AT A GLANCE:
The Badlands are a massive expanse (244,000 acres) of rock layered canyons and spires. The park is a large, unique shape, with most of the attractions and trails on the Northeast side of the park. The thing about the Badlands is that a lot of the park looks very similar. You will get slightly different formations in certain parts, but when we asked a ranger where we should go, she kind of acted like it all looked the same. And well…it does and it doesn’t.
The Badlands are located towards the Southwest corner of South Dakota about an hour and a half away from Rapid City.
HOW LONG DO I NEED:
This depends on what you are wanting to do. You could spend an afternoon going through the park and be able to see quite a bit. If you are wanting to do some hikes, maybe 1-2 days. If you are wanting to go backcountry camping and take your time exploring the area, you could definitely spend more days here.
WHAT TO SEE:
While a lot of the Badlands does look similar, there is still a lot to explore.
Badlands Loop Road-
an easy drive to different parts of the canyon. These have easy walk-ups and a few short paths you can walk out on.
Sage Creek Rim Road-
Has a lot of overlooks and is an easy (sometimes a bit rocky) drive to different overlooks of the canyon.
Any stops along the road will give you great (and similar) views.
Yellow Mounds Overlook-
While technically still an overlook, this part of the park was the biggest surprise. Whatever I expected the yellow mounds to look like, this was not it. What you will find are rainbow colored hills scattered along the road of bright pink, orange, yellow and green. It looks so unlike the rest of the park that it is really worth the stop. This was probably my favorite discovery of the Badlands.
POPULAR HIKING TRAILS:
I have to shamefully admit that we actually didn’t take any hikes through the Badlands. Reason being is that when we arrived, it was so blazing hot that we decided to drive the loop roads until the sun went down a little bit, so we could at least get some AC periodically. Also, the one trail that I wanted to take (The Notch Trail) was temporarily closed. However, there are many popular trails.
Door Trail- an easy 30 min. walk on a boardwalk that leads you to a ‘door’ or opening through the Badlands walls.
Window Trail- a 20 min. short trail that leads to a ‘window’ in the wall with views of the canyons.
Notch Trail- a 1.5-2 hour hike up a steep rope ladder out of a circular area. Not for people who hate heights.
Castle Trail- 5 hour long hike for the enthusiasts.
WHERE TO STAY:
There are some hotels and campgrounds in Wall, the town just north of the Badlands off I-90. If you want to go camping in the Badlands, you can literally camp anywhere as long as it is at least a half mile away from any trail or road, but there are no organized campgrounds in the park.
Backcountry camping: To go backcountry camping, you don’t need a permit. After having seen some pictures of camping in the Badlands, I thought it would be a fun idea to try. We got a tip off of The Outbound for a cool place to camp among the spires and while it was visually appealing, it was all rock and we were not prepared for that. I also don’t know if it was far enough away from the trail since there were a few stragglers that stumbled up to our camp spot. We were also unprepared to sleep on the rocky floor. We didn’t want to haul a bunch of gear in 100° weather, so it ended up being a terrible night with zero sleep. By the time the sun rose, our backs were so stiff and sore that we decided to head home a day early.
THINGS TO KNOW:
Entrance fee: $20 per car (or use the America the Beautiful pass which is $80 and gets you into any National Park for a year).
There are no campsites but you can backcountry camp anywhere without a permit (as long as its .5 miles away from trails and roads). There are also no open fires allowed in South Dakota.
Weather: It can get very hot!! There is little to no shade in a lot of areas in the badlands, so be prepared with lots of water.
Have you been to the Badlands before? What did you think?