I Went to the Badlands and I Can Confirm They Are Totally Badass
When I was a kid, I went on an epic road trip with the Girl Scouts of America to Yellowstone National Park, stopping along the way to visit all American monuments like Devils Tower, Mount Rushmore and the Badlands.
I was maybe 11 on that trip, and that was the last time I’ve driven through South Dakota. I don’t need to give you exact dates, but let’s just say that it was a very long time ago!
Going back to the Badlands National Park as an adult with an entirely new appreciation for all types of adventures was everything!
Most people stop just long enough to snap a photo before getting back into their car and continue heading west. But I’m here to tell you that the Badlands are badass and you should absolutely explore them deeper!
We recently went on a road trip and spent 2 days camping and exploring around Badlands National Park.
The first day we got there about an hour or so before sunset, so we had just about enough time to snag a campsite and get everything set up.
We stayed at the Cedar Pass campground, just a few miles inside the park entrance. As far as campsites go, I have to be honest and say I’ve seen better. This site definitely caters to those traveling with RV’s and trailers, so it really doesn’t offer much in the way of space or privacy for people sleeping in tents. On the plus side, it does have several restroom facilities and you can’t deny the accessibility to everything the park offers.
The campsite does not allow open fires due to the risk of them spreading. Unfortunately, even though we did have a camp stove with us, the winds were so extreme across the open fields that we had a hell of a time cooking anything. Instead, we satisfied our hunger with sandwiches and settled in to watch in amazement as all of the stars fully light up the night sky. As a city dweller, I can’t honestly tell you the last time I saw the milky way in all its glory.
In the morning, we skipped cooking once again went next door to the Cedar Pass Lodge to book another night of camping and grab some grub. The lodge had a breakfast buffet but as we weren’t totally desperate, we left to find something a little more appealing.
And find it we did!
If you’ve ever driven through South Dakota, you know that there are billboards for Wall Drug about every mile throughout the entire state. We knew that Wall Drug is probably the biggest tourist trap in South Dakota, but we decided to go to the town of Wall and check it out anyway.
On the way, we pulled up restaurant reviews and found that there was a place nearby called the Red Rock Restaurant that looked promising. I’m a sucker for Mom and Pop diners and this place was honestly some of the best food I’ve had in recent memory. All of their meat comes from local farmers, and they sell it for a fraction of the price you’d get it anywhere else.
This entire breakfast feast cost us a whopping $14!
We, of course, checked out the oh so famous Wall Drug before heading back into the park. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The billboards along the way are all so odd I had no idea that really all this place was is one giant store and diner. That, and it has some hilarious statues in the back that are the perfect backdrop for your next funny Christmas card.
I’ll let you be the judge of if it’s worth it or not to stop at Wall Drug. I, for one, had a great time!
We spent the rest of the day hiking around Badlands National Park. There are a ton of trails to choose from, most of which are easy to moderate in difficulty, with only a handful of strenuous trails.
If you’re interested in all the hiking the badlands have to offer, click here for more info!
Hiking Notch Trail
We started by hiking Notch Trail. The guide book said it is moderate - strenuous, but only about 1.5 miles long. This hike is not recommended for people who have a fear of heights or are unable to climb a ladder.
You start by walking a short distance from the parking lot before you get to a log ladder to climb up to the rest of the trail. The ladder is at about a 45-degree slope, and not as long as it looked from the photos in the guide book. It took about 2 minutes to get to the top, so not bad at all. Going down took a little longer, but more so because it’s awkward going down backward at an angle like that.
We also lucked out being there during the off-season, so the trail only had a few other hikers on it besides ourselves. During peak season, I would give yourself extra time in case there is a line to use the ladder.
The rest of the trail meanders through the rocks until you reach a clearing to overlook the great plains all around you. Even if you do have a fear of heights, it’s absolutely worth it!
Hiking Medicine Root and Castle Trail
On our way back down Notch, we met a woman who is a regular to the area and told us about another couple of trails that aren’t as well known because they’re off the beaten path a bit.
We decided to take her advice and check them out for ourselves!
Castle Trail and Medicine Root Trail intersect with each other through the plains and at the base of the Badlands wall. Both are flat, easy trails, and absolutely worth doing both, even if it’s partway.
Castle trail is long, about 10 miles round trip. We had set out mid-day and knew we wouldn’t be able to finish the hike before sunset. Instead, we chose to hike out on the Medicine Root trail and loop back to the car on Castle trail where they intersect, which was about 4 miles total.
The Medicine Root/Castle Trails hike was by far my favorite in the badlands because I felt like we got to see the best of both worlds - the prairies and the walls. Not to mention, we had the place entirely to ourselves!
I had such an amazing time exploring this park.I hope to make it back soon and do the Castle trail in its entirety.
I also hope you’re able to make it out to Badlands National Park and see this wonder for yourself. Maybe you’ll fall in love with it just as much as we did!
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