The Lakota Sioux call an area of land in southwestern South Dakota “Mako Sica” or “bad land.” Early French fur traders and trappers also called the land bad because it was difficult to travel. Today, that 244,000 acres of spires, plateaus and eroding buttes is called Badlands National Park. Its striking moon-like surfaces, colorful sediment and abundant wildlife creates a place like no other.
Badlands National Park is considered to be one of the world’s richest Oligocene epoch fossil beds—some dating as far back as 30 million years. Researchers and Paleontologists have uncovered ancient three-toed horses, tiny deer-like creatures, turtles, a saber-toothed cat and other species in the area. Rangers, sightseers and even hikers have stumbled upon fossils in the park, so visitors can often watch active excavations.
The Badlands loop road is a 30-mile scenic drive on South Dakota Highway 240 that takes you through the heart of the park. Scenic overlooks along the road offer you photo opportunities and interpretative signs with park history. Along with the moon-like landscapes, Badlands National Park is one of the largest protected mixed-grass prairies in the United States. This blend of long and short grasses helps sustain the abundance of wildlife that lives inside the park. Antelope, deer and prairie dogs are the most commonly seen animals, but Bighorn Sheep and the endangered Black Footed Ferret also reside inside the boundaries of the Badlands.
Hiking, backpacking and wilderness camping are also popular activities in the Badlands. There are miles of designated trails and hikes range in intensity from moderate to difficult. Changing and eroding landscapes create unstable footing at time so visitors are encouraged to only hike with strong, sturdy shoes. Backcountry hiking and camping is by permit only and not recommended for casual visitors.
Location: approx. 120 miles from Custer
Hours/Seasonality: open 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Visitor Center opens daily from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. during the summer and 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. during the winter.
Fees/Reservations: Entrance fee is collected year-round. See park website for prices.