Badlands National Park is a well-known park and fairly popular to those traveling either east or west along the I-90 through South Dakota. It’s a beautiful area of towers and crests made up of layers of mounding rock and sediment. Depending on the time of day, the deep red, yellow, orange, brown, and gray layers of earth either shine in the sun or deepen in rich intensity creating a vibrant scene in every direction. There is also a very diverse group of animals including endangered species that call this region home: buffalo, birds, reptiles, insects, and small mammals inhabit this unique area from the tops of needle spires, to the grassy plains that surround, and under rocks and in burrows deep within the crevasses of the mounds.
Most who visit Badlands National Park observe it from Badlands Loop Road, which isn’t much of a loop, unless you count the I-90 outside of the park part of the loop. The road begins on one side and leads to the opposite side of the park. From the road the visitor can view the beauty that is this park, and many leave it at that. However, there is much more to this park than the road, parking overlooks, and visitor centers.
Backcountry access and camping is allowed and there is no need for permits, campers just need to contact staff members at one of the visitor centers to register. Though the park may be small there is an abundance of wilderness to explore. There are miles of trails that wind through the grasslands and pinnacles; some trails even lead high up into the mounds, which believe it or not can be rather strenuous. There are eight trails that explore the park, which vary between .25 miles (0.4Km) and 10 miles (16Km) and are illustrated on a smaller map within the map received upon entrance of the park. Every trail is named and designated by its own color markers to follow. Each leads through a unique park of the park and offers its own adventure and alluring views. You can, however, customize your own journey since many paths intersect and can be followed however you choose.
There are two sanctioned campgrounds within the first is park Cedar Pass Campground. Cedar Pass is a normal pay campground where the fee depends on what kind or accommodations you would like. The other is Sage Creek Campground. This campground is free and first-come first-served, though it rarely fills. It’s a gravel loop away from the main section of the park but set in a pleasant grassy area next to a creek and hillside where buffalo are not uncommon. Many pitch tents here while others sleep in their cars. Rangers are happy to help you find it, they just don’t
There’s a lot to this park and it’s very enjoyable. While many cruise the road quickly getting a snapshot of what it offers, you can get the authentic experience and soak it all in on one of the lesser traveled trails in the quiet backcountry.