Badlands National Park might be one of the most underrated national parks. It is often overshadowed by Black Hills National Forest, which is just under a two hour drive away. But Badlands has a rich history. Named by the Lakota people, “mako sica” literally “land bad,” due to extreme temperatures, lack of water sources, and rugged terrain. Today, the national park spans 244,000 acres which includes hiking trails, campgrounds, native wildlife, and much more. Here’s how to make sure you have anything but a bad time.
Prepping for the trip
You’ll want to choose your accommodations before you go. You can camp or stay at the Cedar Pass Lodge depending on your preference and availability. If you choose to camp, there are two campgrounds to choose from. They’re open year round, but you may need some heavier gear in the winter months. Regardless of when you visit, you’ll want sturdy shoes, a lightweight bag, and some trekking poles to steady your step on the rugged terrain.
Experience the extraordinary
If you’ve never seen wild bison, you will have the opportunity to in Badlands. You can usually spot them Sage Creek Rim Road near Roberts Prairie Dog Town, which is accessible from Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway. This 31-mile stretch passes through some of the most beautiful sites of Badlands including roadside overlooks, trailheads, and one of the many visitor centers.The park is home to many other mammals, including porcupines, prairie dogs, bighorn sheep, and even bobcats. A variety of reptiles, amphibians, and butterfly species are also native to the area. You won’t want to forget your phone or bring along a camera to snap some photos of these rare animal sightings.
Soak it all in
Since the park is so remote, it is the perfect place for stargazing. In our busy lives, there’s rarely a chance to look up at the sky, to slow down and observe the vastness of space, and for many of us, light pollution makes it impossible. In Badlands, the night sky is bright and stars, constellations, and even planets come into view. From the night sky to the trail views, being in nature helps to ground us in what is good.
While the terrain may be rugged and the land dry, there’s beauty to be found around every corner of Badlands National Park.