This post is a part of my Black Hills Road Trip Series
Many people choose to visit South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore, but there is so much more to the state than just seeing the men in the mountain!
One of my favorite “alternate activities” was a nearby geological wonder. The reasons to visit Badlands National Park are boundless, but I’ve narrowed it down to my top ten.
10 Reasons To Visit Badlands National Park South Dakota
Its Convenient Location
Badlands National Park is a quick one hour drive from “Mount Rushmore hub” Rapid City, South Dakota and only 84 miles from the memorial itself, making it a viable and accessible option for tourists looking for other interesting things to do while visiting South Dakota.
It makes a perfect day trip from Rapid City, or pit stop on your way back east if you drove to see Mount Rushmore.
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The Cute Prairie Dogs
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Y’all. Never in my life have I seen such adorable, chunky, and chatty prairie dogs as I did during my trip. They are reason enough to visit Badlands National Park.
Since I visited at the beginning of Spring, the little guys were just awakening from their winter stupor and were having a little bit of trouble navigating the entrances to their tunnels as they hadn’t quite started working on their summer bods yet.
It was very entertaining to see…like watching a tube of Pillsbury dough explode.
The Badlands Hiking Trails
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Perhaps the number one reason most people want to visit Badlands National Park is the hiking trails. There are steep, rugged trails. Flat, accessible trails. Long trails. Short trails. Easy trails. Hard trails. All kinds of ’em!
I’m not an expert hiker and definitly prefer moseying along a scenic byway as opposed to breaking a sweat, so I appreciated the variety of trails available.
The Breathtaking Views
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This reason goes along with hiking because as I attempted a trail that was harder than I thought it would be, I found myself needing to stop and “admire the views” quite often, if you know what I mean.
I’m still not sure if I couldn’t breathe because of how beautiful the Badlands looked glowing in the afternoon sun, or if because I was (and still am) very out of shape.
Be sure to build enough time into your visit to take a moment to appreciate the beauty of the Badlands!
The Movie Moments
- Mount Rushmore Movie Scene: Films Made in South Dakota
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- Crazy Horse Memorial South Dakota: History in Construction since 1948
Did you know that Badlands National Park was the Dances with Wolves filming location? The 1992 film Thunderheart was also partially filmed inside the park.
This is one of my favorite reasons to visit Badlands National Park. It’s such a cinematic place, as soon as you arrive you’ll understand why Hollywood couldn’t stay away.
I also love seeing where movies were filmed, as it’s kind of like meeting a celebrity in its own way, so make sure to watch both of the films before visiting!
The Wide Open Spaces
Big, blue South Dakota sky. Miles and miles of prairie land, stretching as far as you can see.
I think sometimes it’s easy to get wrapped up in ourselves. Whether we spend all of our time worrying about inconsequential things or acquiring a false sense of importance, a visit to the Badlands is almost spiritual in that it can instantly dispel both of these feelings.
Its wide open spaces remind you how small you are, but just like the insect buzzing from flower to flower, the deer drinking from the stream, or the mighty stone rising from the earth, you have a purpose and you have a place.
The Native American History
The Badlands and surrounding areas have been sacred to many Native American tribes for thousands of years. For nearly 11,000 years, the area was home to paleo-Indians, the Arikara, and more recently, the Lakota and the Sioux. The hunting near the Badlands was particularly good and the rock formations offered natural fortifications and vantage points.
However, as a young United States pushed west, the Native Tribes were violently pushed off the land they called home and often forced into reservations. The conflict between American Homesteaders and the Plains Tribes cumulated in the Wounded Knee Massacre, a shameless slaughtering of the Native people about 45 miles from the park.
A visit to the Badlands can help expand understanding of a terrible event often omitted, or barely mentioned, in formal eduction.
The Unique Vegetation and Wildlife
Called “the Badlands” by Native peoples because of the area’s harsh terrain and weather conditions, the lands within the park still support a plethora of life. There are prairie dogs, rabbits, deer, sheep, bison, and even coyotes out all the prowl. Although thankfully I didn’t come across any during my visit.
Make it a game and see how many you can spot during your time there!
I only took one geology class in college, but it was enough to get me hooked! I love rocks. They rock.
The rock formations in the Badlands are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The subtle tans, reds, and browns of each stone are so lovely they look painted and the varied jagged peaks of each mountain are thrown together with such clumsy perfection you’d think they were created simply to be photographed.
I imagine there are more specific and science-y components of the Badlands to be explored, but it’s all still pretty cool, even to my untrained eyes.
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Emily’s all over the place. She’s an expert on working holidays, studying abroad, and turning your #GapYear into a #GapLife. Learn how here.
Who’s your travel buddy? She looks like she’s having a “bad” time…
Yeah idk why I keep taking her along 😉
I’ve never heard of this place before but it looks really cool! Would be a bit scared of the coyotes though 😀
It is SO cool. Luckily I didn’t see any — only cute prairie dogs 🙂
This is definitely inspiring me to put the Badlands on my list for American travel! I’m thinking of taking a road trip around the US next year! 🙂
You are going to have such a good time!
I have never heard of this park before! Looks pretty neat but I think I would be super afraid of the coyotes!
I didn’t see any — you should be fine 🙂
These are all great reasons to visit the park. We especially loved the rugged landscape, and felt like we were on a different planet! We loved the Notch Trail in particular.
While in the area, we recommend visiting Custer State Park as well-it is incredible, and only about 90 minutes away.
I wish I had time for Custer on this trip! Although I am always looking for reasons to go back!!