Badlands Badlands. Heading to Badlands National Park in South Dakota essentially put us over the midway point in our North American road trip. Half way points always cause mixed emotions in my experience. Canada and western United States had dished up such magnificent scenery and amazing experiences and I doubted the east could match it. At the same time living on the road can get tiring so it was comforting to see that we were making good distance and time and that our camper van was still running strong.
Click for the National Park Service map of Badlands National Park.
Driving into Badlands National Park was pretty low key. It’s prairie country and although beautiful in its simplicity, compared to other national parks we’d recently visited there was not a lot to see. This was until the earth abruptly fell away and we found ourselves driving along the edge of a sandstone cliff. Badlands country is unique and I really enjoyed our time here because of the unique scenery, the tranquillity and the slightly more laid back nature compared to other national parks we had stayed in.
We watched prairie dogs doing their thing in the prairies; you can find Robert’s Prairie Dog Town down Sage Creek Rim Road. We photographed bighorn sheep along the cliff edges (also on the Sage Creek Rim Road), we enjoyed the clean air and a beautiful sunset and marvelled in the simplicity of the park. There is a free primitive campsite (Sage Creek at the end of Sage Creek Rim Road) which worked fine for us. Plus during your time in Badlands you should drive the scenic drive and visit the visitors centres – one open year round with night sky ranger programs in the summer.
The scenic drive, oddly named Badlands Loop Road despite not being a loop (At least inside the park) takes you through the dramatic scenery changes the park offers. The area is home to many fossils and archaeological findings, there is even a short walk solely oriented at the archaeological fossil history (Fossil Exhibit Trail). Unlike many of the national parks we’d previously visited, Badlands is not so much targeted towards the hiker – there are fewer walks and they tend to be short (That said, there is the Castle Trail – a 5 hour round trip). Back country camping is currently allowed without permits and would be a nice way of experiencing the park and the peace it offers.
Last time we’d seen bighorn sheep was briefly in Glacier National Park; we’d looked for them in Rocky Mountain National Park where we’d heard we’d have a good chance of spotting them on the eastern side, but no luck.
Overall Badlands offers up 244,000 acres of land, some of which I can attest to being quite spectacular. The area is home to bighorn sheep and prairie dogs which we saw; but also bison, coyotes, black-footed ferrets and swift foxes which we didn’t see – we were particularly hoping to spot the black-footed ferrets.
What do you think of bighorn sheep? A little scruffy…