What’s So Great About Badlands National Park

In my article about dispersed camping I let you know that we camped right along the edge of the Badlands National Park. I didn’t tell you anything about the park though! I thought I would take some of your time, and let you know why you make the journey to the western side of South Dakota and come see the badlands for yourself.

We’ve all read about the ‘badlands’ when we were in history class, or heard the stories of Wild Bill Hickok riding off into them, but what is it? What does this topography look like that it has this peculiar name that makes it sound so terrifying? What’s so bad about it anyway? The short answer…. It’s bad land. Slightly longer answer… It isn’t good for farming. It has drop off’s that are 1,000 feet, and spires and crevasses all over it. It’s made up of a soft sedimentary rock that erodes easily. It’s a great place to hide from the law, but not great land to live on or manage for production. So why should you go there?

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When you’re driving along I-90 in South Dakota, you are driving for miles along these beautiful rolling hills. You would have no idea that the earth just seems to drop off less than 10 miles to the south of you. The formation of the Badlands is a million years old, and it’s constantly changing. It’s estimated that they erode about 1 inch per year. But unless you make the turn, you may never even see it.

National Grasslands at Buffalo Gap along the Badlands National Park border.

We camped outside of Wall, SD right along the same road that the Pinnacles Entrance to the Badlands National Park is on. In the Badlands National Park you can drive along the ridge line and then down and through some of the most spectacular formations so you can see them from the bottom up. You can see the layers and colors of different rocks and sediment from lifetimes ago right in front of you. It gives all of the history you’ve learned a little more meaning when you can actually see it with your own eyes.

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I have this crazy fear of heights that developed when I tried to cross the Pat Tillman bridge over the Hoover Dam. So for me to stand close to the edge of this flakey ground was a lot to handle. Honestly, I didn’t handle it very well at all. Doug was much less fearful than me, and was able to capture some incredible pictures and footage with the camera’s. Me on the other hand… I about pooped my pants sitting in the truck 100 feet away from the edge. I’m working on it though! In fact, I started working on it here in the Badlands at our amazing campsite.

American Flag Flying on the ridgeline in the Badlands National Park.

Doug wanted so badly to walk down from the ledge we were camped on to the floor of the badlands. He found a more shallow decent and scoped it out. I put my big girl panties on started walking. The pathway did get a lot more narrow than I would have liked for my very first attempt at overcoming this fear, but Doug took Lagertha, and I did make it all the way to the bottom on my own. I’m glad I did too, because seeing other campers from down below was a pretty awesome site. But, back to the park!

Loretta making it down to the floor of the Badlands and feeling like she’s on top of the world.

There were a few campgrounds with the park that you can reserve, and there were some that were first-come, first-serve. Just staying on the main road though, you can see quite a lot, so you don’t need to stay within the park to experience it. We went past a huge Prairie Dog Town where we stopped and watched them all poking their heads out of their burrows. Generally when we go to a National Park, we like to get off the beaten path, or main road that everyone else is using. Like when we backpacked Yellowstone National Park. We like to see things that most visitor’s don’t get to see or experience. We actually opted to not do this here because we were able to do it from our campsite just outside of the park. But the Badlands National Park does offer backpacking. So if you’re an adventure enthusiast, and don’t mind sleeping among the bison, coyotes, rattlesnakes, and bears… the option is there. For me, I’ll wait in the camper on this one.

To check out a full guide of our tour through the Badlands National Park, check out our YouTube episode.

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