“There is a delight in the hardy life of the open. There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness [or] reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Badlands National Park is known for its rugged landscapes and unforgiving climate. The way the buttes, mountains, and gorges are juxtaposed against the flat prairies gives the park an otherworldly feel, almost like being on the moon. If the moon was dry and 90-degrees.
The harsh landscape and scorching temperatures make hiking in this park a challenge for those in less than good shape. However, there are ways for everyone else, including children and handicapped adventurers, to experience some of the coolest views in this desolate park.
FOSSIL EXHIBIT TRAIL, 0.25 miles round trip, very easy
“Fully accessible boardwalk trail features fossil replicas and exhibits of now extinct creatures that once roamed the area.” (From NPS)
This trail is actually just a pleasant little stroll along a flat boardwalk featuring displays of fossil replicas of critters that used to live in Badlands. Science and geology enthusiasts will totally dig this trail.
It’s a good option for those who want to get out of their cars and explore the terrain but aren’t quite up for a full hike.
Besides the Fossil Exhibit Trail, the only other option for easy sightseeing in Badlands is to take a drive on Highway 240, the Badlands Loop Road.
The Badlands Loop Road is a paved, 2-lane road that takes visitors through some of the most scenic areas of the park. It is basically a scenic drive with turnouts along the way offering spectacular photo ops and displays featuring info about the park (history, geology, etc. You know, your standard informational displays).
Highway 240 begins and ends at Interstate 90, so even if you are just passing through South Dakota, it’s worth taking the detour. You can exit I-90 at Hwy 240 no matter which way you are heading, drive the road through the park to check out the sights, and then follow it right back onto I-90. You’re still covering ground and working your way across the state, but this way you’ll get to see some really amazing things instead of just a regular old freeway. It’ll only take an hour or so, and is absolutely time well spent.
As a side note, the west end of Hwy 240 puts you on I-90 right at Wall Drug. If you’re familiar with Wall Drug, then you already know that you need to stop there, and if not, check out my blog post on Wall! There is no better place to stop for a break in all of South Dakota.
For those already staying in the park, head west on Hwy 240 from the visitor center to see all the scenic viewpoints. Once you exit the park, you can either turn around and go back the way you came or get on I-90 east to complete the loop, exiting I-90 at Hwy 240’s east end and taking it back into the park to return you to the visitor center.
For anyone interested, here is a link for a map of Badlands National Park, including the Badlands Loop Road.
Well, that actually wraps up the information portion of this post. And so I will leave you with a few of my favorite photos I took along the scenic drive, cause who couldn’t use some pretty pictures to help get through the work day?
The views are even better in real life, I promise.