Located on 242,756 acres in the wilds of South Dakota, Badlands National Park is an unforgettable and often alien-looking stretch of terrain.
The desert landscape has always been notoriously inhospitable to life; its original inhabitants, the Lakota people, called it "mako sica," which translates to "land bad."
Yet despite that chilling moniker, the Badlands are full of stunning wonders and transportive scenery. Nicknamed "Land of Stone and Light," the Badlands are home to a huge variety of wildlife and natural wonders, from prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets to bison and bighorn sheep. Spectacular night skies and gorgeous sunrises and sunsets plus the patchwork look of the hills makes the Badlands a trippy and dreamlike place to visit.
They're truly iconic facets of Americas landscape, and the national park is definitely worth the trek. Here's what you shouldn't miss.
1. Badlands Loop Road
Badlands Loop Road
If you only have a short time in the Badlands, this is the place to go. The Badlands Loop Road begins in the town of Wall (also home to the infamous Wall Drug) and passes by a number of overlooks and trailheads. It'll take at least three hours with stops, and it's probably the best way to get a feel for the park on the whole.
2. The Badlands Overlook
One of the most unforgettable stops on the Big Badlands Loop Road is the Badlands Overlook, located right after the northeast entrance station to the park.
3. Yellow Mounds Overlook
Yellow Mounds Overlook
Another incredible overlook, the Yellow Mounds looks like a giant molded the landscape into little creases.
4. The Notch Trail
The Notch Trail
If you're itching to get out of your car and hike a bit, the Badlands offers ample trails that will allow you to see its harsh and strange landscape up close and personal. The trail is around 3-4 miles in length and is particularly gorgeous during sunsets. This trail is extremely steep; it begins in a canyon, but soon enough you'll be finding yourself scrambling up a vertical ladder.
5. The Door Trail
The Door Trail
Badlands might have an ominous name, but the park itself does offer a number of very easy quick hikes that you can breeze through in an afternoon. One of the more famous hikes is the Door Trail, a 25-minute stroll that will leave you exposed to the sun, with excellent views of the rocks and hoodoos and spires around you.
6. Cliff Shelf Nature Trail
Cliff Shelf Nature Trail
If you find yourself getting weary of endless rocks, never fear: the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail is squarely between the arid desert rocks you'll be seeing mirages in before long, and a verdant juniper forest. The trail is only 0.5 miles round trip.