About 38 million years ago this region was a marshy jungle filled with saber-toothed cats, camels no bigger than dogs, turtles the size of Volkswagens, and other long-extinct life-forms. Their bones were buried in mud washed down from the Black Hills and beneath gray and white ash from later volcanic periods. The jungle turned to grassland, and eons of wind, rain, and frost carved the land into a moonscape of cliffs, gorges, mesas, soaring spires, keen-edged ridges, and fossil-filled canyons. To the Dakota Indians it was Mako Sica, "bad lands to travel through." Prior to the park being established in 1939, early pioneers hastily filled their wagons with many fossils as they migrated west.
Due to an erosion rate of 1 inch per year, the Badlands change with the elements. It represents the largest mixed-grass prairie wildland in the United States. Deer, rattlesnakes, coyotes, bighorn sheep, and a large herd of buffalo live here. You'll find isolated backpacking opportunities with unrestricted camping. There are no established trails in this little-used wild area.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Badlands Wilderness.
Badlands National Park is located in southwestern South Dakota and can be easily accessed by car. Plane or bus service is available to Rapid City, South Dakota, located approximately 80 miles west of the park.
Interstate 90 (I-90) is located directly north of the park and provides access to the Badlands Loop Road. For those traveling west on I-90, take Exit 131 (Interior) and follow the signs directing vehicles south approximately three miles to the Northeast Entrance gate. For those traveling east on I-90, take Exit 110 at Wall, South Dakota. Follow signs directing vehicles south approximately seven miles to the Pinnacles Entrance of the park.
State Highway 44 provides an alternate, scenic access to the park and intersects Highway 377 in the town of Interior. Follow 377 two miles north to the Interior Entrance gate.
Daily flights are available to the Rapid City Regional Airport and car rental services are available onsite. The airport is located approximately one hour west of the park, off of Highway 44.
Greyhound Lines, Inc. has limited bus service to Rapid City. Car rental companies are available in Rapid City with delivery and pickup services.
Some bus tours are available through tour companies in Rapid City and the surrounding area.
By Public Transportation
No public transportation is available to the park.
A typical visit lasts three to five hours and includes the park movie, stops at four overlooks, and two walks. The Badlands Loop Road, accessed from Interstate 90, is a two-lane, paved surface. The Sage Creek Rim Road is gravel and may be impassable after heavy rains or snows. Five trails, varying from 1/4-mile to eight miles in length, explore park features. The remainder of the park is open to exploration using a topographic map and a compass.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
(No official title, designates National Park Service wildernesses) - Public Law 94-567 (10/20/1976) To designate certain lands within units of the National Park System as wilderness; to revise the boundaries of certain of these units; and for other purposes.
Badlands weather is unpreditable. Be prepared for the potential of extreme weather. Heavy rain, hail, and high winds can occur throughout the summer months. During a severe electrical storm, stay away from exposed areas, ridges, or isolated trees. Summer temperatures often exceed 100F. Sunscreen, a hat, and water are essential when hiking in the park. Carry adequate water for hiking or backcountry trips (minimum of 1 gallon/person/day). Water sources in the park are not potable.
Want to Volunteer for Wilderness?
Citizens who volunteer their time to steward our wilderness areas are an essential part of wilderness management. Contact the following groups to inquire about volunteer opportunities.