I was blessed this summer to visit the Badlands for the second time in five years. I enjoyed it probably even more the second time because my wife and I were able to share the experience with our kids.
I love the Badlands because of the otherworldly feeling it stirs in me. It might be compared to walking on a moonscape. It is one of the most unique places I’ve ever experienced. The Badlands are also quiet and lonely. If you want to be by yourself in near total silence, the Badlands are the place to go. And the optimal time of the day to go in my mind is in the evening at sunset. You will enjoy incredible, panoramic views in a photographer’s dreamscape.
“…I was totally unprepared for that revelation called the Dakota Bad Lands….what I saw gave me an indescribable sense of mysterious elsewhere…” Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935
I’m a fan of the original series of Star Trek from the 1960’s. If you’ve seen it, you probably remember the strange colored skies when the crew beams down to various planets. The Badlands sort of remind me of those sets. You’ll see colors and hues that you’re not used to seeing everyday. It’s an eerie experience, but in a good way.
There is an intangible quality about the Badlands that touches you in a special way. We prayed as a family in the park, thanking God for the beauty of His creation. When we left the park this time, my wife played some Christian hymns in the car over the radio. I felt a peace and perspective that wasn’t there before.
So if you haven’t been to the Badlands, I encourage you to go. The first time we went, we made the mistake of trying to go in from the south, and we ended up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. You probably don’t want to take that route because it’s not where the heart of the park lay. If you’re near Rapid City, you’ll want to take I-90 East and get off at exit 110 at Wall (if you have time, you can visit Wall Drug Store, a pretty unique place as well). Then go South on the 240 Badlands Loop Road until you get to the Pinnacles Entrance. If you’re coming in on I-90 West, then you can take exit 131, and head south for the 240 Badlands Loop Road, using the Northeast Entrance (there is a Minuteman Missile National Historic Site nearby that we didn’t get to visit). There is a fee to get into the Badlands that is based upon how many passengers are in your car. We paid $30 to get in.
You can drive through the park fairly quickly. Along the road, there are scenic overlooks where you can get out of your car and enjoy spectacular views. There are also some walking trails. You should reserve at least two hours for the park. But you’ll probably need more time if you really want to explore the park in depth. You could easily spend a whole day there if you wanted. If you have little kids, be careful at the Pinnacles Overlook. There is steep, sharp terrain, and it is important to watch your step when you get out of the car.
The first time we went we ran out of daylight near the end of the Badlands Loop Road, but there was a cafe in the park that we ate at. I remember the food being pretty tasty, and there was also a nice gift shop where you can get some souvenirs and t-shirts. There is also a Visitor Center nearby.
Don’t miss the Notch, Door, and Window Trails near the Northeast Entrance. This is one of the best views in the park, especially at sunset. If you enter at the Pinnacles Entrance, this will be near the end of the loop before you exit. We actually missed it the first time we went because it was dark when we drove by it. We almost missed it this time as well, but my wife mentioned it as we drove by, and we got out to look at it. I’m so glad we did. The picture above is from the Notch overlook.
The Badlands are probably one of the most underrated National Parks. Many people haven’t even heard of it. But it is definitely worth a trip to South Dakota to check it out. And there are plenty of other things to see in southwest South Dakota as well–like a place you may have heard of, Mount Rushmore.