I was really excited about visiting this park. I had read that the Badlands were one of Teddy Roosevelt’s favorite places. Teddy Roosevelt was the conservation president. He designated twenty three sites spread across America that would become part of the National Park Service. He also has six National Parks bearing his name or image (Mount Rushmore). He had been everywhere and seen it all as far as wilderness areas. If the Badlands impressed him then I needed to see them.
They didn’t disappoint. The park is 244,000 acres of mixed grass prairie and rock formations. It’s a hotbed for fossils. We heard a park ranger tell a group that there is a fossil found here literally everyday. There is signage everywhere telling you the protocol for what to do if you spot a fossil. In 2010, a 7 year old girl named Kylie found a saber tooth cat skull near the visitor center. There’s even a working paleontology lab next to the bookstore where you can watch scientist work cleaning and identifying fossils.
Beyond fossils, people are drawn to this park for the wildlife. We saw bison, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and prairie dogs. It was incredible.
Pronghorn are North America’s version of an antelope. They are the fastest land mammal we have. They can clock a 55mph run. As such, none of us got a decent picture of one.
We also saw cliff swallows. These ambitious birds found a way to thrive in this hostile environment. They build gourd shaped nest that I think resemble a wasps next. Nests are made up of pellets of mud that the bird carries back to build with. Amazingly, each nest is made up of about 1200 mud pellets!
We are a family of hunters. So, we had pretty good luck finding animals trying to camouflage themselves in the terrain. We spotted the mountain goats by sitting with binoculars and patiently glassing the rock faces. If you are going to visit this park, look near the Pinnacles Overlook for sheep and goats. Guide books tell you to check Sage Creek Rim Road for bison. But, we saw them near the Pinnacles Entrance.
The most memorable part of Badlands for me wasn’t the fossils or the amazing wildlife. For me, the highlight was the rock formations and gorgeous otherworldly scenery.
There were so many colors and different rock formations. We walked and walked and just kept finding ourselves staring dumbfounded by the beauty around us. These pictures just don’t do justice to the stunning vistas we saw.
We even came back later in the evening to watch the sunset. But, a storm was moving in and the sky was cloudy.
We loved the Badlands. If you decide to visit this park, we suggest taking tons of water. The park service suggests 2 quarts per person per hour. It is hot. You will also want to remember sun protection. A big hat, sunblock, and sunglasses are a must. A lot of the rocks are white and with the sun reflection, it can be very difficult to see. Also, make sure you fill the gas tank before entering the park. This is the type of park where you’ll do more driving and less hiking. The best way to see it is to drive the loop roads and take advantage of all the places to pull over and park. Most trails are very short. Wear appropriate shoes. A lot of the soil in very clay-like in consistency. It cakes up on the soles of your shoes and can make it hard to traverse in some areas. We saw people in slide-style sandals falling and struggling to walk.
Binoculars are super helpful to spot wildlife and you will be very disappointed if you forget your camera.
Overall, we loved our time here. It is a must-see spot in South Dakota.