The Badlands is just a quick stop off interstate 80 in South Dakota, but it is a world away. If you are coming from the East (exit 131) be sure to stop at the gas station at Cactus flat to fill up your car and yourself. Once you are in the park, it’s harder to come by essentials (besides going into the town of “Interior” which is located near the campground). This park has enough things to do for days, or even a quick stop if you are driving further. The Cedar Pass area has tons of hiking trails. My favorite is the Notch trail, which has a dramatic wood slat ladder that needs to be climbed in the middle of the trail, and when you get to the end… well, I won’t ruin it for you – but worth going. The Door and Window trails in this area are also worth checking out, especially if you have limited time.
The Prairie dogs look cute, until you see the signs that they carry Plague. That will motivate you to break out the zoom lens instead of trying to visit them up close!
The campground here is really nice – it has covered picnic tables which are good to block the strong sun, and the views are terrific. There is an automated system to pay, though, and when I was there I saw many people cursing at it’s bill accepting slot (I used a credit card). They say the campground rarely fills, but it was almost there when we went to sleep, so I’d guess there are some times it is worth getting in early. Ample water is here. We experienced strong nighttime wind and storms, so much so that our tent was collapsed several times until I tied off the poles with additional stakes. One thunderstorm even drove all the tent dwellers to their cars. We were told the next day that if there were a tornado, they would come around and have us take shelter in the bathrooms (!). I think I’d rather go to the recently refurbished and really nice Ben Reifel Visitor center to take shelter, it’s just up the road. It has a great museum, gift shop, and a nice theatre. On a really hot day, it’s a good mid day break from the heat.
My favorite things to do here
- Notch Trail
- Cliff Shelf Nature Trial
- Fossil Exhibit Trail
Things I want to come back to do
- Stay at the Cedar Pass Lodge
- Hike the entire Castle Trail
- Visit the White River section
- The most endangered mammal in North America (the black footed ferret) was reintroduced here
- Used to be used as a gunnery range by the US Army
- The massacre at Wounded Knee happened here
National Park Service Website: http://www.nps.gov/badl/