When I was just little my family took a trip to Mount Rushmore. We enjoyed the monument, and then took a look at the map. “Anyone want to go out to Badlands National Park?” my mom asked. “There’s nothing out there but rock and desert!” my dad insisted, so we didn’t go. Well, after traveling to Badlands National Park, we disagree. This is a great way to spend a day with hiking, wildlife, and scenic vistas.
The Badlands are east of Rapid City near the Minuteman Missile National Monument. Most of the best hikes are near the northeast entrance, so that is the best place to start. We tried to get to the park fairly early, because in the summer the temperatures can be near boiling. If you do visit in the summer make sure to bring lots of water, and sunscreen.
Many people take the scenic drive through the Badlands and do little else. This isn’t a bad strategy, but we really liked the hikes. You can read our roundup of the best hikes for kids in the Badlands. Choose at least two that are right for your family. Many of these hikes are fun for the kids because they are so unique.
The Badlands has a few Visitor’s Centers, but the main one is near the northeast part of the park, and is called the Ben Reifel Visitor’s Center. Our kids liked watching a movie about the creation of the Badlands. They also worked on the Junior Ranger program. This Visitor’s Center also has a nice museum that is worth the walk with hands-on activities for the children.
The Badlands seemed like a desert full of rocks to my dad, but we saw a lot of wildlife there. On one of our hikes we came across a three foot long prairie rattlesnake. He didn’t bother us, so we didn’t bother him, but he was fun to see. We also saw a few chipmunks along the trail. The really fun animals to see, though, were the prairie dogs and the bighorn sheep. In several places in the park there are massive plains that have entire cities of prairie dogs. They stand up on their hind legs and call warnings to each other if they think you’re dangerous. We watched the prairie dogs for about thirty minutes. There were thousands of them. We were also lucky enough to see the bighorn sheep. They were right next to the road in some cases, and best of all, many of them had babies! We got pretty nervous watching the babies walk right on the edge of the steep precipices, but their moms weren’t too worried about it.
Bandlands National Park is full of beautiful views as well. The unique rock formations right next to the rolling prairies make for some amazing photos. We loved every overlook because it was different than the last spot we had been to and the stops were only a few miles apart. It reminded us a lot of a mix of Bryce Canyon National Park and Goblin Valley State Park (both in Utah).
Badlands National Park is a great place to spend a day. If you make the drive to South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore, make sure you plan a day in this park, too.