dakota
Badlands National Park South Dakota
Badlands National Park South Dakota

When you arrive at an overlook spot it might occur to you to pass it by because you can see it from the road - don't do this.  Get out and explore, there's more to see than you can view from the car.

Badlands National Park South Dakota
Badlands National Park South Dakota
Badlands National Park South Dakota
Badlands National Park South Dakota

As you can see even the babies enjoyed their visit - when they weren't in the car.

Tips:

  • Be prepared for weather - their extremes go from -40°F to 116°F
  • Make sure your gas tank is full
  • Pets are allowed, but there are restrictions
  • There are two campground within the park
  • There is a lodge within the park
  • Stay late - I've heard the night sky is amazing
  • There are rattlesnakes in the area