Badlands National Park in South Dakota holds a very special place in my heart – it was the first National Park that I ever visited AND it was my first trip “out west”. I’ve now been there multiple times and have LOVED every second of every day I’ve spent there. I think it is a highly underrated natural beauty in the U.S. and I feel everyone should start planning a trip there ASAP! SO many people make the drive to see Mount Rushmore, which is only about an hour and a half away from Badlands National Park…yet, they skip over Badlands!??! HOWWWW? I do not understand this in the slightest. PLEASE, do not make this mistake yourself. If anything, choose Badlands National Park OVER Mount Rushmore (if you can’t do both) – you won’t regret it!
Here is a list of 10 reasons why you, and everyone, should visit Badlands National Park:
1) The scenery is out of this world!
Badlands National Park looks like a completely different planet – that is the best way to describe it in one sentence. That is probably why Hollywood decided to film scenes in the movie “Armageddon” there (the badlands act as the surface of the asteroid where their shuttles crash-land). Its dramatic landscape spans countless, sharply eroded buttes, steep canyons and sprawling grasslands. There are many lookouts in the park and each one has an original and mesmerizing view of this incredible place. Furthermore, there are a million perfect places for the best photo-ops – you can’t go wrong no matter where you point your camera. Your jaw will be sure to hit the floor when you make your initial drive/hike into this park – I know mine did (and still does every time I go)!
2) There’s an abundance of wonderful wildlife.
Want to walk alongside a herd of American Bison (aka Buffalo)? Want to watch these beastly beauties graze among the prairies and roll around in the dirt? THIS is the place to go! Every single time I’ve been to Badlands National Park I’ve seen these fascinating creatures up close and personal – and BOY OH BOY..are they HUGE! I watched a giant male stroll past one of the public restrooms in the park and he was the same size as the building! INSANE. As gentle as they may seem, you still must always be cautious and respectful of the wildlife – DO NOT try to pet one or get close and take a selfie with one! #Dumb. Don’t do it. DO, however, admire them from a safe distance – I could watch these guys ALL day! The park is also full of big horn sheep which, never fails, I happen to see around sunset almost every evening in the park. There’s also, oftentimes, baby big horns running amok along the buttes, just playing and having a grand ol’ time as their mommas and papas relax and watch. Furthermore, you can be sure to spot prairie dogs (which are hilarious and make such cute noises), mule deer, pronghorn and a variety of birds! (BEWARE: there’s also rattlesnakes – but hey, at least they warn ya when you’re too close!) At nighttime, you’ll even be serenaded by the sounds of coyotes howling. Visiting Badlands National Park means visiting so many beautiful creatures – you’ll be sure to spend a full day doing just this!
3) Badlands National Park is remote and relaxing.
The remoteness of the badlands, in my opinion, is an unbelievable upside! There’s nothing that irks me more when visiting national parks (or any nature getaway for that matter) than being bombarded by hordes of humans and crazy traffic. More often than not, they scare off the wildlife, disrespect the environment, are unappreciative of the nature surrounding them, are loud and obnoxious and selfie-vicious! I, personally, like to FEEL nature’s peace & wonder and form a bond with her – I seek connectedness. Here, at Badlands National Park, I absolutely find the connection I strive for. I find peace and quiet – no noises other than the breeze and birds and passerby creatures. Oh, and the occasional rocks sliding down the buttes. At Badlands National Park you are far from cities and towns and have the chance to truly relax in nature. The closest city (Rapid City) is 70 miles away …and the few and far between towns nearby are tiny and sparsely populated. You can easily find a beautiful scenic spot to watch the sunrise/sunset ALONE and uninterrupted. You can easily take a time-lapse without people walking in the way. You can easily close your eyes and forget about the chaotic, hustle and bustle world we live in nowadays. It’s so slow-paced that it actually feels as if time has been turned back – it’s magic!
4) The SKY – at sunrise, at sunset, at night and even during storms…the sky here is always STUNNING!
You can watch the sun rise AND set over the endless, breathtaking buttes here at the Badlands. BOTH sunrise and sunset dramatically color the landscapes – ranging from warm oranges and reds to cool purples and blues. The grasslands even begin to resemble water in the various lighting provided by the sky. AND the sand-colored buttes begin to burn fiery red. The whole place is transformed by the performances of the sky. EVEN MORE, Badlands National Park provides amazing dark skies for photographers (and star-gazers) thanks to her remoteness (no light pollution here!). Lastly, her lightening storms are in a league of their own – all I can say is “wow!”. Nature is crazy powerful and crazy scary – but man, is she magnificent to watch. I had the pleasure of finally witnessing a lightening storm my last trip there (with my family) and it was spectacular..until, it wasn’t. I mean, if tornado winds and hail didn’t rain down on our campground forcing all the campers to take shelter in the little store onsite..then yeah, it would’ve remained spectacular! lol. Okay, it was still spectacular because I’ve never before in my life been crammed into such a tiny place with so many strangers – some sleeping, some crying, some laughing – all waiting for tornados to pass and hoping we’d be okay (which we all were!). It was an experience I will never forget! Just like I’ll never forget the badlands’ BIG, OPEN SKY in all her glories.
5) The hospitality is top notch.
Every person I have encountered in this wondrous place has been kind, friendly, helpful and just downright a GOOD human being. The campground that we camp at EVERY time – Badlands Interior Campground – has the most wonderful owners and employees. The owners, upon finding out we’re from Pittsburgh, tell us that if we bring them Pierogies next time..we can stay for free! They gave us more firewood than we paid for and escorted us to our site – all while wearing a smile. Furthermore, these same hosts made sure every camper was safe during the storm that I mentioned above – they ran around to every campsite telling all the campers to take shelter in their store and helped guide us all to safety. They also made sure mothers and children were away from the windows and continuously calmed everyone. Once the storm subsided, they even gave us a free hotel room to stay in for the remainder of the night. They are the sweetest and I HIGHLY recommend staying there when visiting Badlands National Park. It’s only one mile from the park’s entrance and the park is still your backdrop for your stay. Since it’s not actually IN the park, you are permitted to have campfires – which is a HUGE plus! It’s also only $18 a night. Not only were these hosts the best, but we were treated so sooo well in the restaurants and bars we frequented too. One morning, wearing no makeup (which is rare for me – I usually AT LEAST wear mascara and some rouge), my waitress told me, “honey, you are just so pretty!” – that instantly made my day considering people usually say “you look tired” when I’m not wearing my face. I could go on and on and on about the kindness and generosity I’ve received during my visits to Badlands National Park, but I think you get the point! It must be the magic that is in its air! I’m telling you, the people here are the best people.
6) There are so many adventures to be had at Badlands!
There’s great hiking trails all over the park – from easy to backcountry! Some lead to the top of the highest buttes with the MOST incredible views in the park. There’s even a “fossil trail” that leads you around to many fossils of now extinct creatures that once roamed the lands. Nearby, you can take a helicopter adventure tour over the Badlands and see her crazy beauty from above! We did this with Black Hills Aerial Adventures – Badlands Heliport and holllyyyyyy sheeeetttt, was it an amazing experience! The copters have no doors and only seat 3 people across (it’s one row). I got to sit on the end – only thing keeping me from falling out was my seat belt. Our pilot even liked to add to the thrill factor by tipping us sideways (literally hanging me over the badlands by a seatbelt). To me, this was exhilarating! I enjoyed the heck out of this tour. Furthermore, you can go horseback riding in true cowboy fashion all throughout the park (what better place!). Also nearby: Hot Air Balloon rides, ATV rentals, bike rentals, canoe rentals, wagon rides etc. And don’t forget the wildlife – meeting these guys is an adventure in itself! 🙂
7) Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway
This route takes you throughout the park and shows you endless, spectacular views along the way. This is GREAT for those who are unable to do a lot of hiking/walking etc. Thanks to this route, EVERYONE is able to enjoy Badlands’ beauty. However, even if you are capable of hiking, it’s still worth it to take the time and make this drive because there may be spots you’d miss had you not explored the whole park via this route. Furthermore, on an extremely hot or cold day – you can STILL enjoy the park from the comfort of your vehicle. You’ll even be able to pull over at multiple spots to watch the sun rise or set from the hood of your car or the bed of your truck. OR pull over to stargaze and listen to coyotes – all the while knowing you’re safe (if, you know, you’re afraid of such things). There’s endless possibilities thanks to this breath-taking byway. But please, PLEASE get out and explore if you’re able to! You can’t find that connection I was talking about with the wildlife and nature if you’re always in and out of a vehicle.
8) Home to the Oglala Lakota Sioux.
This area is home to the Oglala Lakota Sioux and their reservation – Pine Ridge Indian Reservation – in the southern portion of the badlands. You can learn about their history and what happened as a result of the Fort Laramie Treaty – but, even more than that, you can see, with your own eyes, what their life is like on the reservation – what their schools are like, what their homes are like, etc. Go and do this! Furthermore, learn their culture and gain their respect for nature. See how strong their women are and how incredibly talented. Just go and LEARN. Moreover, learn how you can HELP the Indigenous Peoples of America. After all this growth – emotional, mental and spiritual – stop on over at the Wagon Wheel for some grub and drinks with the locals in Interior, South Dakota.
9) One word: #BadASSlands
Remember when Trump instituted a media blackout at two federal agencies when his administration was continuing its war on science (circa. beginning of 2017)? Do you remember a national park tweeting out a series of climate change related facts in rebellion? WELL….that park was BADLANDS! They then earned the hashtag “badASSlands” (which I always felt they deserved). I mean this instance only made me that much more proud to be in love with this place. So, so proud. In case you don’t remember, check out this article to jog the old memory: #Badasslands National Park’s Climate Change Tweets Go Viral
10) THIS VIDEO – no words needed, just watch this video (created by my husband: Doug Michaels, our good friend: Joe Nugent, and with help from yours truly!)