Located just southeast of the Black Hills, the Badlands is an area of steep canyons, jagged spires and bands of colorful rocks, whose appearance comes from half a million years of water erosion. Under the pressure of the elements, the land has eroded into odd shapes and fissured slopes. These formations are surrounded by mixed-grass prairie. The best time to visit is in the early morning or late afternoon—the strange geological formations and beautiful coloration are especially striking when the sun hits them from a low angle.
A 30-mi/50-km road winds through the park past many viewing points. Thriving in the area are coyotes, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, mule deer, prairie dogs and rattlesnakes. The black-footed ferret—the most endangered mammal in North America—was reintroduced into the park in the 1990s. A large herd of bison roams the Badlands Wilderness Area in the western side of the park's North Unit, near Pinnacles Overlook.
The park's hiking trails are by far the best way to appreciate the dramatic landscape. They range from short jaunts to the 10-mi/16-km Castle Trail. The Badlands region is a treasure trove of prehistoric remains, including those of a saber-toothed feline, and ancestors of camels and horses. A walk along the brief Fossil Exhibit Trail will enable visitors to view replicas of several fossils. Cabins and campsites—as well as a picnic area and a cafe—are available within the park.
More than 64,000 acres/25,900 hectares of the park south of Sage Creek Rim Road have been designated as a wilderness, a landscape to be left uninhibited by man. This represents the largest tract of prairie wilderness in the U.S., and it offers a unique, primitive experience within the national park. Park staff do not maintain trails throughout this area, but visitors are welcome to traverse it and camp as they please. Hikers are advised to leave all artifacts in place for future visitors.
The park is open daily 24 hours, and the entrance fee is US$20 per vehicle for a seven-day pass. Phone 605-433-5361. https://www.nps.gov/badl.
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