Badlands National Park
Updated: May 7, 2022
Why it is great for kids
Hike miles of free range exploration.
Room for running, climbing, hide and seek, and jumping
bison, big horn sheep, and other animals
Big Rig friendly: nice if you just want to get out and stretch on your way to other destinations
The Badlands were designated a National Monument in 1929. It took until 1978 to become a National Park. The park protects 240,000 acres of rock formations and grass prairie. According to the National Park Service the rocks were "deposited as early as 75 million years ago and began eroding just 500,000 years ago." Whenever it rains, you can see the erosion continue.
To drive up to the Badlands is to experience it as it should be introduced. The Badlands actually are below the road and similarly appear to be below the prairie. We were completely surprised by this discovery. For miles, you get this tease of a view, as some of the buttes outside the Badlands appear among the prairie. With these small views of what the Badlands will look like, we couldn't wait to get out, stretch our legs and take a look around. The views through the windshield were more than we ever expected. Can I say extraordinary?
Unfortunately........we were low on diesel and I have a thing for making sure I don't run low on fuel. So, I chose to stop at the filling station before the Northeast entrance. The Badlands Trading Post was setup for anyone to come in and get fuel and was in a convenient location for us. However, it felt like the slowest refueling stop we've ever been to. Once completed we rolled on through the Northeast entrance.
With the anticipation killing us, we stopped at Big Badlands Overlook, the first overlook inside the Northeast entrance of the park. It was breathtaking. Big Badlands Overlook is setup for big rigs with 10 pull through parking sites. Easy in, easy out. Just the way I like it. The overlook is nice with a boardwalk 450 feet long that allows you to walk into the landscape and take the immersed view that you will most certainly be yearning for. There are places to step off and get closer. We did see signs for rattlesnakes however, we never saw one. We recommend stopping here for a quick look.
We then stopped at the Door Trailhead. Again the parking lot is large and big rig accessible. There are three other trails that start at this parking lot including the Window Trail, Castle Trail and Notch Trail. The Door trail starts as a boardwalk about 700ft long with an overlook. Near the end of the boardwalk there are steps leading down into the badlands with numbered poles to mark the path. It was a lot of fun exploring. We were all able to explore, climb rocks, and it was an adventure looking for the next trail marker to move us along.
The next morning we planned on hiking more however, the rain made the trails slippery and we checked out a few viewpoints instead. The rain did make even walking treacherous on the rock trails. During the rain, we did watch the water erode away the stone. All the little water flowing carried white sediment to the White River. The River was truly a milky white due to the sediment of the badlands eroding into the water system.
In summary the Badlands is a desolate place with a lot of beauty. Look out for wildlife close up and in the distance. We saw Bison, prairie dogs, mule deer, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep. The sun changes the colors dramatically. If you have time see sunrises and sunsets. The rock climbing is very cool and running and playing hide and seek offers a great time. The scenery from the viewpoints are worth the trip. To learn more about the badlands geology, wildlife, and prairie visit the National Park Service, here: https://www.nps.gov/badl/learn/nature/index.htm