The U.S. National Park System boasts more than 400 national parks, with Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Zion being probably the most popular ones. However, if you’re looking for somewhere unique to go this year, head to South Dakota. The state is a stunner on its own, but you will also find a gorgeous yet overlooked national park there.
Badlands National Park is nestled about 60 miles from Rapid City. It spreads over 242,000 acres and is particularly known for dramatic landscapes, rock formations, and wildlife. Also, it’s home to one of the world’s richest fossil beds allowing scientists to study the evolution of various mammals, such as rhinos, horses, and several rodents.
The best way to discover the park’s rugged beauty is by hiking its trails. There are more than 60 miles of them.
For an easier and shorter hike, opt for Door Trail or Window Trail. If you’re looking for something more challenging, set off to Castle Trail. With its 16 miles altogether, it’s the longest one in the park. Or try Saddle Pass. It’s short but straight uphill but will reward you with awesome views.
Feeling a bit more adventurous? Unlike other national parks, Badland allows you to hike off the trails, so you can literally walk anywhere you like, just be careful with all the stones.
No matter if you keep on the trails or not, you will have a great opportunity to watch wildlife. You don’t have to try hard to spot bison, bighorn sheep, pronghorns, coyotes, or prairie dogs.
The park’s remote location also ensures very little light pollution and makes it an excellent spot for stargazing. To stay overnight, you can choose from two campgrounds – Cedar Pass Campground and Sage Creek Campground.
Cedar Pass Campground is set near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center and has 96 RV & tent sites with fantastic views as well as cabins. We recommend you book your spot in advance, especially during the busy summer season.
On the other hand, Sage Creek Campground is much smaller. It consists of 22 sites, some of which allow horses, and is operated on a first-come, first-served basis. Oh, and did we mention that camping there is free of charge?
Even if you just happen to be in the area, it’s worth a stop or at least a pass-through. Badlands National Park is home to many scenic drives, including Badlands Loop Road and Sage Creek Rim Road. They are both full of breathtaking vistas that can be experienced only from the comfort of your car.
Are you already falling for the park’s charms? There’s no need to wait to start planning. South Dakota is a land of extremes, so we don’t recommend visiting Badlands National Park in winter or summer. However, the upcoming shoulder season (mid-April through May) is the perfect time to explore it. Alternatively, aim for September or October, when milder weather and fewer crows will also ensure you the most out of your trip.