Interested in a 240,000 acre area filled with incredible rock formations, wild animals such as Buffalo/Bison, Prairie Dogs, and Bighorn Sheep, and many hiking trails? Then you're in for a treat at Badlands National Park. Located a little over an hour east of Rapid City (and Mt Rushmore) it's well worth going to. The rugged, stark beauty is astounding.
The park is divided into three sections - the northern one being the most accessible - right off Rt 90 with a beautiful car driving loop going through it. Near the eastern entrance is the Visitor's Center - worth a stop to begin your visit. There's a well-done movie explaining the park and it's critters - and other exhibits to meander around. Naturally, there's also a gift shop and restrooms.
Like critter watching? For Bighorn Sheep, look along the road near the Pinnacles overlook/entrance early in the morning. They were regularly eating there then when we visited and were up close. Buffalo/bison are often seen down Sage Creek Road - anytime of the day, but can be in the distance. Prairie Dogs have many towns both along the road towards the western side and along Sage Creek Road.
So what's so special (besides the animals)? The erosion of the rocks... Rocks you say, just rocks? Well, no, not "just" rocks - incredible scenery of cliffs that go on and on beyond your view's end. The color is spectacular. The erosion unbelievable - and not equaled in sight anywhere we've seen in such massive amounts. Hiking here is a must - even for a short hike - just to touch the cliffs up close and personal (yes, it's allowed - just don't take any).
Note that the only food available in the park is at the Cedar Pass Lodge (near the Visitor Center, but not at it) - you need to head to Wall, Interior, or Cactus Flat otherwise (or bring a picnic). We ate in Wall Drug in Wall. It was good - though crowded. Wall (and Wall Drug) is the local tourist area - and the place to go if you like shopping, etc, plus a little local history.
Quite honestly, we've talked with people - well, we've also BEEN people, who expected a short drive through the park seeing some neat scenery (on our last trip) and were WOWED with what we actually saw. That time we didn't have time to really see this park, so this time we started here - and "wowed" my mom and nephew with the same sights. To many folks (us included) Badlands NP and Bryce NP (Utah) offer some of the most spectacular, unexpected scenery. See some of my other entries for specific hikes we did...
You probably wouldn't want to spend a week here, but a day or two is well worth it. Our whole family enjoyed it much more than Mt Rushmore... It's some of nature's scenery at her best.