Spread across the plains of South Dakota lies a unique gem that is as well known for its fossils as its beauty… the Badlands. I was pleasantly surprised when we visited this summer. The colors and landscape are stunning in areas. And… it’s conveniently located about fifteen minutes from Wall, South Dakota- famous for their Wall Drug Store– and the Minuteman Missile Silo. Depending on your direction it’s on the way to see Mt Rushmore.
One of the kids’ favorite things to do in a national park is to look for wildlife. The Badlands are not without their share. Bison, prairie dogs, big horn sheep and black-footed ferrets roam the prairie. Their favorite was the prairie dogs. We must have sat there in the car watching them and listening to their calls for about twenty minutes. Their homes dotted the sides of the road like giant ant mounds. We did see a few bison and even a couple of big horn sheep. It was so much fun to see the kids react to seeing these extraordinary creatures!
There’s plenty for the kids to do and learn. Before taking the 45-minute drive through the park, stop by the visitor’s center (about five miles from the gate entrance on the northeast side of the park). There’s a museum inside that explains the erosion process, as well as a variety of fossils that have been found in the area. Of course, there’s also the Jr. Ranger program where the kids can learn about the Badlands and the environment surrounding them. After completing the prescribed packet of information, each child gets a badge and/or patch. There might be fees involved, so check their website or call ahead of time for more information. If you have a National Parks passport book, you can have them stamped at no additional cost. Our kids love to get theirs stamped!
Hiking is a popular activity in the Badlands. The trails vary in size and difficulty. It’s strongly recommended that you bring a generous portion of water with you as you hike. The temperatures can be a little warm so wear a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. There are some boardwalks but not many, so keep that in mind before breaking out the stroller or wheelchair. Wear good walking shoes. Most of the hiking surfaces are uneven and may require some shoes with better grips than sandals/ flip flops. Keep a look out for snakes while hiking during the summer. There are plenty of shrubs and bushes for the snakes to hide. One thing I thought was interesting about the Badlands is that they allow more “back country hiking” with the knowledge that the individual is responsible for any personal injury.
If you’re interested in visiting the Minuteman Missile Museum make sure you go by there first to get your return tickets. While you’re waiting for your assigned return time you can explore the Badlands. Check out our article for more details.
When we visited, our family thought the Badlands looked a lot like the painted desert.
Pets are permitted with certain restrictions. Check the national park website or call them for more information about bringing pets. There are picnic areas scattered throughout the park. Also, there are two campgrounds for those interested in camping. They are open year round and is limited to 14 days. No campfires or collection of wood is permitted due to the potential danger of fire. For more information, visit the Badlands National Park website at http://www.nps.gov/badl/index.htm or call the park headquarters at (605) 433-5361.