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RV Trader Travel Spotlight: Badlands National Park

RV Trader Travel Spotlight: Badlands National Park

Getting out on the road and exploring national parks is all part of the wonderful experience of being an RV owner. One of the most popular national parks, Badlands in South Dakota, is celebrated for its natural wonders, wildlife, and native history. With the country’s largest undisturbed mixed-grass prairie, eroded buttes and stunning pinnacles, a diversity of wildlife, fossils dating back millions of years, and activities that connect you with nature, Badlands has something for everyone. RV Trader shares everything you need to know about all 244,000 acres of Badlands National Park in this Travel Spotlight.

Badlands National Park History

Contrary to its name, Badlands is a wondrous place to visit with an enticing history that traces back millions of years with a distinctive collection of fossils, native people, and finally designation as a national park. Fossils of saber-tooth cat, ancient camels, rhinoceros, crocodiles, and horses, among other animals, date back 34 to 37 million years within the national park. Some of these were discovered by the native Lakota people, who named this area mako sica, or “bad lands.” French fur trappers adopted the name while traversing the area since it was difficult to navigate with rugged canyons and buttes; clay terrain that was debilitating in rainy conditions; cold winters, hot summers; and lack of reliable water sources.

In 1929, President Calvin Coolidge signed a law establishing Badlands as a national monument and a proclamation for further development within the boundaries of Badlands. The Monument was established to preserve the area’s natural scenery and educational resources, including geological and zoological observation. Another decade later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the enacted proclamation and the monument was renamed Badlands National Park in 1978.

Things to Do in Badlands

To get the full Badlands experience, go exploring in this incredible place full of crooked peaks and eroded rocks. With breathtaking buttes and canyons, a sprawling prairie, hiking, a fossil exhibit, and wildlife watching, Badlands throws a lot at you. Make the most of what this national park has to offer and go have an adventure.

Panorama Point

This popular point of interest is off Badlands Loop Road, a two-lane paved road which takes you right through the park and passes some of the best features found in the area. From Panorama Point you’ll have an amazing view of where the prairie land, rocky ridges, and the White River Valley converge. You can peer out for miles at big skies and a maze of geological formations that are like nowhere else on earth.

Yellow Mounds Overlook

Another stop off the Badlands Loop, layers of rock burst out in bright yellow on this sloping mound. The yellow rock is a vestige of an inland sea that covered the Great Plains, eroding and surviving now millions of years later. The overlook, along with other destinations off the loop, is a spectacular sight at sunset.

Yellow Mounds Overlook

Hiking

There are a number of trails in Badlands that take you up close to the park’s extraordinary natural features. These paths are fit for hikers of different experience levels, as some are easy and some are challenging. Notch Trail takes you through a canyon and climbing a log ladder to a cliff’s edge. Saddle Pass takes you hiking up steep rocks for a view of White River Valley. Door Trail weaves between jagged pinnacles piercing the sky.

Fossil Preparation Lab

Open daily during the summer, see paleontologists work up close on fossil preparation that’s unique to Badlands. At this educational and research laboratory, you’ll see scientists identify species based on fossil characteristics, prepare and catalogue fossils, and then display them. This visitor experience gives you a better understanding of the landscape and inhabitants of Badlands and how the land has changed over millions of years.

Wildlife Watching

With its distinctive landscape, Badlands has a range of diverse wildlife you can see while driving and on trails when you venture out in the park. It’s important to remember to keep a safe distance and never feed, touch, or otherwise disturb animals in their natural habitat. Among these fascinating creatures calling Badlands home are bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, deer, coyotes, golden eagles, cliff swallows, and black-footed ferrets, which were once thought to be extinct.

Bighorn Sheep

Best Time to Visit Badlands

Spring and fall are ideal times to visit Badlands National Park. In April and May or September and October, there are usually less crowds, which makes it easier for RVers to get around the park on the Badlands Loop Road. Summer and winter can present challenges for visitors with harsh weather conditions. The summer will also see more visitors, hot temperatures, and dangerous thunderstorms, so if you do visit during these months you may want to plan on sightseeing early or late in the day. While the South Dakota winter can be unforgiving for spending time outdoors, the landscapes can provide a different and still remarkable look at the terrain covered in snow.

In the spring when temperatures warm up, you can spot bison shedding their winter coats, green grass, and flowers in full bloom. In the fall, you can expect the weather to be warm during the day and cool at night. Clear skies in the evening let you stargaze right at your RV campsite.

Where to Camp and Park Your RV at Badlands

For RVers, there are a couple of options for camping in Badlands. 

  • Cedar Pass Campground is the larger campsite for RV accommodations, located out in the open grass surrounded by peaks. Here you’ll find shaded picnic tables, showers and bathrooms, water, and some hookups with electricity. 
  • Sage Creek is a smaller campground in the park but with expansive views of the rolling rock formations. For RVs, there are less amenities, but bathrooms and picnic tables can be found here. Recreational vehicles greater than 18 feet in length are not allowed at Sage Creek. 

Outside of the park, RVers have more sites to choose from. White River KOA Campground is 6 miles from the park and features more hookups and amenities for RVers. Minute Man RV Park and Lodging is 3 miles from the park with full RV hookups and amenities. 

Cedar Pass Campground

What’s Near Badlands

If you’re taking a roadtrip in your RV to Badlands, there are more South Dakota sights you’ll want to be sure to check out. 

  • Black Hills National Forest spans over 1.25 million acres across two states, with ponderosa pines, prairies, and more rugged ranges. 
  • The Crazy Horse Memorial in Black Hills is an unfinished sculpture carved from rock that dates back to the ’40s. While the head has been completed, the rest of the sculpture is still a work in progress. The memorial is a dedication to the native tribes of the region and reaches a height of 563 feet. 
  • Mount Rushmore is one of the nation’s most recognized and visited monuments with the faces of the presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt carved in the Black Hills granite. Completed in 1941, Mount Rushmore now receives more than 2 million annual visitors.

Rambling rock formations, fossils dating back millions of years, and enchanting wildlife—Badlands is a gem to be discovered. With a better idea of what this national park has to offer, start planning your next RV adventure.

Want to explore other great RV destinations? Check out these RV Trader Travel Spotlights:

And if you’re ready to find your next RV for exploring new destinations, shop our nationwide marketplace for new and used RVs on RVTrader.com.

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Ryan Miller
Ryan Miller

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