This post is part of a series where we visit many of our beautiful national parks.
For many travelers, the Badlands National Park is the first park they visit as they travel west. Situated just south of I-90, it is an easy side trip and well worth the time it takes to drive through the park.
There is no indication that there is anything special ahead as you head west on I-90. The terrain is more rolling hills the further you go. You will also notice as you drive west across South Dakota there is less and less agriculture and more ranches. There is no dramatic visual clues like a moutain range far off in the distance that an incredible landscape is just over the horizon.
The Badlands form a huge natural barrier that from the north is barely noticable, but from the south the Badlands are a formidable obstacle. For nearly 100 miles the cliffs and pinnacles formed by water erosion create an eerie landscape that is the backdrop for bison, bighorn and pronghorn sheep.
As you head towards the park from either the east or west end off I-90, you have to go south about 8 miles to the park entrance. We actually rode motorcycles through the park on the Forth of July this year. The park was busy but not too crowded. This is more of transit park that you drive through on the way somewhere else. Unless you are really interested in this specific area you don’t need to spend more than a day to see the highlights of the park.
The highway 240 loop road is scenic and has lots of overlooks and places to pull over to take photographs and take in the views. The visitor center is at the east end of the park, so if you prefer to become more familiar with what the park has to offer before you drive the loop, you should start on the east end. There is food available there as well.
We have driven highway 44 from the visitor center to Rapid City. It is not really that spectacular. Nice scenery and you are off the freeway which is a nice change of pace. The Highway 240 loop hits the highlights of the park.
North of the west end of the highway 240 loop is the town of Wall. This is the home of Wall Drug which has pretty much taken over the town and it is quite the tourist destination. You will be seeing billboards advertising Wall Drug for hundreds of miles as you drive across South Dakota in either direction. There are several dining options in Wall as well.
We created these 360 degree panoramas at several locations in the park so you get an idea of what you will see. This first one is from the overlook by the east entrance to the park. You can move through the park and see different panoramas by clicking on the portals.
Captain Dan’s Travel tips: Do take the time to at least drive the highway 240 loop. Most of the scenic overlooks are easy to get to are worth the walk from the parking areas. If you like ultra touristy traps go to Wall Drug. If you don’t like tourist traps avoid the Wall area. If you are planning to visit several national parks buy the annual park pass. It is a good deal. If you are 62 you can buy the lifetime pass for $10.
More photos of the Badlands:
For more national parks click HERE.