Badlands National Park Things to Do

  • Badlands National Park
    Badlands National Park
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    Watch out for rattlesnakes!
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  • An unusually green and flourishing Badlands
    An unusually green and flourishing...
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Best Rated Things to Do in Badlands National Park

  • richiecdisc's Profile Photo

    there are hikes at Badlands

    by richiecdisc Written Dec 28, 2009

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    hiking in even a little, a new perspective

    While Badlands National Park is not exactly a hiker's paradise, the park does have one fair length hike as well as numerous nature trails that all take their origin on the Badlands Loop Road. The Castle Trail is the park's longest at 5 miles one-way and if you have two vehicles, you can avoid backtracking to your car as the trail connects to the Badlands Loop Road in two places. Since we did not have the time to do the full trail, we hiked partially up the trail from both sides and even walking a half mile in gave some nice views of the formations along with giving you a better sense of being the harsh but very beautiful terrain that is the Badlands when the light is just right.

    Most trails in Badlands National Park are quite short, generally under a mile round trip, but even within their short span give the hiker a better appreciation of harsh environment that is the Badlands. Though it looks like a lifeless place from a distance, there are indeed living things out there. You just have to look a bit harder to see them and what you will find are some hardy ones. Hikes with even small elevation gains afford nice views of sweeping valleys. Check out Saddle Pass or The Notch, the latter involving a climb of a ladder.

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  • lenoreva's Profile Photo

    Castle Trail

    by lenoreva Written Jan 30, 2007

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    Getting pushed into a

    Castle trail is the longest in the park and is broken into 3 sections

    - the Western section leaves across from the Fossil Exhibit trail and is 1.8 miles before hitting the juncture with Saddle Pass and Medicine Root trails. This section is very scenic and weaves between formations. Lots of cactus.

    - the middle section is also 1.8 miles and passes some spectacular canyons and formations and well as going through some flat grassland. Because its out in the middle of nowhere, you won't pass many other hikers - in fact, we didn't see any. Not much shade though, so bring a hat (I carried a sunshade!)

    - the Eastern section is 1.4 miles and leads to/is accessible from the parking lot of Door/Window/Notch trails. We didn't hike this part, but it is said to be fairly level.

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  • kazander's Profile Photo

    big badlands overlook at sunrise

    by kazander Updated Oct 27, 2006

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    big badlands overlook

    I had done a lot of research on Badlands National Park before our visit. We only had part of a day and a night to be here on our whilwind tour so I wanted to make the best of it. I poured through pictures at every time of day, at all of the overlooks, specificaly looking for the best place for us to view sunrise, I decided on the Big Badlands overlook. I chose wisely. At the overlook just before light came over the horizon, ghostly shapes loomed below us in all directions, when the sun finally found us, she illuminated an otherworldly landscape with a rosy amber glow. Strong shapes were defined and the light rippled over the striped rock. It was one of my favorite moments of the whole trip. So beautful and peaceful.....

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  • richiecdisc's Profile Photo

    if you have the time

    by richiecdisc Updated Dec 28, 2009

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    take time for the Badlands

    Badlands National Park can easily be visited in a few hours but a whole day will give you a better appreciation of the finer nuances of the terrain. Perhaps the best plan of action is to arrive in the afternoon, check out the visitor center, get to a great spot for sunset to enjoy the rock formations turning their most stunning colors, pitch your tent for the night and bask in the Milky Way, get up early to enjoy sunrise and maybe hit one of the longer trails into the Badlands. That was my plan in 1994 but the sun never really shone so an intense sunset, sunrise, nor glowing rocks were not to be. I did see quite a meteor shower that night from my tent or maybe it was a few shooting stars. Whatever it was, it was quite a light show and my best starry experience up to that date.

    On our return trip in 2008, it was supposed to be very quick drive through, really just en route to where we needed to be a lot sooner than we got there. As chance would have it, the light was gorgeous this time around and we wound up staying longer than we planned. Even at that, it was no more than two hours. It was enough time for a leisurely drive of the Badlands Loop Road, a short stop for a scenic snack and a short stroll on one of the nature trails to get a more up close view of the formations. The visitor center was already closed as it was after peak season and we arrived in the park fairly late in the afternoon. So, between my two trips to the park, I had one ideal visit. Which was better? It's hard to say, but the photos from the second trip would make me want to go back again while the first trip had me not making a return.

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  • richiecdisc's Profile Photo

    actually, Badlands are very colorful

    by richiecdisc Written Dec 28, 2009

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    colorful layers of the Badlands

    The first thing you will notice is the Badlands is not filled with colorless drab formations. Even in poor light, it is apparent that the formations have many layers. When the light is good, those layers really jump out at you. The layers have different origins and date back accordingly with the lowest layers being the oldest. These black layers of Pierre Shale date back 75 millions years and are filled with remnants of an ancient sea. The Yellow Mounds are a fossil soil and resulted from the weathering of older layers and their mixing with the elements. The grey Chadron Formation dates back 35 millions years to a time period when the sea was replaced by a river flood plain. The tannish brown Brule Formation dates back 30 million years when a dryer climate found forests dominating. Red layers are to Brule much as Yellow is to Pierre Shale, fossil soils. Rockford Ash is volcanic remains and act as a buffer between Brule and the top Sharps Formation are the most recent going back only 28 millions year ago. The most rugged formation are largely Sharps and Brule Formations.

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  • paulscuba's Profile Photo

    Hiking the Castle Trail

    by paulscuba Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    If you want to get away from the people who just do the drive portion of the park, try the castle trail. It is long and but there are some circle trails to that allow you to shorten the hike. If you go out early you have good chance of seeing the wildlife. Once it gets hot everything seems to run for cover. Go out 7-9AM or come out late. To see the trail map use the link

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  • kazander's Profile Photo

    Cedar Pass

    by kazander Updated Oct 27, 2006

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    Cedar Pass in the Badlands

    The Cedar Pass section of Badlands National Park was our homebase for our stay. The visitors center is located here, as well as the Cedar Pass Lodge which has accomodations, a resturant and a very nice gift shop. The big draw here is the rock formations. Here you are down at the bottom looking up at the rocks. There is a wide grassy area just across from the visitors center. Standing there looking across the field, the rocks are big and flat and looming. It's amazing that they keep their well defined shapes without breaking into bits.

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  • xoxoxenophile's Profile Photo

    Backcountry Camping!

    by xoxoxenophile Updated Feb 15, 2013

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    Badlands National Park
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    In Badlands National Park, there are several campsites, but they also have the option where you can go backcountry camping--meaning you can set up a camp wherever you like in the park! I've never done this but I definitely plan to in the future, because it sounds adventurous and fun!

    There are a few guidelines of course--you must camp somewhere within 0.5 miles of the road and be out of sight from the road. No campfires, camp stoves only, and you must bring all waste with you. No permit is required, the cost is totally free and you get to really rough it in the park and sleep under the beautiful stars!

    They do suggest you stop by the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to get some more information (and check out the website below) before setting off. If driving through the Badlands isn't enough for you and you want a close-to-nature experience (not to mention to see the sun rise and set and the stars come out over this beautiful landscape), check out this option!

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  • lenoreva's Profile Photo

    Notch Trail

    by lenoreva Written Jan 30, 2007

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    a view near the end of notch trail

    If you have time for just one trail during your stay, make it this one. You'll pass a lot of cool rock formations and the view at the end of the trail looks over the White River valley below - beautiful! There is a steep ladder near the end of the trail and some narrow ledges that might be a problem if you are scared of heights. You can hike this 1.5 mile trail, there and back, in less than 2 hours.

    Wear boots and long pants (or thick socks if you wear shorts) because there is a lot of cactus and such.

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  • paulscuba's Profile Photo

    Colorful Pictures

    by paulscuba Written Jul 3, 2003

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    Cool formation with some color

    The rock formations have layers of colors. If the day is sunny you may have a difficult time getting those colors to show up nicely. You can try using a polarizer if you can use one. To get the colors to show up best take the pictures early. Most of the better views you can get to easily from the road had the morning light. If you are lucky you get an overcast day and the colors come out in force.

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  • lenoreva's Profile Photo

    Prairie Dog Ranch

    by lenoreva Written Jan 30, 2007

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    A Prairie Dog with his peanut

    Right outside the park near exit 131 from Interstate 90 is Prairie Dog Ranch. I know it screams tourist trap, but give it a chance. Sure you'll be overcharged for a bag of peanuts to feed the PDs, but aren't they cute when they come up and take the peanuts right from your hand? Sure the owners might try and sell you ugly postcards of the place (or give them to you for free - eeek!), but they'll tell you some interesting stories about how the ranch came to be (the Prairie Dogs themselves decided to take up residence there). That all isn't so bad - is it?? :)

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  • Basaic's Profile Photo

    Ben Reifel Visitors Center

    by Basaic Written Nov 19, 2011

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    Ben Reifel Visitors Center

    If you are entering Badlands National Park through the Interior or Northeast Entrances, begin your tour at the Ben Reifel Visitors Center. Here you can get a brochure and newspaper for the park; look over maps; and get recommendations from the helpful rangers on how to best enjoy your visit based on your interests and the amount of time you have to visit. If you enter the park through the Pinnacles Entrance the visitors center is on the other side of the park down the Badlands Loop Road. The Ben Reifel Visitors Center is open year-round. There are a few other buildings and near, and attractions inside, the visitors center.

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  • Basaic's Profile Photo

    Anatomy of the Badlands

    by Basaic Written Nov 19, 2011

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    Anatomy of the Badlands

    The base of the badlands formed some 34 to 24 million years ago while dog to pig sized herbivorous mammals called "oreodonts" grazed here. At that time, the surface was a muddy streambed that hardened into the current grey/red rocky surface. The layers are given their formations by vertical formation of rock called clastic dikes, which are harder rock that erodes much more slowly than the surrounding materials. Much of the ground surface is covered with bentonite, a clay that includes volcanic ash and which expands and gets very slick when wet. Bentonite is also commonly called popcorn rock because of its appearance.

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  • Basaic's Profile Photo

    Yellow Mounds

    by Basaic Written Nov 22, 2011

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    Yellow Mounds
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    There was once a shallow sea here. About 65 million years ago, this sea drained away and was replaced by a jungle. As the vegetation from the jungle died, chemicals from the plants produced a bright yellow soil. About 35 million years ago sediment from the west covered the yellow soil and the jungle revived. The jungle then produced the red soil you see on top of the yellow. Over the years both soils fossilized. To me this is one of the most striking features of the park.

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  • Basaic's Profile Photo

    Prairie Dog Town

    by Basaic Written Nov 22, 2011

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    Prairie Dog
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    Another popular and very fun place to stop and look in the badlands is the prairie dog town. Prairie dogs are highly social and live in small communities. You will frequently see one of the prairie dogs on the outer rim of the town watching the perimeter and "barking" a warning when danger approaches. A frequent visitor to these towns is the burrowing owl who likes to station themselves on top of a pile of bison excrement looking for the beetles that settle there. This is one of the owls favorite foods. The Prairie Dog Town is a short distance down the unpaved Sage Creek Road.

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