Badlands National Park is a park found in Southwest South Dakota and a must do stop for all outdoor lovers in this part of the U.S.
The Badlands National Park was truthfully never on my list of parks to visit since I just did not know much about the park or South Dakota in general. When I first started researching the park it truly intrigued me how such a massive park had never popped up as a must visit.
The park itself is a whopping 244,000 acres and when you pull up the map of the park it is hard not to be overwhelmed. I originally planned only one day at the park and regret not giving it more time to truly explore all it has to offer.
If you only have a few hours like I did, you can still enjoy a lot of what the park has to offer but you will be left wanting to see more.
I want to highlight the 4 main things everyone needs to do while at Badlands National Park and most are accessible to everyone!
South Dakota 240 Scenic Drive
The main road of the park is also South Dakota 240 and offers 39 miles of spectacular views and breathtaking viewpoints. If there is at least one thing you do while inside of Badlands National Park this must be it. The drive can take around 1 to 1.5 hours if you drive non-stop but with all the overlooks that will be hard to do.
This was the first thing I did in the park and will go more into detail on it soon. If you are short on time this will at least guarantee you see some of the best highlights of the park without even having to walk more than a few feet from your car.
As the name makes it clear make sure to bring your camera for some of the best views in the park. The point is about halfway through the SD240 and hard to miss. The only downside is that depending on the time of day this stop might be packed. I ended up making my stop at the end of my hiking day and got to enjoy it with slim crowds.
This is not the only scenic point in the park but one of the best unobstructed view you will get while at Badlands without having to hike.
Window and Door Trail
Just like many other National Parks hiking is one of the best ways to explore Badlands and offers something for all levels of hikers. The Door and Window Trailhead are found near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. These two trails are honestly accessible to anyone due to a nice boardwalk that leads you through the moon like terrain.
Towards the end of the boardwalk you do have the choice to get off the boardwalk and explore a bit more of what Badlands has to offer. I do want to give a warning and just like the National Parks Service says this is at your own risk. The area off the boardwalk is full of drop offs and no easily viewed marked trail. I would recommend not to venture too far especially if you do not have water or other hiking gear with you.
If you or someone you are travelling with is not into hiking or unable too, I highly recommend these two trails. They are found right next to each other and in a few minutes, you get to breath some outside air and see some cool sites that you cannot reach by car.
The Notch Trail is found right next to the Window Trailhead which makes it a great third choice if you want something more challenging. The highlight of the trail comes in quickly when you must climb a wooden ladder hanging of a cliff! I cannot recommend this trail enough to anyone in even mediocre hiking shape. At just 1.5 miles it might not seem long, but it gives an unexpected challenge.
I will be going into detail on my Notch Trail experience separately since it is necessary to hike for anyone in Badlands that wants a fun and unique hike.
If you will be hiking the trailhead parking for the Window, Door and Notch trail are all in the same pull out parking area off SD240 and gives access to all these trails. You also have toilets and water fill stations right by the parking lot.
Badlands National Park quickly became a favorite park of mine which is funny to say since I think I say that about almost every National Park. While it is a bit out of the way in the central north part of the U.S. it does offer close proximity to other attractions like Custer State Park, Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial. It would be really easy to make an entire trip just for Badlands National Park but for those less inclined to hike all day the option to rest in Rapid City and have access to so many other entertainment options is great.
I truly cannot recommend this park enough and think it is worth every minute to drive or fly to this part of South Dakota.
Have you been to Badlands National Park or anywhere in South Dakota? What was your favorite part?
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