Badlands National Park

June 2018

There is something both beautiful and eerie in the geologic formations that make up Badlands National Park. Badlands are areas where the clay soil erodes through wind and water action, creating weird peaks and both lush and dry valleys.  The horizontal stripes in some of the formations are created by alternating layers of sand, silt and clay.

It’s easy to see the variety of formations by driving the scenic Badlands Loop Road through the park.  We didn’t do the entire loop, but the unpaved Sage Creek Road was a must-do extension for wildlife viewing (but not when it’s raining).  There are a few little hikes along the way, but Badlands is one of the only places we’ve been where you can hike anywhere—no requirement to stay on the trail (though we did).  Saddle Pass Hike was a short, fairly-easy hike up to a great panorama of the surrounding White River Valley.
What we loved about the Badlands was the wildlife.  This was our best viewing ever of bighorn sheep and our first sighting of burrowing owls.  Pronghorn, prairie dogs and cottontail rabbits were easy to find along the way, plus colorful birds like Western meadowlarks and mountain bluebirds.
We stayed at Cedar Pass Campground (electric only, but there is a dump station with water fill nearby), which was near the Visitor Center and several short hikes—Cliff Shelf, Door, Window, and Notch (the best!) trails, that all give panoramic views of either the Badlands or the valley.  The campground has virtually no shade, and you’re parking parallel to the road, so some people have written that there isn’t much privacy (true).  However, we loved the view from the campground and would stay here again in a second (though maybe taking a site on one of the outer loops would be better).

We went to the campfire programs which were a short walk from the campground, and they were some of the best we’ve ever participated in.  Volunteers set up telescopes, so you can look for the moon, Jupiter, and other objects in the solar system before or after each campfire program.  Really informative and fun!

This area can get really hot, so we were fortunate that it wasn’t too bad during our stay in late June.  However, we did our hiking first thing in the morning to make sure we didn’t get overheated.  I think a lot of people go to the Black Hills and skip the Badlands, but this is a mistake.  The Badlands are a wonderful contrast to the greener, lusher Black Hills area.  Do both!

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