It’s National Park Week in the United States this week (April 16-24) and even though I’m not there to take advantage of the free admission, I’d love to share with you one of my favorite National Parks!
When you think of National Parks, you may think of the mountains in Yosemite, or the famous geysers in Yellowstone. The reality is that America’s National Parks are as diverse as America itself, and showcase the stunning variety of our landscape. One of the most unique parks can be found in my home state of South Dakota!
About Badlands National Park
The name ‘Badlands’ came from the Lakota people, who called it “Mako Sica,” literally “land bad.” The geological deposits have been formed from years of water and strong wind, and according to the NPS, the Badlands contains one of the world’s richest fossil beds. Fossils of all kinds, including ancient camels, saber-tooth cats, and three-toed horses, are continuously being uncovered by park officials.
The landscape of this 244,000 acre park varies from the canyons of buttes and spires to wide-open prairie grassland. In fact, the Badlands is the largest protected mixed-grass prairie in the United States.
One of my favorite things about the Badlands, and South Dakota in general, is the wide-open space. You can gaze towards the distant horizon in every direction without seeing any sign of human civilization. The sky seems larger-than-life, and even the air feels fresher, far away from the pollutant effects of population. The ever-present breeze rustles through the prairie grasses, and nearby, prairie dogs pop in and out of their underground burrows.
What To Do In Badlands National Park
Drive Highway 240: Badlands Loop Road
One of the most popular options is simply to drive through the Badlands on Badlands Loop Road. This 40-mile (65km) paved road is accessible from Interstate 90 and will give you a great tour of the park. There are many pull-offs for taking photos, and it’s likely you’ll see some goats and prairie dogs, too. Make sure to fill up your gas tank before you enter the park!
Visit the Fossil Preparation Lab in the Ben Reifel Visitor Center
Open to the public seasonally May-September, the Fossil Prep Lab is a working paleontological laboratory where visitors can watch paleontologists at work!
There are of course many hiking trails throughout the park. You can find a trail map and directory at the Badlands National Park website (opens in a new tab). Be sure to bring plenty of water, and be prepared for the weather to change quickly!
There are several camping options in the Badlands, from sites with RV hookups that charge a nightly fee to primitive sites with pit toilets where you can pitch your tent for free. Camping in the Badlands is extra special because South Dakota has some of the lowest light pollution levels in the US – meaning you will see an incredible starry night sky.
Have you been to Badlands National Park? What’s your favorite National Park? Let me know in the comments!
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