Introducing Badlands National Park
If Peter Jackson had decided New Zealand wasn’t right for the evil realm of Mordor (for The Lord of the Rings movies), he could’ve filmed here instead. The otherworldly landscape, with barren walls and spikes stabbing the dry air and evil crevices plunging into oblivion, was understandably named mako sica (‘badland’) by Native Americans. Looking over the bizarre formations from the corrugated walls surrounding the Badlands is like seeing an ocean someone burned all the water out of. Today Badlands National Park along with the surrounding Buffalo Gap National Grassland protects the country’s largest prairie grasslands, several species of Plains mammal (including bison and black-footed ferret), prairie falcons and lots of snakes.
The park’s north unit packs the most punch; the Hwy 240 loop road is easily reached from I-90 and you can drive it in an hour if you’re in a hurry. The gravel Sage Creek Rim Rd goes west of the loop, above the Badlands Wilderness Area, which is where most backcountry hikers and campers go. There is almost no water or shade here, so don’t strike out into the wilderness unprepared. The less-accessible south units are in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and see few visitors.
The Ben Reifel Visitor Center (605-433-5361; www.nps.gov/badl; Hwy 240; 8am-6pm summer, 8am-5pm Apr-May & Sep-Oct, 9am-4pm rest of year) is open all year, but the White River Visitor Center (605-455-2878; Hwy 27; 10am-4pm summer), in the southern section, is summer-only. A seven-day pass costs $15 for cars and $7 for cyclists.
Neither the developed Cedar Pass Campground ($10) or primitive Sage Creek Campground (free) takes reservations. Hotels can be found on I-90 in Kadoka and Wall, or stay at a cozy cabin in the park at Cedar Pass Lodge (605-433-5460; www.cedarpasslodge.com; Hwy 240; cabins $70-95; May-Oct). Drop by the lodge’s restaurant (mains $3-15; 7am-8:30pm summer, 7:30am-7pm May & Sep-Oct) for an ‘Indian taco’ made with fry bread and bison meat.
Last updated: Feb 17, 2009