Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park

We’re back at it! After about 7 months of grinding and saving in Fort Collins, we are off to finish this thing!

The plan is to head northwest up to Alaska, hitting up the parks we haven’t done yet along the way. We tried to visit South Dakota a few times while we were in Colorado since it wasn’t a bad drive, but the weather always foiled our plans. Thus, Badlands National Park became our first stop in Adventure: Part 3!

Mike and I first arrived to the lesser visited, South unit of the park and got my junior ranger booklet and information from White River Visitor Center. From there, we went a little north and drove up on the gravel road to Sheep Mountain Table to get our first real taste of the Badlands. It was great views and very secluded. It was pretty neat because you get to drive through a beautiful canyon section that gets you up close and personal with the landscape, unlike the popular Scenic Drive in the North unit of the park. This drive was about 5 miles and then it keeps going for just “high clearance vehicles.” Since we are riding in our beautiful new truck and not Big Red/Struggle bus, we kept going and found a cool cliff view and relaxed for awhile since it was the hottest part of the day. 

We then kept driving north and Mike rode the gravel section of main road while it started to storm. With the sunset nearing, the views were stunning with the bright yellows and greens of the prairie and the whites, pinks, purples of the badlands rocks. I picked up Mike at an overlook and we stopped at a few more together.

We were going to stay for sunset at the Pinnacles overlook but found a BLM campsite that reviews it was just as beautiful. I’m SO glad we did this. This BLM land was just a mile or so outside of the Pinnacles entrance. It was a really neat spot; it was a long road against a cliff that faced the Badlands and dozens of people were parked along but everyone had enough space that it felt very private. It felt so safe and private that we even slept with the back of the truck wide open and we woke up to a stunning sunrise that made the colors of the badlands pop.

After drinking a cup of coffee, we started the Park Look road and stopped along a variety of overlooks. This is one of the rare parks that the views from the drive are just as stunning as the overlooks, that you don’t really have to stop.

We made a pitstop in the Ben Reifel Visitor Center (the main one for the Park) and earned my 24th Junior Ranger Badge! Ranger Trish, who swore me in, is from Texas and it’s her first time working at a National Park. Before this she was a teacher for 30 years. Thank you Ranger Trish for your lifetime devotion to educating and working in two of the most honorable careers.

After the Park, we went to do all the small trails that are right past the Visitor Center. However, we only did Cliff Shelf and Window trail because we had gotten spoiled by our sunset and sunrise golden hours in the park.  We realized that once the sun was high up, the rocks were washed out by the sun and weren’t quite as beautiful. Like I said… we got spoiled.

We then met up with our old QC pal, Wade, when we left the park and met at a wonderful dive bar! Then off to the next SD park, Wind Cave!

Recommendations

  • This is one of the few times I’ll say this and it’s probably an unpopular opinion… the scenic drives give you just as much as the trails do. Unless you’re a geologist and super into rocks, you might start to get underwhelmed by the scenery. However….
  • The beauty of these SD parks is the proximity of a dozen other wonderful places to visit. Do the best from each and you won’t get bored.
  • SUNSCREEN. There is little to no shade. We got lucky that it was only about 85 degrees but that was super cold for the average summer day.
  • Camp at that BLM land outside of the Pinnacles entrance! You won’t regret it. 

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