The Badlands National Park was established as a National Monument in 1939. In 1978 it was redesignated as Badlands National Park. Approximately one million visitors come each year to visit the 244,000-acre park it is also the largest protected mixed grass prairie in the US.
Badlands Loop Road
We decided to drive the Badlands Loop which cuts through the park from the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to Highway 240. The loop is a scenic road 42 miles long with 11 overlook points. Each overlook point gives views of the area’s well-known spires, pinnacles, deep canyons, and eroded buttes.
At around the 5th parking lot overlook, the kids were bored with the park and were asking for their electronic binkies. It did not help that it was getting close to lunchtime and even though I had packed snacks when it’s noon, that Boy wants to eat.
Time to Visit
We spent about 2.5 hours in the park. We did see some prairie dogs and bighorn sheep. You can probably see more wildlife if you hike. The park is home to coyotes, porcupine, bighorn sheep, fox, bobcats, bison, prairie dogs, and ferrets. Be aware that there are rattlesnakes in the area. There are seven trails to walk in the park they range from the Fossil Exhibit Trail of 0.25 miles to the Castle Trail of 10 miles.
The Badlands were not a kid-pleaser in my family. That might be my fault, if I had broken up the trip with a picnic lunch, hiking, or attending a junior ranger program; perhaps my kids would have liked the park more.
Tips for Visiting:
- Ranger Programs are offered throughout the summer. The programs include a Geology Walk, Fossil Talk, Junior Ranger Program, Prairie Walk, Night Sky Program, and Evening Program.
- If your crew feels like hiking, the Badlands Loop offers 3 Easy hikes. Door Trail is 0.75 miles. Both Fossil Exhibit Trail and Window Trail are 0.25 miles.
- Sage Creek Rim Road is unpaved but great for viewing wildlife.
- Don’t miss Big Badlands Overlook, Pinnacles Overlook, and Yellow Mounds Overlook.
- Watch out for rattlesnakes!
- Review the maps of the park before your visit to help plan your trip.
- Bring plenty of water and snacks.
- The Fossil Preparation Lab at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center is a working paleontological laboratory.
- The park’s first suggested name when proposed as a national park was Wonderland National Park.
- Visitors can see more than 7500 stars during the Night Sky Viewing with park rangers and astronomy volunteers.