The Badlands National Park is what I affectionately like to call a “flyover park”. It’s actually one of my favorite Midwestern parks but it gets constantly overlooked due to its location in relation to the more popular Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks! While it’s technically possible to do all three of these parks as a road trip, it’s a heck of a drive.
The Park’s relative lack of popularity has been a boon in recent times given the exponential increase of new visitors to the National Parks. Listen, I love and welcome all of the new travelers, but sometimes I’m looking for something a little more quiet.
Much like Goblin Valley State Park, many of these unique rock formations were created by a process of deposition and erosion. It almost looks like someone had taken an inverse of all the missing bits of the Grand Canyon and planted it a few miles away in the Badlands. I particularly liked the red gold and green valleys of the Yellow Mounds that felt very unique to the park, though I learned the hard way that climbing around on the side of the road after a rainstorm would result in sticky clay absolutely gluing itself to my shoes.
We didn’t have the time to do too much hiking here, but I recommend taking a drive through Badlands Loop Road, which is technically a scenic byway starting and ending on Route I-90 There are plenty of beautiful overlooks on this trail so be ready to hop in and out of your car- even if you’re not planning on doing much hiking. Don’t forget to make a stop at Wall Drug right outside the park!
Having booked a night in Wall, we started from there at the Pinnacles Entrance and it did seem to be the most popular choice despite the Visitor’s Center being at the opposite end of the road. I was a particular fan of the Yellow Mounds Overlook, the Pinnacle Overlook and Panorama Point, and I loved how the park had such a range of geological features in such a small space.
Despite the arid ecology of the park, we did spot an abundance of wildlife. There were, of course, plenty of buffalo right outside and I was particularly fond of the Bighorn Sheep scaling the cliffs in the park- we even saw some babies!
So what makes the Badlands so bad? Well, it’s actually a geological term describing a dry terrain where the soft rock has been eroded over time. This type of land is not exclusive to the park and is actually found in locations all over the world, creating beautiful landscapes of carved stone. Not so bad after all!