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Badlands National Park - South Dakota

The stark beauty of Badlands The stark beauty of the Badlands is truly spectacular. Here erosion and weathering have carved bizarre pinnacles, and spires rising above vast buttes. Fantastic ridges and cliffs run alongside grassy prairies. The Badlands are a place of extremes. You may find it hot and stormy in summer and cold and windy in winter.

Beneath the area lies one of the world's greatest Oligocene fossil beds of mammals which flourished in the area 25 to 35 million years ago. Some of the fossilized skeletons found include saber-toothed cats, three-toed horses, small camels, and huge beasts resembling the modern rhinoceros.

Hey, who woke me up?!Wildlife inhabiting the park include prairie dogs, buffalo, coyotes, badgers, chipmunks, porcupines, deer, pronghorn antelope and bighorn sheep. Snakes found here include prairie rattlers, racers and bull snakes. Roberts Prairie Dog Town on Sage Creek Rim Road offers a chance to observe prairie dogs and their habitat.

Large herds of buffalo once inhabited the area before the westward movement of the army, miners, and homesteaders. The herds were measured by the area they covered. One herd measured twelve by five miles in 1862. Another covered thirty by forty-five miles in 1839. Today, buffalo are making a comeback under the protection of state and national parks. At Badlands buffalo population runs at about 500. The buffalo can be seen in the Sage Creek Wilderness Area sometimes viewable from Sage Creek Rim Road. Keep a safe distance from them. A bull buffalo can run faster than a human and weigh more than a car. They have been known to gore onlookers when provoked.

Infinite peaks and valleysLakota Indians called the area mako sica(bad land). The first men to record their impressions of the Badlands were French-Canadian trappers searching for beaver. They described the area as les mauvaises terres a traverser(bad lands to travel across). Conservation writer Freeman Tilden described the region as "peaks and valleys of delicately banded colors--colors that shift in the sunshine,...and a thousand tints that color charts do not show. In the early morning and evening, when shadows are cast upon the infinite peaks or on a bright moonlit night when the whole region seems a part of another world, the Badlands will be an experience not easily forgotten."
Though seemingly inhospitable, the Badlands have supported man for more than 11,000 years. The earliest people in the area were ancient mammoth hunters. They were followed by nomadic tribes who came to hunt buffalo. The Arikara were the first tribe known to inhabit the area. They were replaced by the Sioux also known as Lakota in the mid 1700s. The Sioux arrived on their horses whose use they had adopted from Spaniards. After 40 years of struggling with trappers, soldiers, miners, cattle farmers and homesteaders, the Lakota were confined to reservations in 1890 after the Battle of Wounded Knee.

The park consists of three units totaling over 240,000 acres. The North Unit is the most well-known and easiest to explore with its loop road where you will find numerous scenic overlooks and trailheads. The Stronghold and Palmer Creek Units are located within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

At the Cedar Pass Area to the far east end of the North Unit, you will find the Ben Reifel Visitor Center and park headquarters open year-round. The Cedar Pass Lodge adjacent to the visitor center is open during the spring, summer and fall months. The amphitheater and Cedar Pass campground are within walking distance also. Within several miles of the visitor center are three self-guiding nature trails and several trailheads. The Fossil Exhibit Trail is wheelchair accessible. The Cliff Shelf Nature Trail and the Door Trail are moderately strenuous. Pamphlets are available for the Fossil and Cliff Shelf Trails.

Average Weather      
Month High Low Precipitation
January 34 11 .29
February 40 16 .48
March 48 24 .90
April 62 36 1.83
May 72 46 2.75
June 83 56 3.12
July 92 62 1.94
August 91 61 1.45
September 81 51 1.23
October 68 39 .90
November 50 26 .41
December 39 17 .30

Directions and Fees

Westbound travelers on I-90 should use exit 131. S.D. 240, which leads to the park boundary and the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, is also the Badlands Loop Road. After passing through the park, S.D. 240 connects with I-90 at exit 110 in Wall. Travelers going east should do the reverse: begin in Wall and end at I-90 at exit 131.

Admission is $10 per private vehicle and $5 for hikers and bicyclists for a 7-day pass (pricing subject to change).

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