Badlands National Park is the largest protected mixed grass prairie in the United States. These lands were used previously by the Native Americans for 11,000 years. The Lakota, Paleo-Indian, and Arikara people are the three affiliated tribes to this area during the early time periods. Or until they were displaced by other tribes including the Grand Sioux Nation, of which the Oglala Lakota are a part of. It was the Lakota who first named these lands “mako sika” meaning badlands. Essentially meaning, bad lands to cross. I hope you enjoy these highlights of Badlands National Park.

It was a special week when the opportunity came to visit this interesting and historical park. I never would have thought prairie lands are so amazingly beautiful. You see, I grew up in North Dakota and never made a trip south to visit the Badlands. The prairies, meadows, and valleys in these areas of the Badlands cover a large area. How big is Badlands National Park is one of the first things I asked. The protected lands of the park consist of 242,756 acres of rugged rolling hills, carved pinnacles, and grassland prairies.

badlands national park entrance
Badlands National Park entrance

Three Units in the Park

There are three primary units that comprise this national park. The Stronghold Unit, Palmer Creek Unit; which are located within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and there is the North Unit. This is the area where we did our exploring which includes the Badlands Wilderness area and Badlands Loop Road.

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These lands are some of the most desolate and isolated lands you can find. Don’t be fooled by these peaceful calm looking prairie lands. The prairie can be unforgiving from the burning sun and the dry high winds, the plants and trees can literally dry up and blow away.

Badlands national park facts
Badlands National Park

The elements may be tough out here, but the history entailing this prairie is in full abundance! The Badlands are gleaming with historical remnants and fossils. As you glance out at the landscape or hike through the mounds and spires, it feels like a journey though time.

planning a trip to Badlands national park
Badlands National Park.

Badlands Dinosaur Fossils

Badlands National Park is comprised of the world’s most significant fossil beds from the Oligocene Epoch of the Age of Mammals. (Sourced from Black Hills Vacation Guide). It is illegal for visitors to remove or collect any Badlands dinosaur fossils from these areas. Prehistoric bones are still being uncovered even today. The Fossil Preparation Lab located in the Ben Reifel Visitor Center is a great place to watch paleontologists perform their work. You can also learn about the discoveries currently happening in the park. I guess it would be like going on a Badlands fossil hunting expedition.

Plan Your Visit

When you plan to visit this park, it is a good idea to consider the seasons. In the summer, make sure to have plenty of fluids with you. In the winter, dress appropriately and make sure your vehicle is equipped for slippery roads and other scenarios, etc.

badlands dinosaur fossils
Badlands National Park

The most popular route through this park is the scenic Badlands Loop Road. When you enter the park from this Northeast Entry point, one of the first things you encounter is a beautiful overlook area that will take your breath away! We chose to enter the park at this entry because we planned to visit several sites such as Mt. Rushmore and Custer State Park heading westbound so this worked great for us!

Like it, Pin it. Badlands National Park. South Dakota.

Travel Tip:

Westbound travelers on I-90 may wish to take exit 131. SD 240 leads you to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center and Badlands Loop Road. Then SD 230 will connect back up with I-90 around exit 110, near Wall, South Dakota. For fun attractions, museum and lots of variety, stop by Wall Drug Store.

Wildlife and Plant Life in the Badlands

Beautiful landscapes, spires, and rock formations are not the only cool things you will see here. You will also find and encounter wildlife and plant life. Wandering bison may cross your path in the road or be grazing alongside the road, so please take caution when driving. Prairie dogs are abundant out on the prairie landscape, but there is another little furry guy thought once to be extinct back in 1981.

The Black footed ferret, one of the rarest mammals on earth, thought to have died out some time ago. However, these creatures were found living wild and free in the Wyoming area. During this time, Wyoming authorities created a conservation campaign to save these animals. Today, the ferrets are flourishing as scientists and biologists are hopeful about the success of this campaign.

Other animals that call this land home include mule deer, pronghorn, coyotes, and big horn sheep. Although climate can be extreme in this region, plant life is never a shortage. You will find plant grass land species anything from big bluestem and prairie cordgrass. As these lands were once a forest, you have plenty of plants such as the narrow leaf yucca and the prairie cone flower.

The Highlights of Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park

Did you know?

While visiting the Badlands, architect Frank Lloyd Wright made the following quote: “I’ve been about the world a lot, and pretty much over our own country, but I was totally unprepared for that revelation called the Dakota Bad Lands.” (Sourced from NPS brochure.)

Badlands Must See Spots

We actually did not see any wildlife in the Badlands park on this trip. But we did see some amazing sites! There are plenty of unique and beautiful canyons and rock formations here. You will also notice several scenic spots and open canyons that offer perfect photography opportunities!

The Door Trail

Get lost in the layers, canyons and spires here on the Door Trail. The sediment formations and layers will make you feel lost and alone that is for sure. This path leads you to historical fossil beds of ancient times. Ancient as in like around 30 plus million years ago.

The Highlights of Badlands National Park.
Badlands National Park South Dakota
The Notch Trail

You will be amazed at the rock formations and shapes you find in this area. It feels like you are in a different world. Hiking and exploring the trails throughout this park are a great activity and things to do in the Badlands South Dakota.

Notch Trail, Hiking Badlands National Park, South Dakota.
White River Valley Overlook

Stumble into no man’s land and be captivated by this amazingly beautiful landscape scene!

Lookouts. Views. South Dakota. Badlands National Park.
Things to do in Badlands
Burns Basin Overlook

A spectacular and interesting view of sedimentary soil and rock mounds. It sure looks so brilliant with the contrasting grasslands and open prairie!

Burns Basin Overlook. Badlands, National Park.
Burns Basin Overlook
Yellow Mounds

The multi colored red, yellow, beige soil layers represents possibly the age of this particular sediment. In a geological survey report published 2003, titled Geology of Badlands National Park, Retallack, G.J., (1983) supported the idea that the Yellow Mounds represent a paleosol, or series of paleosols, of Eocene age. He suggested that the yellow coloration of the Yellow Mounds was a result of meteoric weathering of older marine sediments exposed near the surface over a long period of time.(1)

Yellow Mounds. South Dakota. Badlands National Park.
Yellow Mounds, Badlands National Park. South Dakota
Conata Basin

Here is another colorful location of sedentary mounds and open prairie grasslands. These areas of unique stunning beauty can certainly leave you speechless.

The Highlights of Badlands National Park. Conata Basin.
Views. Conata Basin.South Dakota The Badlands
Ancient Hunters Overlook

This is an area where you may see several low areas where plant life and grasses can reside. Early prehistoric residents were able to collect rain and spring water that ended trapped in these low areas. The low areas formed as a result of active landslides in the badlands of the White River sedentary deposits. (Sourced from

Planning a trip to Badlands national park
Ancient Hunters Overlook Badlands National Park


It is essential to spend time in nature in order to be healthy in today’s modern world. Planning a trip to Badlands National Park is the perfect place to do it! I am so happy we decided to visit here. It was rejuvenating to take a road trip with my family to the beautiful state of South Dakota. The pure beauty and allure of this place will have you wanting to explore more. As I stand on these grounds, I imagine how these mounds and formations looked 37 million years ago. If you are looking for a quiet, low key, and full of nature and learning, then South Dakota is the perfect place to visit! And it’s even more special when you do it with family!

More information:

25216 Ben Reifel Road
Interior, SD 57750
Phone: (605) 433-5361
Contact Us

[1] Geology of Badlands National Park: A Preliminary Report Philip W. Stoffer

The Highlights of Badlands National Park
The Highlights of Badlands National Park


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  1. I’ve driven by badlands NP but never managed to stop. It looks unreal and like Mars or something!! Such a great post!

    1. I know,.. it was a great road trip for us, since we drove with my brother from North Dakota. It definitely is more gorgeous than I ever thought it would be! Thanks so much for reading.

  2. I’m a big dinosaur geek so I would completely love it if I came across paleontologists working. The area is so unique, we have these Badlands in Canada too with a lot of similarities, but this looks like a great trip

    1. I know!! There was a short line to enter the Visitor Center, and we needed to move on with our exploration,..but love the paleontologists doing their work so awesome! We had a fabulous trip indeed! Thank you for your comments!

  3. Looks beautiful, it’s on my list of places to check out!

    1. Yes, I recommend this park to anyone who loves nature and the outdoors; and especially history! You never know if you come across a fossil!

  4. We wanted to visit a few years ago when we went to Mount Rushmore, but ran out of time. So Badlands National Park has been on my list for quite some time. Pinning as we hope to make it out that way soon!

    1. We also spent time at Mount Rushmore, and it was so cool! The Badlands are so interesting, I hope to get back there and do more hikes and explore; actually possibly search for fossils too. 🙂 Thanks for reading!!

  5. A stunning place you have introduced me to today. The landscape is so stark. I think the white river valley outlook is where I would be off to. What a view.

    1. I know, the landscapes are just stunning. I would hate to get lost out there though, but it sure would be exciting and interesting! And definitely scenic!

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