Exploring Badlands National Park, South Dakota

When we started planning our westward adventure, I was most looking forward to our visit to the Badlands. We had planned on boondocking just north of the park along the rim of the Badlands. However, as we made our way west in the midst of some of the hottest temperatures on record, we opted to make a last-minute reservation at a campground with electric hookups in Wall, South Dakota.

While we are more than prepared to boondock, we were not comfortable relying on our generator to attempt to cool Cate in 100°F temperatures. Having a toddler and dog along definitely plays a huge part in our decisions, especially when it comes to keeping cool (or warm). Additionally, I had a full day of work on the schedule, and being in the camper for most of the day was simply not a feasible option. When a big storm moved through on our first night in Wall, we were relieved to be in a campground and not out where even good days are reportedly very windy.

Even though I was disappointed to change our plans, the Badlands absolutely did not disappoint.

I went to college about 100 miles from Wall and the Badlands but had never visited. As a college student, I never really thought about going, but since moving away, it is something I felt like I missed out on. However, going now, with my family, it meant more to me than it ever would have as a college student.

Prior to our visit, I researched the best drives through the park, and so we set off for the entrance that was a little further away from the campground with plans to end up at the entrance closest to Wall and close to where we would have boondocked.

Traveling to national parks with a dog poses some unique challenges. In the Badlands, Daisy was not allowed on any trails, so we knew our day would be full of driving. Hiking was pretty much out of the question anyway due to the heat.

Going on a weekday, we did not think there would be too many people, but boy were we wrong. Many of the overlooks were quite busy, and there was hardly a parking spot to be found at the visitor’s center. We made a quick stop at the visitor’s center and then moved down the road, finding a smaller pull off to enjoy our picnic lunch in the truck.

The drives through the park were breathtaking. The formations changed drastically from mile to mile, sometimes towering above us, sometimes creating a maze of canyons below, and other times changing in color from reds and browns to vibrant yellows. We stopped at many of the overlooks, Will and I taking turns getting out to explore and one of us taking Bird to see the really cool parts.

On one of our final stops to sightsee turned into a highlight of our day when we spotted a herd of big horn sheep high up on a hill with little ones frolicking along the ridge. We had stopped to see the view on one side of the road and only saw the sheep by sheer coincidence, but it was truly a special sight that not many others were around to see.

By early afternoon, the crowds were getting pretty thick, so we turned down a dirt road and explored some lesser known parts. It was a breath of fresh air getting away from the traffic and letting Daisy enjoy the wind in her face as we drove.

One experience I would not miss out on was seeing a sunset over the Badlands. So later that evening, we returned to the park, found an amazing overlook, and watched the sun start to set over the beautiful formations. The toddler and dog were ready to go far before Will and I wanted to leave, but we got back in the truck and took a little drive as the sun set in front of us. And thankfully we did. We saw so many bison roaming along the road, and it was a scene out of a prairie dream seeing the colorful sky behind these amazing creatures.

Our first experience at this park was completely unforgettable and only made us want to plan our next visit—one where the weather is not as hot and we can get out on the trails and truly explore the areas less traveled.

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