Driving the Badlands
southwestern South Dakota
So you’re on a road trip in southwestern South Dakota, in a rush to see Mt. Rushmore while the kids drive you insane about visiting Crazy Horse. But you’ll want to squeeze in another majestic attraction, too. The famous carvings at Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse are perhaps better known, but Badlands National Park is an essential side trip when exploring the Black Hills region. This essay is about a quick drive through the Badlands, with no stops for pictures or potty breaks. It’s breathtaking, cinematic scenery, where the stars are ancient geological formations, still undergoing “character development.” Two geologic processes created the landscape: deposition and erosion. Over millions of years sand, silt and clay were deposited in layers, forming sedimentary rocks. Then, 500,000 years ago, erosion began transforming the flat floodplain. Because erosion continues today at about one inch per year, the Badlands will be gone in another 500,000 years. So you’ve still got plenty of time to fit it into the itinerary and the kids will thank you for it! (And they’ll love the ice cream at Wall Drug, too.)
Best Time to Visit
The drive through Badlands is open year-round, unless winter driving conditions close the road. The park is magnificent any time of year although summer is the busiest season and can get very hot.
Rapid City is the main metropolis in the Black Hills region, with all of the amenities and a well-served airport. This drive starts 76 miles east of Rapid City and ends in Wall, famous for the drug store, a major tourist destination in its own right. Wall back to Rapid City is 55 miles.
Route & Map
This drive starts just off Exit 131, I-90. It follows SD Highway 240 through Badlands National Park to Wall.
1 hour, no stops
Keep in Mind
The Black Hills encompass a large part of southwestern South Dakota. A side trip to the Badlands from Mt. Rushmore is about 85 miles and from Crazy Horse Memorial, about 100 miles.
Check the Badlands National Park site for visitor information, history, road closures and other updates.
South Dakota’s Badlands National Park