South Dakota Scenic Spot】Badlands National Park Winter 2-Day Trip

Badlands national park introduction and itinerary planning

Badlands national parkLocated in South Dakota, the park is known for having one of the largest stretches of badlands in the state. The park is actually divided into three sections: North Unit, Stronghold Unit, and Palmer Creek Unit, with most of the visitors focusing on the North Unit, which is crossed by Highway 240, while the other two sections are more difficult to access, and the North Unit is the only one that is open in winter. During the winter season, even the North Unit, which is very crowded, has very few visitors, making it a rare experience for those who want to see the vast terrain of the Badlands and enjoy the wildlife.

The most common activities in Badlands National Park are visiting the visitor center, driving to enjoy the scenery, walking the trails in the North Unit, and seeing the wildlife.The North Unit can be divided into the eastern and western halves by the Pinnacles overlook, with the eastern half of the unit mainly along Highway 240, and the western half of the unit along Rim road, which is a dirt road and is relatively less crowded. The western half of Rim Road is a dirt road, relatively less crowded. If you don't plan to take the long trail, you can consider a half-day to two-day itinerary.

  • Half day: Drive the eastern half of the North Unit, stopping only in the center.
  • Day: Drive the eastern half of the North Unit and take one or two short walks.
  • More than one day: A day trip plus wildlife viewing in the western half of the North Unit, with extra time for longer walks or just slowing down.

The only accommodations in the park are campgrounds, which are of course closed during the winter months. Ideal accommodations are found in nearby towns such as Wall, plus the Minuteman Missle n ational historic site, which also happens to be in the eastern half of the North Unit, forming a drive-through loop.

Visit the visitor center: Ben Refiel visitor center

The Ben Refiel visit center on the east side of the North Unit is the largest visitor center in the park. It is worth coming in for the introduction of the Badlands terrain and the many fossil archaeological and wildlife exhibits.

The terrain here was once under the sea tens of millions of years ago, so there are many fossils of marine reptiles left behind, which are of great archaeological value. One of the most interesting is a creature called mosasaur, which is translated into Chinese as viceroy. It was a giant marine lizard, the king of the sea in the Mesozoic Era. Although we can only see its fossilized form now, the imagery still looks a bit like a crocodile.

Sightseeing by car

North Unit East

By driving along 240, North Unit can pass by many scenic spots along the way and enjoy various kinds of badlands and terrains. The repetitive nature may seem a bit high, but you can't help but admire the magnitude of the badlands here.

Big badlands overlook

The first viewpoint at the east entrance is a vast expanse of badlands, formed by the erosion and decomposition of sedimentary rocks tens of millions of years ago. The view is actually as good as Colorado's.Grand Canyon National Park, and Bryce canyon national park.

Panorama point

The view after entering the garden through the walls.

Burn basin overlook

Burn basin overlook is a good location to watch the sunset, it is recommended to come at dusk to watch the sunset, the light shines down at this time looks very beautiful.

Homestead overlook

This area is called Homestead overlook because of the former cultivators. It is not easy to imagine the situation of reclamation when you see a large area of badlands. In fact, in 1907, due to the development of the railroad, some reclaimers also swarmed into the development of the White river valley below.

Conata basin overlook

Again, this is the place to watch the sunset, and the car has already climbed up to a higher place, facing the Conata basin.

Yellow mounds overlook

Although it is not the biggest and the most spectacular viewpoint, but it is my favorite one, Yellow mound here has a different composition of rocks, showing a yellowish color, which is very beautiful in the afternoon.

Ancient hunter overlook

The scenery is not so special, but it is actually an archaeological site. There are some ancient hunter's tools dug up here.

Pinnacles overlook

A must stop. There is a short trail that is well worth the walk and a good spot to watch the sunset. If you're only going to visit the eastern half of the park, you can drive north on the asphalt road to the exit.

North Unit, western half

The west half of North Unit is not as attractive as the east half, but I think it's worth spending some time here, the main reason is that it's quieter here, even the ranger station or the entrance is not visible, it's really in the atmosphere of nature. There are so many wild animals, especially Prarie dogs, just driving by, I saw thousands of Prairie dogs, the western half of the road is dirt road, but it is not difficult to drive, it is a very comfortable experience. You don't have to stick to the spots marked on the map, but most of the spots are just a little bit wider, so it's more comfortable to just walk around and see the animals.

Sage creek basin overlook

It is located on the high point of Sage creek basin, because there are no people at all, and there are wolves on the road, so it is still a bit scary to walk to a place that is too open, and it is a bit scary to walk to a place that is too open.

Badlands wilderness overlook

You can see the platform on the other side, and there are bison walking around on it.

Hay Butte overlook

The view is similar to that on 240 and is quite spectacular.

Roberts Prairie dog town

There is a large grassland which is full of Prairie dog's home. Probably because the parking lot next to the parking lot is too close to them, if you really take pictures by the parking lot, there are not many Prairie dogs, they all hide in the holes. The place with the most Prairie dogs is all the way to the west from here. As long as you don't disturb them, you can see hundreds or thousands of them standing at the entrance of the holes in the large grassland.

Badlands national park, Badlands National Park 47

Wicked Trail Hike

Door trail

The first trail after entering the park from the Northeast Entrance is an easy grade, 1.2km very gentle and well paved trail. Like the Window trail and Notch trail, you can pass through "The walls", a row of rock walls that look particularly neat and high. This side of the trail has a larger opening, called a door, and when you actually enter the badlands, which you only saw from a distance during the drive, these special rock textures are more clearly visible.

Window trail

It is even shorter than Door trail, only 0.4km, and it is also an easy trail. Although it is shorter, it is still the same as other trails where you can see all kinds of bad terrains from a close distance, the sharp protruding ones are clastic dikes, and the flat platforms on top of them are sod tables.

Notch trail

The more difficult and slightly longer Notch trail is 2.4km in length, although it is not too long, the main difficulty comes from the fact that you need to climb up the ladder to cross the steeper part of The wall halfway up, which is almost vertical near the top, and you can see the White river valley after you go up, but the descent is much more dangerous than going up, so it is not suitable for people who are afraid of heights to try it.

Castle trail

It is in the same parking lot as Door trail, Window trail and Notch trail, but it is a long trail going west in the other direction, 16km long, and the other end leads to Fossil Exhibit trail. The other end of the trail leads to the Fossil Exhibit trail, which was too long for this trip, but you can see the "Castle" in front of you from the trailhead.

Cliff shelf nature trail

Only 0.5 mile short loop trail, all the way to the natural landscape should be more beautiful in the spring, in the middle of the high point, you can also see another angle of The walls, this trail is one of my favorite in the park.

Saddle pass trail

It is difficult but very short, only 0.4km, and it is also over the walls, so you can use it as a sightseeing spot to see the other side of the walls.

Fossil exhibit trail

The 0.4km static fossil exhibit used to be a fossil digging site, and the park even put up a notice to report any fossil sightings. However, we didn't see any fossils.

Stop to enjoy the wildlife

The best thing about the national parks is that not only are there many wild animals, but you can stop and look at them anytime you want, and no one will bother you even if you look at them for a long time. Along the way, we saw several kinds of goats, deer and coyotes. But the most spectacular thing was the Prairie dog standing on the grassland.

Prairie homestead

Another good place to see Prairie dogs is the Prairie homestead, which is a privately run old farm outside the East Entrance, and you need to pay a fee to enter. It is a privately run old farm and you need to pay to enter. When we came here, the farm was actually closed for the off-season, but you can still see the special white Prairie dogs running around on the ground.

Further reading

Other Nearby Attractions

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