National Parks Tour – The Badlands

Sometime last year, Brian and I decided to check out a few national parks this summer. Long story short, it turned into a 2 week road trip stopping at 6 national parks, 1 state park, 1 national monument and 4 cities. It was CRAZY!

We left Friday, June 24 to head out for a quick overnight in Sioux City, just to get a jump on the drive. Then Saturday we drove to Badlands National Park in South Dakota. We camped for two nights in the Cedar Pass Campground, which had fantastic views. I’ll admit, Brian is the one who added the Badlands to our list. I didn’t really know much about it and was fairly indifferent. I am so glad he insisted on going there! As you drive in and are surrounded by all this rock…it’s like you’ve landed on another planet.


When we arrived it was quite windy, so setting up our tent was a bit of a challenge. We also discovered our double deep queen air mattress basically takes up the entire tent. Ha! (we spent the rest of our trip “shopping” other tents in the campgrounds). Since we arrived later in the day, we mostly just set up camp and made dinner – which was a spaghetti and meat sauce MRE. It was pretty good. The campground was having their summer Astrofest and putting on a little program that evening, so we also went to that. There is little to no light pollution out there and not many trees which makes its it a prime spot for star gazing. At the program, they had some high powered telescopes set up and we were able to look more closely at Jupiter, Saturn (and it’s rings!), a star cluster with over 750,000 stars and an exploding star. It was pretty sweet and a great start to our trip.

View from our campsite.

The next day we got up early to explore the park. I actually woke up about 5 to see the sunrise, but then went back to bed! After breakfast we checked out the Door & Window Trails and did a bit of climbing on the rocks. We hiked a bit of the Castle Trail, which is considered back country. Very hot, no shade. We went until we got hungry (and too hot), then headed back. After lunch at camp, we headed back out to drive the scenic loop. It was pretty, lots of scenic views.  At one stop a guy told us the gravel loop was worth it (we had been debating), so we drove that as well. Totally worth it! Saw a herd of sheep on the mountain side, lots of prairie dogs (they are so silly) and a herd of bison. There was also one lone bison at the end of this loop that we got pretty close to in the car. I’ve seen bison/buffalo before, but never in their natural habitat.

After this, we made a trip up to Wall Drug – b/c every one told us to stop if we could. It was touristy and a bit overwhelming…but fun to see, lol! Plus, we were able to pick up binoculars and a couple gifts!

Oh! And after dinner…we went for a little bike ride! 🙂

We’d recommend…

  • bringing your bike! But also to ride in the evening (while it’s still light) to avoid heat and busy roads.
  • driving the scenic loop and the gravel road – that’s where all the wildlife is!
  • getting up early to beat the heat and crowds if you plan to hike any popular trails…which you should!
  • the Door Trail. It is boardwalk to a point, then you have the choice to continue on by following yellow markers. Make sure you have plenty of water! The signs make it seem like this trail is really difficult, it’s not. Just be careful and enjoy the view.
What the Door Trail markers look like.

We wish we’d thought of…

  • the ground. We tent camped and didn’t think about how the climate and landscape in the Badlands would affect that. So, we had a bit of trouble getting our tent stakes in. We wished we’d had a mallet and sturdier stakes. We stopped at a Walmart before our next campground to get both, they came in handy.

For more info and maps please visit the Badlands National Parks website!


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