Prior to embarking on our US tour, I had never heard about the Badlands. I still remember the first time I saw a photo of this extraterrestrial landscape on Instagram…it was like nothing I had ever seen. In fact, at the time, I was not even certain if I even cared to visit such a place.
Before this journey of roaming the country in an RV, our travels (outside of the contiguous United States) consisted of trips to Hawaii, Alaska, Mexico, Europe and at least a dozen Caribbean islands. Honestly, I was only interested in visiting Europe and the tropics. Fast forward two years and 38 contiguous states later, and a completely different traveler has formed! I am happy to say that I truly want to visit every landscape possible. I often find myself on unfamiliar ground, eagerly searching for the unknown. I follow travelers from afar, and taking note of the landscapes I want to visit.
Naturally, we find beauty in almost every place we visit. We have learned that every region has it’s own unique appeal. Typically, one location or state, can not be compared to another. This understanding has shifted our perception and we now find great joy in discovering the diversity in each landscape around us.
This new traveling mindset, coupled with our desire to visit as many National Parks as possible, compelled us to visit this extraordinary landscape.
It is phenomenal!
I should note that we were incredibly blessed to visit Badlands National Park on an exceptionally beautiful day. The snow-colored clouds seem to billow up over the peaks in certain places…and then be perfectly suspended ornaments in others.
The weather was ideal. Clear and sunny. Warm with a subtle breeze.
Are you feeling it? Glancing at these photos makes me want to return!
We began our visit at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center by watching the informative video on the park and picking up our Junior Ranger books.
We then did two hikes, both of which are incredibly unique and short in length…but very memorable. You will find both trailheads on opposite ends of the parking lot between them, which also houses two primitive restrooms. We planned for this and parked our car smack-dab in the middle of the lot by this sign:
Hike #1: Door Trail
This hike was at the suggestion of the Park Ranger. Though short in length, it packs a powerful punch! This tiny hike is fabulous. We did it first, and I would recommend doing the same if you plan a visit.
In a world of preservation, where we mostly stay on trails in National Parks, it was a welcome treat to let my children traverse the Badlands’ formations and maneuver the landscape, exploring the nooks and crannies…even practicing restraint against a steep drop-off.
From the parking lot, it begins as a boardwalk stroll for a quarter of a mile:
For those that are not stable on their feet, or those pushing a stroller, you can walk to the end of the boardwalk and enjoy the view, and then head back.
For those that don’t mind walking on a rugged landscape…and want some gorgeous photos…continue on…
The sign at the end of the boardwalk reminds us that we continue at our own risk…and you will find another sign at the end of the “trail” or exploration area, telling you to stop before it drops off. Do you see the teenager exercising a bit of independence…well beyond the sign? Hummmm…
My family enjoyed sprawling out and exploring, each in our way. Some with a camera, some by scrambling rocks and others by finding a quite space to ponder the complexities of the unique scenery.
The exploration, and the photo opps were amusing. We really had a fabulous time!
Afterwards we walked back, and stopped at the car for a picnic lunch (as it was cool, I simply layed my picnic sheet on the asphalt…if it were a hot day, you would be wise to have an alternative plan, such as some camping chairs, as there is very little shade here). We then ventured out for our second hike.
Hike #2: Notch Trail
I immediately knew this hike was for us!
Though the trail begins with a wide open space, the hike itself is moderately-strenuous for most and half of it is on the side of a steep drop-off. Note: I would not take small children, anyone who is overly clumsy, scared of heights, or not inclined to hiking on this trail.
With that said, my husband really disdains heights and he was fine on the entire trail. We did however encounter three other families that attempted the trail while we were there, and they all turned back at some point. Also, I was completely confident of my kids hiking this and would not hesitate to recommend it to families that are adventure-minded and hikers!
Despite the fact that this trail has you traverse a long ladder, we were all comfortable ascending and descending. For those that have climbed the ladders at Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico,…this ladder is an easier climb and much less steep.
The hike is 1.5 miles total in-and-out, it does not loop. So if you go up, you must come down that ladder.
Once you climb the log ladder, you will walk along a ledge…which is wider in some areas, than in others:
It eventually opens up to this:
At the end of the trail, you are rewarded with this gorgeous view of the White River Valley:
We used the timer on our camera to capture a family picture at the Notch.
This is a really fun hike! All five of us loved every second of it and we were so glad to have discovered it. It truly enhanced our experience at this National Park. It is also a great compliment to the Door Trail, as it is entirely different. Be sure to have sturdy shoes and plenty of water in case the trail takes longer than planned.
You can find the parks hiking information HERE.
After our two hikes, we headed back to explore the Visitor Center some more and to complete our Junior Ranger books. These two eagerly earned another badge for their collection:
There is a beautiful loop that you can drive with plenty of turn-outs to park, and take in the view. As we had driven in through the back way from Custer State Park, we did not do the scenic drive, but this would be a great addition if you have not already scene the other areas of the park.
There are many places to pause and take in the grandeur before you.
As I mentioned before, the weather was quite amazing. Looking at this photo above, I am reminded of what one of the Ranger’s told me. She said that when there is a heavy rain, as we had the day before, the water absorbs into the formations, allowing the colors to to be extra vibrant and distinctive for a day or two. Aren’t the color variations fabulous? One other thing worth mentioning…it is often extremely windy here. I would suggest to anyone that visits, that you be prepared for wind, just in case.
Traveling By RV?
The parking lot by the Door & Notch Trailheads had ample space for large rig parking. The parking lot at the Visitor Center seemed rather small, but I would not hesitate to pull my rig in here at an off-peak time to find parking. Though we took a day trip here, we found several others who pulled their RV’s in to explore for their day, as they were in-route to other destinations.
For more information on Badlands National Park, visit their website HERE.
Visiting Nearby Wall Drug
Traveling the highways anywhere in South Dakota, you can not help but notice the signage, luring you to Wall Drug. The story behind this establishment is awesome. You can read about it HERE. It’s like a coffee shop, souvenir depot, western shop, arcade and rest-stop all rolled into one. It’s a short drive off the highway and there is parking for every sort of vehicle. Plan to take a break and fill up your water bottles here, and be sure to allow a few minutes to shop. I was thrilled to find an affordable selection of Christmas ornaments for our travel tree.
I’m normally not into the overly tourist stops. However, we saw our first Wall Drug sign when we crossed into South Dakota from Nebraska…and we’ve seen a countless number since. We were also quite intrigued by the story behind how the business started and why offering free ice water, completely changed their business platform. For me, this shop is an icon for determination and ingenuity. And for that…it is worth taking a peek.
Plus…it’s a great place to stretch those legs and let the kids get out their wiggles.
Well, there it is. Our trip through the Badlands and a stop at Wall Drug.
Have you visited Badlands National Park? What was most memorable for you? If you have yet to visit, I hope we provided a little photo inspiration to entice you to visit. Let us know what you think! We certainly enjoyed this area of South Dakota.