I had the chance to visit The Badlands in South Dakota and it far exceeded my expectations.
What is it?
The Native American Tribe the Lakota, and early French trappers called the area The Badlands. It has the feeling of other worldliness, it is dry, multicolored and mysterious. It is not a place you want to get lost in. There are wild animals including snakes, goats, prairie dogs coyotes and vultures. It is both unsettling and beautiful. While it is not as grand as the Grand Canyon, or as beautiful as a Yellowstone or Yosemite, it is the most unique National Park I have ever been to.
Where is it?
The Badlands are just east of the Black Hills, Crazy Horse, Mount Rushmore and Rapid City South Dakota. The closest town is Wall, as in the Wall Drug. It really feels like you are in the middle of nowhere and on another world. It is right off of I90, exit 131 South Dakota, the same exit as the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.
When to go?
Summers can be very hot and winters cold so the best time of year to go would be September and May. I recommend driving through at the end of the day or in the morning. This is the time that the light would be the best. The different colored rocks are amazing and at that time of day, you can really see the Badlands at its best. I also recommend, if you are able to, plan it to go when the sun is out and it is not cloudy. It is not as good of experience when it is cloudy as the colors are not as stunning.
What to see?
Entering in from the east, you will drive a bit before entering into the National Park. Once you arrive, you will have a quick oppotunity to have your breath taken away at the Big Bandlands Overlook. There is a walkway that will lead to a platform where you have a view of some of the badlands from above. This is well worth the stop and is a good introduction to the beauty and surrelness of the place. I would then head into the Ben Reifel Visitor Center which has a good introduction to Park. Make sure you stop by the information desk and make sure that nothing is closed. I wanted to do a southern route but was told that the road was washed away. The easiest trail is the The Fossil Exhibit Trail which is wheel chair accessible, the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail and the Door Trail are a little harder but are not long hikes.
Make sure you slow down at watch for wildlife. There is a good chance for seeing different animals but sometimes they are hard to see. If you see a couple of cars stopped by the side of the road, most likely someone has spotted some animals. Make sure that you stop at every overlook, they are all unique and worth the stop.
How Much Time?
Most people spend 3-5 hours at the Badlands. This is a good amount of time to drive through the park, visit the visiter’s center, do a short hike and stop at the overlooks. I split the time over two days by staying in Wall. I was driving to the Badlands from the East so I approached the Badlands first and had a chance to drive through late in the afternoon. It was cloudy so I was glad to have a chance to come back the next day. I drove through the loop, stopped at some overlooks and did a quick hike before exiting the Park in Wall. Wall has several lower end hotels that you can get at budget prices and several restaurants. The next day I got up and did the loop the other direction exiting by the Missile Site and then headed back the other direction on I90 towards Rapid City. I spent about 5 hours and I was glad to be able to spread it out over two days so that I got to see it in the sun.
Let me know if you have any questions in the comments.