Badlands National Park: A Western Wonderland

Before reaching Badlands National Park, I had doubts as to whether it would be worth the time and effort to stop there. We had already seen and done so much on this trip, much of it in the same region as Badlands NP, including Theodore Roosevelt National Park with its Badlands and petrified forest, the iconic Devil’s Tower, Mount Rushmore, and the cathedral spires of Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota, in addition to enough buffalo and prairie dogs to last us a lifetime. The question was, is Badlands National Park is going be more of the same? Is it going to be special enough to warrant a visit or is it skippable? The answer is this: it is NOT skippable. In fact, after all we had seen and done on our trip, Badlands was quite simply the glorious icing on the cake.

On an early morning drive on the Badlands scenic drive – the backdrop of clouds added drama

We lodged in Wall, S.D., and I recommend either staying in Wall or in Interior, either one of which is close to one of the park entrances. To enjoy Badlands National Park to its fullest, you’ll want to sleep close enough to be able to easily get to the park early in the day when the morning sunlight shows this lovely landscape at its best. The beginnings and ends of the day are also the best time of day to see the many Bighorn sheep that graze along the side of the road, along with deer and other wildlife.

We stayed in Wall, a few steps away from Wall Drug, an institution in this part of the world that is famous for being famous. It’s even more famous since being featured in the recent film, “Nomadland”

We did some hiking in Badlands, most notably the Notch Trail, that has a pretty cool ladder to aid in getting up to the trail and back down. Notably, Badlands is an “open hike” park, meaning that visitors are free to walk wherever they like. Be careful, though. As one ranger put it, you’re free to fall into a crevasse, off a cliff, or have an unwanted encounter with one of the many rattlesnakes in the park. We mostly stuck to the trails and, while we enjoyed the hiking, I would argue that hikes are not the main draw in Badlands, nor are the ranger programs or the black sky evening program. While all of these are interesting and worthwhile, nothing else in this park surpasses the beauty found on the scenic drive. In fact, in more than two years of writing this blog, and over 75 posts, this landscape of extremes and inexplicable beauty is the sole place that has left me so nearly speechless that I will let the pictures tell the rest of the story.

The Yellow Mounds, part of the eye candy at Badlands
The ladder of the Notch Trail – it’s best hiked early before the line builds
John hiking part of the Notch Trail and hanging on to his hat, due to heavy winds
Deer spotted near dusk
Near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center – so many glorious landscapes!
The Yellow Mounds from above
A few of the many Bighorn sheep found grazing in the park at dawn and dusk

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