Badlands National Park: Land Beautiful

Native American Lakota referred to the area as mako sica, or “land bad.” When I visited the Badlands National Park in western South Dakota, I saw “land beautiful.”

Centuries ago, before modern roads and conveniences, the peaks, gullies and wide-open prairie with little water were difficult to traverse for nomadic tribes, especially in the extreme heat of summer and bitter cold of winter. Today hiking in the area is almost always purely recreational. Paved roads take you to trail heads, and unless you plan to hike cross-country, trails are short. There are still weather extremes, but when I visited in late September, the weather was picture-perfect—cool in the morning and pleasantly warm in the afternoon.

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Our travel group made two visits to the park. One afternoon we stopped at one of the many overlooks on the Badlands Loop Road for our first view of the rocky buttes with their layered, banded peaks.

Badlands National ParkBadlands National Park overlookBadlands National Park grassy areaOn another stop we climbed a short trail for another spectacular view.

Climbing the hillHowever, neither view compared to our experience the following morning when, before dawn, we made our way to an area near Notch Trail to watch the sunrise. This time we weren’t at an overlook. Rather, we walked on the craggy, rocky terrain that seemed more like Mars rather than Earth. Early morning clouds threatened rain, but as the sun rose, the clouds parted, painting a spectacular picture.

Badlands National Park near Notch TrailSunrise at Badlands National ParkSunrise in the BadlandsWatching the runrisePlant among the rocksOur treat from Mother Nature didn’t end with the sunrise. As we were on our way to breakfast, we came across a half dozen or so bighorn sheep. We pulled to the side of the road, and several people in our group walked into the prairie to photograph them. I was a bit apprehensive because of the sign we had seen a short time ago.

rattlesnake signOnce several others walked through the prairie, though, I took the same path. I couldn’t pass up this rare opportunity. The animals stood for several minutes staring at us, seemingly as fascinated by us as we were with them. And then one by one they began to lie down, once they realized we weren’t a threat. Or maybe they became bored with us.

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three bighorn sheepbighorn sheep

If you go:

Badlands National Park, located 75 miles east of Rapid City, South Dakota, is easily accessed via Interstate 90. Check the web site for directions and other park information. We saw just a small part of the park on our short visits. The National Park Service recommends spending a full two days to fully experience the park.

Where to eat and stay:

After our morning visit we ate a buffet breakfast at Cedar Pass Lodge, located at the east end of the park. Cabins and a campground are available.

Disclosure: My visit to Badlands National Park was hosted by the South Dakota Department of Tourism. However, all opinions in this article are my own.

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18 thoughts on “Badlands National Park: Land Beautiful

  • August 25, 2015 at 10:05 pm
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    Such an incredibly beautiful place. Just peaceful and so wide!

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    • August 27, 2015 at 8:33 pm
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      I had no idea what Badlands National Park looked like before I went there. I was surprised by how beautiful it is.

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  • August 26, 2015 at 2:27 pm
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    Stunning pics! An area I never heard of (but I guess that’s not so uncommon for a European :- ))

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    • August 27, 2015 at 8:35 pm
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      We had several Europeans in our travel group. I think they were all surprised at how much there is to see and do in western South Dakota.

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  • August 26, 2015 at 2:27 pm
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    You should go a bit farther north and check out the badlands in Alberta one day. Plus if you’re interested in that type of thing, they have a really cool dinosaur museum, The Royal Trryell Museum.

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    • August 27, 2015 at 8:38 pm
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      Thanks, Janna, for the suggestion. I’ll definitely add Alberta’s badlands and dinosaur museum to the list. We do want to get back to Canada. it’s been several years since we’ve been there, and we’ve loved every trip we’ve taken to Canada.

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  • August 27, 2015 at 4:37 am
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    Beautiful photos! This place looks lovely, I love hiking so thanks for putting this place on my radar! I hadn’t heard of it before.

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    • August 27, 2015 at 8:39 pm
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      There is a lot to do in western South Dakota, Maria. Lots of national and state parks.

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  • August 28, 2015 at 12:38 pm
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    Jaw dropping beautiful. I would have never guessed without reading this post and seeing the pictures. A few friends of mine have recently been to the US – some for honeymoons and other on road trips. I wish I had seen this post sooner and I would have recommended they visit!

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    • September 3, 2015 at 7:32 pm
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      For years I wanted to go to South Dakota to see some of the national monuments but never realized how beautiful the area is until I visited.

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  • August 29, 2015 at 1:15 pm
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    I didn’t make it to Badlands during my own recent visit to South Dakota, but it sure looks like a great way to immerse myself in gorgeous scenery, as well as see some beautiful wildlife. The same rugged landscape that gave the area its name is stunning to look at. Great job capturing that aesthetic splendor in your photos.

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    • September 3, 2015 at 7:33 pm
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      Thank you, Harvey. All of western South Dakota is beautiful, or at least what I’ve seen of it.

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  • August 30, 2015 at 6:28 pm
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    I love seeing animals while travelling, although I’m quite cautious so I may have just stayed up back with my zoom lens.

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    • September 3, 2015 at 7:35 pm
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      I was able to mostly stay behind some of the others who were taking photos too. I figured the bighorn sheep would attack the closest first. LOL

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  • August 30, 2015 at 11:11 pm
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    You’re so lucky to see the bighorn sheep! We looked long and hard in the Badlands earlier this summer.

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    • September 3, 2015 at 7:38 pm
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      We really were lucky. The park ranger told us they rounded them up and put them there for us. Right.

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  • August 31, 2015 at 11:23 pm
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    Such a beautiful place! the more i see of the USA i just need to spend more time there! there are just so many places to see!

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    • September 3, 2015 at 7:39 pm
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      There are a lot of places to see in the U.S. I’ve lived here all my life, and although I’ve traveled quite a bit still haven’t seen enough of it.

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