On our second full day in South Dakota we wanted to head East from Rapid City towards the Badlands National Park. I had wanted to visit here ever since I had played the Badlands level on the Spyro 2: Gateway to Glimmer Playstation 2 game as a child. Although I was aware we wouldn’t come across any dragons and we wouldn’t be jumping over rivers of lava it had still been enough to pique my interest.
We entered via the North East Entrance using our National Park Pass and our first stop was at the Door Trailhead. This began along a boardwalk which went past a hill known as the Badlands Wall and then opened up to the most spectacular views of the buttes and pinnacles of the park. The short trail then goes down onto the ground and you follow an unmaintained trail between yellow pole markers. There are numerous drop offs to avoid but as long as you pay attention to where you are putting your feet it is an easy, flat walk.
We then went to the Window lookout located at the same car park which was another gap in the Badlands Wall where you get the views of the door area but from a slightly elevated level.
We then went to refresh down at the Ben Reifel Visitor Centre before heading back up into the Badlands themselves. We made a quick pitstop at the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail which is a boardwalk and stairs combination through an area of juniper trees that was quite pretty.
We then returned to the same car park we had been at previously to hike the Notch Trail. This was the first vaguely challenging trail despite being a very short 1.55miles. The out and back route is fairly flat at the start, walking through a valley in the Badlands Wall. To reach the top of the canyon you then have to scale a log ladder up and edge your way round some narrow ledges before making your way a bit further along until a window type opening overlooking the White River Valley below. The views from here are awesome and the trail really exciting so if you can only do one hike in the Badlands (although there is more than enough time to many in a day) I would pick this one.
Our next trail was through the prairie lands that make up the part of the park that isn’t full of the buttes and pinnacles. This was the 4mile Medicine Root Trail. This is mainly flat across the plains past many of the badlands landmarks. It was on this route we saw a few big horned sheep which was a first for me and was pretty cool. The hike was a really nice trail and had some lovely views along it.
It was then time to start making our way back towards Rapid City but rather than going out the park and along the highway like we had done on the way in, we decided to take the scenic route along the Badlands Loop Road. Along here there were multiple stop offs to get amazing views over the Badlands and out to the Buffalo Gap National Grassland beyond that. None of these required much walking but they all still provided stunning vistas. We stopped at nearly all of them up until the road out of the Pinnacles Entrance which is where we exited the park.
For dinner that evening we ate at the Dakotah Steakhouse which was opposite our hotel , the La Quinta by Wyndham Rapid City. The steak I had at Dakotah was so succulent and juicy and the restaurant was cozy and stylish so I would recommend here if staying close by.
The Badlands National Park was everything I had hoped for and more. I have never been anywhere that looks so alien and otherworldly. It is somewhere you would expect to see on Mars and yet it is incredible. Not many people talk about going to South Dakota, particularly from the UK, however this place is more than worth the effort particularly when you can also add in a trip to the Black Hills/ Custer State Park.
Is the Badlands National Park on your bucket list? Which is your favourite trail in the park?