How to see the Badlands

It’s best to see the Badlands at sunrise and twilight to appreciate their beauty in these two different lights. We drove the 240 loop, hiked the trails and saw plenty of wildlife.

How To See the Badlands of SD

Driving toward Kadoka, we pondered how we were going to actually “do”
the Badlands. Our plans were to spend a couple days, and we wanted to
make sure we got the most out of our stop. Here are some suggestions
based on our experience:

  • Be sure to see this landscape at sunrise and at twilight time.   We
    agree with what we have read – this is when the landscape is most
    beautiful. The nuances of morning and evening light make it worth
    seeing at both times.

  • So you have to get up early. We suggest you stay
    in the park overnight. Not only will it be easier to catch the sunrise
    view, it will also be convenient to tour around at twilight. We stayed
    at Cedar Pass National Park Campground and were also able to catch an
    informative ranger-led program on the geology of the area, held
    right at the campground at 9 pm under the stars. The Ben Reifel Visitor
    Center is located in the Cedar Pass area as well. Dry camping is $10
    at Cedar Pass.

The NPS also operates a primitive campground in Sage Creek area.
Other private campgrounds nearby are Badlands Interior Campground and
Circle 10 Campground.

  • Another advantage to getting up early is that you
    will also be more likely to see wildlife. After you catch the sunrise
    view, head over to Sage Creek Rim Road to catch the wildlife. This road
    intersects with highway 240 just west of the Pinnacles Overlook. Go
    slow – the road is a bit rough at the start, and slower speeds will make
    it more likely to see wildlife anyway. We saw bison, mule deer,
    prairie dogs, rabbits, big horn sheep and pronghorn antelope. We got a
    kick out of the prairie dogs!

  • The main road through the Badlands is Highway 240,
    known as the Badlands Loop Road. Off interstate 90, you can get onto
    240 at exit 110 (Wall) or 131 (Cactus Flat). Depending on your route
    and plans, you can take it in either direction. A tip: if you are
    trying to catch the sunrise view, head west so that the sun is behind
    you (not in your eyes), and is lighting up the formations in front of
    you. And vice versa – head east if you are trying to catch the evening
    light.

  • Do take a hike. The National Park Service brochures include a
    map and trail descriptions. The Door, Window, Fossil Exhibit and Cliff
    Shelf Nature Trails are all easy walks. The Notch is more challenging
    but doable and offers a great view of the white River Valley. We also
    climbed up the Saddle Pass trail and then around the Medicine Root Trail
    and part of Castle Trail. If you hike Saddle Pass, you may note that
    it is more difficult getting back down than it is making the climb up.
    Bear in mind that the sandstone of the formations crumbles easily – so
    be careful when trying to use the rock wall as a hand hold. Cautions
    aside, there is a nice view from the top of Saddle Pass.

  • Take pictures! There are a lot of overlooks along
    the Badlands Loop where you can get some good shots. We were also able
    to get good shots of wildlife from Sage Creek Rim Road.

  • Check out the park programs for guided nature walks or other informative programs.

Wall Drug: While you are in the area, you will probably
want to stop at Wall Drug. The history of this widely proclaimed store
is interesting. And there are a few chuckles, some art work and
decorative touches to see. But not being shoppers, we didn’t need to
spend a lot of time in Wall (the drugstore or the town). We figured we
should at least see it while in the neighborhood. Since it is a
convenient stop when visiting the Badlands, go ahead and make the stop
and see what it’s all about.

After the Badlands, we were off to the Black Hills

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