Badlands National Park is one of the most underrated National Parks in the whole system. Sure, it doesn't have the jaw-drop factor of the Grand Canyon, or the one-of-a-kind natural features of Yellowstone, but it does have its own unique history, culture, wildlife, and special features that make it worth road tripping out to see. Still not sure? Here are just a few of the best-kept secrets of the Badlands to convince you!
Hudson, Wisconsin, United States
State Route 240, Interior, SD, US
The park's Ben Reifel Visitor Center has an awesome Fossil Prep Lab that educates tourists on the region's incredible prehistoric features. Fossils are wildly abundant here. In fact, in 2010, a seven-year-old girl found an incredibly rare and very well preserved saber tooth tiger skull. She, thankfully, reported her find to the rangers, which helped in the discovery of even more fossils in the surrounding area. Think about it... you could be the next person to find an ancient, maybe even extinct, animal's remains!
25216 Ben Reifel Rd, Interior, SD, US
Some tips for visiting Badlands National Park:
-The Badlands are a stunning, rugged landscape-- but they're not easy to photograph. The best time to take pictures of the hills and stone formations is in the soft morning light, or towards the end of the day. That way, the light is hitting the hills at an angle that better highlights them and their crevices and colors, as opposed to beating straight down on them and washing them out. -Another one of the coolest features about Badlands National Park is its location. It's within 100 miles of Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial, and is even closer to other iconic roadside attractions that get their own mentions in this guide. You're basically smack-dab in the middle of classic road trip heaven, so plan to spend time exploring the area! -If you only have a short amount of time to spend here, drive SD-240, also known as the Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway. It's only 38 or so miles long, but you'll pass by 15 scenic overlooks, a visitor center, 8 trails, and numerous natural features.
Sage Creek Road, SD, US
Cedar Pass Lodge Campground offers tent and RV sites to those who want to spend the night immersed in the rugged beauty of the Badlands. Shaded picnic tables, hookups, and a convenient location near both Cedar Pass Lodge (where you can eat at the restaurant and buy supplies) and the park's amphitheater, where evening ranger programs take place, make this a perfect camping option.
109 Main St, Interior, SD, US
The Badlands are located in a pretty remote part of South Dakota, so dining options can seem few and far between. Luckily, there's always the Wagon Wheel Bar and Grill. It's nothing fancy (unless you consider the fact that they do have some craft beers on their menu to be "fancy") but you don't need fancy when you're having a great time enjoying cheeseburger pizza and chatting with the locals all night!
Badlands National Park, SD, US
At 10 miles round trip, this is the longest trail in the park and offers the most to see. You'll pass by badlands formations as you cross the park on this hike, which ends at a .25 mile interpretive boardwalk that has replicas of the fossils of now-extinct creatures before taking you back to the trailhead.
Custer State Park, Custer, South Dakota United States
1019 N. 5th Street, Custer, SD, US
Hudson, Wisconsin, United States
Summer is a popular time to visit the Badlands, but keep in mind that there are few trees and little shade to enjoy when it gets hot, and that weather can be unpredictable-- afternoon thunderstorms are quite common. There's a big motorcycle rally in nearby Sturgis in early August that can cause crowds and price spikes. Spring and fall are super pleasant as well, with lower temps and fewer crowds, and even though some facilities and roads close in the winter, the landscape is even more intriguing covered in snow.