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South Dakota

South Dakota State Parks

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USA Parks
South Dakota
Black Hills & Badlands Region
Badlands National Park
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Badlands National Park © Dawne Olson
Badlands National Park © Kelly Harvey
Badlands National Park © Doug Schutjer
Badlands National Park © Doug Schutjer
Badlands National Park © Doug Schutjer
Badlands National Park Clover Landscape credits NPS Photo
The park has seasonal changes in colors so plan ahead
Badlands National Park Badlands Yellow Mounds credits NPS Photo
The yellow mounds are peaking out of the formations in this photo.
Badlands National Park Badlands Rugged Peaks credits NPS Photo
Badlands formations are very rugged and often have sharp peaks.
Badlands National Park Badlands Storm credits NPS Photo
Summer storms are frequently violent and unpredictable.
Badlands National Park Badlands National Park credits Share the Experience, David McDonald
Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park © Marianne Austin
Badlands National Park © Marianne Austin
Badlands National Park © Marianne Austin
Badlands National Park © Marianne Austin
Badlands National Park © Marianne Austin
Badlands National Park © Marianne Austin
Badlands National Park © Marianne Austin
Badlands National Park © Marianne Austin
Badlands National Park © Marianne Austin
Badlands National Park © Marianne Austin
Badlands National Park © Marianne Austin
Badlands National Park © Marianne Austin
Badlands National Park Badlands in the Winter credits NPS Photo/Brad Barker
Winter in Badlands National Park often creates snow covered wonderlands throughout the park.
Badlands National Park © Dawne Olson
Badlands National Park © Alexis J. Williams
Badlands National Park © Alexis J. Williams
Badlands National Park © Ben Prepelka
Badlands National Park © Kelly Harvey
Badlands National Park © Alexis J. Williams
Badlands National Park © Alexis J. Williams
Badlands National Park © Kelly Harvey
May 23,2009
Badlands National Park © Nancy Bauer
Badlands National Park © Nancy Bauer
Badlands National Park © Nancy Bauer
Badlands National Park Bighorn Sheep © Nancy Bauer
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25216 Ben Reifel Road
Interior, South Dakota   57750
(lat:43.8554 lon:-102.3397) map location

Phone: 605-433-5361
Email: park email button icon
Located in southwestern South Dakota, Badlands National Park consists of 244,000 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires blended with the largest, protected mixed grass prairie in the United States. The Badlands Wilderness Area covers 64,000 acres and is the site of the reintroduction of the black-footed ferret, the most endangered land mammal in North America. The Stronghold Unit is co-managed with the Oglala Sioux Tribe and includes sites of 1890s Ghost Dances. Established as Badlands National Monument in 1939, the area was redesignated "National Park" in 1978. Over 11,000 years of human history pale to the ages old paleontological resources. Badlands National Park contains the world's richest Oligocene epoch fossil beds, dating 23 to 35 million years old. Scientists can study the evolution of mammal species such as the horse, sheep, rhinoceros and pig in the Badlands formations.
Nature of the Area

Badlands National Park is located at the western edge of the mixed grass prairie. The mixed grass prairie of the central United States is actually a transition zone between the more arid shortgrass prairie to the west and the more moist tallgrass prairie to the east, but because of its size is considered worthy of separate distinction. Warm or cool-season plants, grasses make efficient use of seasonal trends. Cool-season grasses grow early in the season as well as in the late summer and fall attaining greater heights than the warm-season species that come alive during the hot summer months. They are distributed along a continuum from east to west, decreasing in height with a general decrease in available moisture.

Most of the 56 different types of grasses found in the Badlands are native, having developed over millions of years. Taller western wheatgrass, green needlegrass, and needle-and-thread grass dominate low moist spots while shortgrass communities of blue grama and buffalo grass cover drier, rocky outcrops. A number of exotic grasses were introduced as settlers immigrated to this country.


At Badlands National Park, weird shapes are etched into a plateau of soft sediments and volcanic ash, revealing colorful bands of flat-lying strata. The stratification adds immeasurably to the beauty of each scene, binding together all of its diverse parts. A geologic story is written in the rocks of Badlands National Park, it is an account of 75 million years of accumulation with intermittent periods of erosion that began when the Rocky Mountains reared up in the West and spread sediments over vast expanses of the plains. The sand, silt, and clay, mixed and interbedded with volcanic ash, stacked up, layer upon flat-lying layer, until the pile was thousands of feet deep. In a final phase of volcanism as the uplift ended, white ash rained from the sky, completing the building stage.

During the Oligocene epoch 40 to 25 million years ago, the region that is now the White River Badlands supported many kinds of animals. The land was then lush, well watered, and much warmer than now. The animals, mostly mammals, roamed the floodplains; many died in floods and were quickly buried in river sediments. Conditions for preservation were excellent; the Oligocene beds are one of the world's richest vertebrate fossil sites, though they represent only a short segment of Earth history.

Broad regional uplift raised the land about 5 million years ago and initiated the erosion that created the Badlands. The White River, which now flows west to east five or ten miles south of the park, eroded a scarp, the beginning of what is now called the Wall. Numerous small streams and rills furrowed the scarp face and eventually intersected to create the Badlands topography.
History of the Area
The history of the White River Badlands as a significant paleontological resource goes back to the traditional Native American knowledge of the area. The Lakota found large fossilized bones, fossilized seashells and turtle shells. They correctly assumed that the area had once been under water, and that the bones belonged to creatures which no longer existed. Paleontological interest in this area began in the 1840's. Trappers and traders regularly traveled the from Fort Pierre to Fort Laramie along a path which skirted Badlands National Park. Fossils were occasionally collected, and in 1843 a fossilized jaw fragment collected by Alexander Culbertson of the American Fur Company found it's way to a physician in St. Louis by the name of Dr. Hiram A. Prout.

In 1846, Prout published a paper about the jaw in the American Journal of Science in which he stated that it had come from a creature he called a Paleotherium. Shortly after the publication, the White River Badlands became popular fossil hunting grounds and, within a couple of decades, numerous new fossil species had been discovered in the White River Badlands. By 1854 84 distinct species had been discovered in North America - 77 of which were found in the White River Badlands. In 1870 a Yale professor, O. C. Marsh, visited the region and developed more refined methods of extracting and reassembling fossils into nearly complete skeletons. From 1899 to today, the South Dakota School of Mines has sent people almost every year and remains one of the most active research institutions working in the White River Badlands. Throughout the late 1800's and continuing today, scientists and institutions from all over the world have benefited from the fossil resources of the White River Badlands. Comparisons between the fossils here and fossils of similar age around the world have helped paint a picture of life on earth millions of years ago.


The Stronghold District of Badlands National Park offers more than scenic badlands with spectacular views. Co-managed by the National Park Service and the Oglala Sioux Tribe, this 133,300 acre area is also steeped in history. Deep draws, high tables, and rolling prairie hold the stories of the earliest Plains hunters, the paleo-Indians, as well as the present day Lakota Nation. Homesteaders and fossil hunters have also made their mark on the land. There is a more recent role this remote, sparsely populated area has played in U.S. history: World War II and the Badlands gunnery range.

As a part of the war effort, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) took possession of 341,726 acres of land on the Pine Ridge Reservation for a gunnery range. Included in this range was 337 acres from then Badlands National Monument. This land was used extensively from 1942 through 1945 as air-to-air and air-to-ground gunnery ranges. Old car bodies and 55 gallon drums painted bright yellow were used as targets. Bulls-eyes 250 feet across were plowed into the ground and used as targets by bombardier bombing flights. Precision and demolition bombing exercises were also quite common. After the war, portions of the bombing range were used as an artillery range by the South Dakota National Guard. In 1968, most of the range was declared excess property by the USAF. 2500 acres are retained by the USAF but are no longer used. Today, the ground is littered with discarded bullet shells and unexploded ordnance.
Day-UseHiking Trailyes

Summer Camping Fee: $10 per site

Winter Camping Fee: $8 per site

- "First Come, First Served" only

- Campground Hosts on site Memorial Day through Labor Day



Sage Creek Campground is a free facility. Reservations are not accepted, and camping availability is on a "First Come, First Served" basis only. The campground has no running water, although pit toilets are available for use by visitors. The campground is used by horseback riders frequently.

The campground is accessible from the unpaved Sage Creek Rim Road. To travel on Sage Creek Rim road, it is recommended that vehicles have a high ground clearance, owing to the uneven road surface.

As with Cedar Pass Campground, no fires are permitted in the Sage Creek Campground without exception.


Backpackers may camp anywhere in the park that is at least one-half mile from any road or trail and not visible from park roads. Because only the Castle Trail strays far from the main road, most backpackers set out cross country on routes of their own. When doing so, topographic maps are strongly recommended, if not essential. In the North Unit, the 64,250 acre Sage Creek Wilderness is ideal for backpackers. Leave your car at the primitive campground, and follow Sage Creek into the wilderness.

Elsewhere, the Stronghold and Palmer Creek Units, in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, provide variations on badlands topography. Largely undeveloped, these areas of the park contain rough and isolated landscapes. Unimproved roads provide access deep into the Stronghold Unit.

The best times to camp are during the spring and fall, when days are pleasant and nights are cool. The months of April and May are often rainy, although storms are possible year round, so always carry rain gear and extra clothing. Fall is generally cool and clear, but don't be caught unprepared for an early blizzard.

In summer, temperatures exceeding 100? F can pose serious health hazards. Avoid heat sickness by drinking water (at least one gallon or more a day), and staying out of the sun at midday. Be alert for symptoms of heat exhaustion or stroke - cramps (especially in legs and abdomen), weakness, nausea, and dizziness. Hot summer weather is often interrupted by severe thunderstorms, complete with large hail and lightning. If caught in a sudden storm, look for shelter from high winds. Avoid ridges, exposed areas, and isolated trees where lightning may strike.

Only the hardiest hikers attempt backpacking trips in winter. Weather is unpredictable at best. Although days can be sunny, with temperatures comfortably above 30? F, sudden blizzards occasionally send the mercury plunging well below zero. Combined with strong winds, severe winter temperatures make backcountry survival difficult for those unprepared. Hypothermia is a very real threat. Winter backpackers should speak with a ranger at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center before setting out.
The Cedar Pass Lodge, located next to the Cedar Pass Contact Station, offers food service and air conditioned cabins from April until the season ends in mid-October. It has a gift shop, restrooms, and public telephone. For reservations, call (605) 433 - 5460. You can also write: Cedar Pass Lodge, P.O. Box 5, Interior, South Dakota 57750

Badlands National Park is

Picnic tables are located near the Cedar Pass Campground. Picnic areas are also established at the Journey Overlook and on the Conata Road; however, there is no water available. Remember that open campfires are not permitted anywhere in the park, including picnic areas.

Castle Trail: The longest trail in the park at 10 miles round trip (16km), the Castle Trail stretches from the Fossil Exhibit Trail and the Door/Window parking area. Primarily level, this path parallels some precipitous badlands formations. Not heavily used, the Castle Trail offers a chance for solitude and wildlife viewing.

Cliff Shelf Nature Trail: 1/2 mile (0.8km) loop trail that winds through a wooded prairie oasis surrounded by the parched Badlands. Walkers will wander in and out of small tree shaded areas and take advantage of boardwalks and a flight of stairs in place to protected fragile resources. Located 1/2 mile north of the Visitor Center, the trail does climb approximately 200 feet in elevation. Views of the White River Valley are incomparable. The parking lot is small and cannot accommodate long vehicles towing trailers.

Door Trail: 3/4 mile (1.2km) round trip trail focusing on the park's geologic history. Beginning at the northern end of the large Door and Window parking area two miles northeast of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, the Door Trail penetrates into wildly eroded badlands through a break called "The Door" in the Badlands Wall. The first 150 yards of the trail includes an accessible boardwalk; however, the path will soon become more rugged as visitors can then follow the yellow markers an additional 300 meters across rough badlands terrain. Good walking shoes are recommended.

Fossil Exhibit Trail: 1/4 mile (0.4) loop trail that is fully accessible to those with mobility impairments. Examples of some of now extinct creatures that once called the Badlands home are protect under clear domes. Located five miles northwest of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, the trail is a very easy walk. During summer months, park naturalists give presentations about the rich fossil history of the park.

Notch Trail: 1 1/2 mile (2.4km) round trip trail that is not recommended for those with a fear of heights. Meandering through a canyon, this trail presents the hiker with the opportunity to climb a steep ladder, then travel along a ledge to "The Notch" above the Cliff Shelf area. One of the best views of the White River Valley and the Pine Ridge Reservation rewards those who do complete the trail. The trail begins at the north end of the Door and Window parking area and requires hikers to wear sturdy hiking boots. A hat and sunglasses are also recommended.

Saddle Pass Trail: Very short 0.2 miles (0.4km) but very steep, the Saddle Pass Trail is impassable after rains. It connects the middle of the Castle Trail and the Medicine Root Loop to the Badlands Loop Road.

Window Trail: 1/4 mile (0.4km) round trip trail that is accessible to athletic wheelchair users. Offering a view of an intricately eroded canyon, this trail leads you to a natural "window" in the Badlands Wall. This trail begins at the center of the Door and Window parking area.


Bicycles are allowed only on designated paved, gravel, and dirt roads within the park. They are not allowed on hiking trails, closed roads, or in the backcountry. There is no off road cycling in Badlands National Park. The mixed grass prairie is easily impacted by wheeled traffic. The badland formations are centuries old, yet very fragile.

Bicycle racks are provided at the Cedar Pass Lodge and selected trailheads.

For your safety, you should wear a helmet and appropriate clothing. Depending on the season, you may need sunglasses, a hat, sunscreen or gloves. Carry plenty of water in all seasons. Water is available only at the park visitor centers.

Dirt and gravel roads can be extremely muddy and are frequently impassable. Check on road conditions before setting out.

Use extreme caution when riding on park roads. There are no bike lanes provided. Recreational and agricultural vehicles travel all roads, particularly during the summer months. Drivers will not be watching for bicyclists.
Nature Programs
Junior Ranger Program:

There are two ways to become a Junior Ranger in Badlands National Park. The first way is to attend an official Junior Ranger Program during the summer season (June through August). The activities and subjects for these daily summer programs vary according to the ranger giving the program. Each attendee receives an official Badlands National Park Junior Ranger Badge at the end of the program. Please stop by the Cedar Pass Contact Station, or look in the park newspaper for program times and location. All ranger led programs are geared towards visitors of all ages and are free to the public.

During the entire year, Junior Ranger booklets are available at the Cedar Pass Contact Station (cost $1.95) and usually take 1-2 hours to complete. Potential Junior Rangers are required to complete the booklet and either attend one of the many Ranger Programs offered daily in the summer, or view the 20-minute park movie "Buried Fossils, Living Prairie". Completed booklets can be returned to the contact station and a ranger will check over the work and issue a badge. Another option is to complete the required activities and send the completed booklet back to the park and a ranger will go over the work and mail back the booklet with a badge.
Area Attractions
NEARBY ATTRACTIONS: National Park Service Areas:

Devils Tower National Monument, 177 miles.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, 99 miles.

Jewel Cave National Monument, 148 miles.

Wind Cave National Park, 132 miles.

Visitor Comments, Memories and Reviews
February 2 Do not tell me ! by Emalee Hunter Caro, Mi 48723
park review stars; one to five I was reading and noticed you made an error! It should be 25 to 40 million years ago.
December 16 sweet
park review stars; one to five this was an awesome national park
September 24 peacefully awesome by FVL
park review stars; one to five June 2010 To be there from SC was a 5th grade dream all the way to 65 years old. wish I had a photo of the picnic area at the guide/photo stop .
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Badlands National Park is located 75 miles east of Rapid City, South Dakota. Physical Addresses for GPS* Park Headquarters: 25216 Ben Reifel Road, Interior, SD 57750. Northeast Entrance (I-90, Exit 131): 21020 SD Hwy 240, Interior, SD 57750. Pinnacles Entrance (I-90, Exit 110): 24240 Hwy 240, Wall, SD 57790. Interior Entrance: 20640 SD Hwy 377, Interior, SD 57750.

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