Badlands National Park
southwestern South Dakota
Southwestern South Dakota is oddly out-of-place. Completely surrounded by windswept plains and prairie farmland, this oasis of hills and forests seems more like Colorado or Vermont. Mt. Rushmore is the most famous attraction in the area. But just east of the Black Hills, as pine trees give way to cornfields, another unique landscape takes shape. The Badlands are a weirdly beautiful setting with colorful hills, buttes and ravines. There are few trees or bushes. Instead grasses change shades as seasons pass, green to gold. It’s a geological playground, fashioned over millions of years. Sand, silt and clay were deposited in layers, forming sedimentary rocks. Then, erosion took over. For the last 500,000 years water and wind have transformed the flat floodplain. And the process continues. The Badlands are home to one of the world’s richest fossil beds, evidence that the saber-toothed cat, rhino and horse were ancient mammals once living here. One day, the Badlands will completely wear away. But since this erosion occurs at about one inch per year, it will take another 500,000 years.
Best Time to Visit
It’s captivating year-round but fall and spring are more mild. Summer is busy and can get very hot. Winter brings bitter cold and road closures due to ice and snow.
Route & Map
SD Highway 240 runs through Badlands National Park and connects at either end to I-90.
2 hours with stops
Wall lies just outside the park on I-90. It has many services and is home to another famous tourist attraction, Wall Drug. Rapid City is the major player in the region. It offers numerous lodging and dining options and an airport.
The Badlands National Park website has visitor information, history, road closures and other updates.