Black Hills South Dakota - Visiting the Badlands

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Visiting the Badlands

Top reasons you should visit the Badlands.

The wondrous Badlands National Park is a fascinating tour of fossil beds and stories about the evolution of mammals. Located in the southwest of the state of South Dakota, the park is open year round, and offers some incredible sightseeing opportunities. Among the eroded pinnacles and spires, you can spot some of the wildlife this area is famous for, such as the bighorn sheep, endangered black-footed ferrets as well as fox and bison.

Sixty-four thousand acres of almost 244,000 that makes up Badlands National Park are designated as official wilderness. You can drive along the park’s Loop Road and take advantage of the many pullouts and viewpoints so you can really get the feel of this most unique landscape.

There are countless adventures in store for you when you visit the Badlands. You can trek the trails on a hiking trip, watch the birds or take scenic drives. Here are just a few other ideas to make your vacation to the Badlands the very best:

Wildlife Viewing

Searching out the wildlife in this rugged country is my activity of choice. If you also love the quest to see animals in their native habitat, you’ll love exploring the Badlands. The tall and short grasslands of this area supports many grazing animals and others who have learned to adapt to the harsh conditions here.

Bison roam these plains, as well as mule deer, pronghorn and bighorn sheep. At night you’ll hear the coyotes howling at the moon, and by day you can try to feed the little black-tailed prairie dogs. The black-footed ferret is truly a sight to behold, particularly since this endangered species is only starting to make a comeback. In 1987, there were only 18 black-footed ferrets in the entire world. Now there are around 50 in Badlands National Park.

Special Programs

In the summer, the very best way to experience the Badlands is to take active part in some of the Ranger programs offered. There’s nothing like a guided hike or a ranger talk to learn all you can about this area and its formations. Children’s activities are abundant, with the opportunity for a child to earn a Junior Ranger Badge. You should see their faces light up at that! The audiovisual programs appeal to all ages.

Ben Reifel Visitor Center

You’ll find this enlightening visitor center to be one of the highlights of your trip. It’s open the whole year, except for major holidays like Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. In the summer you simply must take the family on a ranger-led program.

The exhibits here will intrigue everyone. Understanding the geology and wildlife of the park is key to enjoying your visit even more. Be sure not to miss the movie, Land of Stone and Light, which shows throughout the day in their air-conditioned theater. I love their bookstore for some great gift purchases.

White River Visitor Center

You’ll discover the White River Visitor Center in the south of the park. It’s open only during summer, and has exhibits to enjoy, picnic tables for a nice respite and you can catch some informative talks every day.


There’s nothing to beat the sunrise over Badlands National Park. Staying overnight gives you this chance, and is also an opportunity to get the real ambiance of this wild land. There are two campgrounds in the park, and both are open all year. They are first-come, first-served, no showers or hookups and are rarely full. This means more space for YOU!

The Cedar Pass Campground is near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center and has 96 sites with great views. You can just pay a nominal fee at the automated fee machine, which issues you a camping permit. There are covered picnic tables and cold running water and flush toilets.

The primitive Sage Creek Campground is prone to have bison wandering through. It’s located near the Badlands Wilderness Area off Sage Creek Rim Road. No fee for this campground, and although it has pit toilets, there’s no water available on site.

For more civilized accommodations, you can find rental cabins in the park, near a restaurant and gift shop. However, I prefer to camp, since this is the best way to really get the flavor of Badlands National Park and all the glory of these rugged lands.

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