South Dakota Grand Canyon: Badlands National Park

The Grand Canyon of South Dakota is Badlands National Park.  Tom and I spent a day hiking in the Badlands during our recent drive across the country.  It was not our first visit to the Badlands.  We saw the Badlands in 1990 and in 2006.

We started our visit to the Grand Canyon of South Dakota by driving along State Highway 240, the scenic Badlands drive.  This route takes visitors along a 31 mile drive through the most scenic part of the Badlands.  There are lots of overlooks and hiking trails begin from well-marked parking lots.

We started at the Ben Reifel Visitors Center – the only one open before Memorial Day.  We watched the park movie, checked out the museum, and picked up a brochure.  I stamped my book and got a trail map.  The trail map was a little disappointing.  Most of the trails are in one small part of the park.  Consequently, that part of the park is very crowded while the rest of the park seems untouched by humans.

We saw some signs that said “travel beyond the maintained trail is at your own risk” in the crowded part of the park.  But other areas of the park had signs that said “please stay on maintained trail.”   So we weren’t sure whether we were allowed to hike into other canyons to explore off trail or not.  A good question to ask a ranger.

We hiked the Door Trail, the Window Trail, the Cliff Shelf, and the Fossil Exhibit Trail.  My favorite was the Cliff Shelf Trail because there were fewer people and we climbed a bit to get a fabulous view of the valley.  The Door and Window Trails take you into the peaks and gullies of the eroded claystone, siltstone, sandstone, and mudstone.  You can get as up-close and personal with the rocks as you want.

There are two other areas of the Grand Canyon of South Dakota.  The Palmer Creek Unit and the Stronghold Unit are both located on Pine Ridge Lakota property.  You have to get special permission at the White River Visitor Center to visit these areas.  The White River Visitor Center, located in the Stronghold Unit, is only open in the summer.

There is a large, open campground located next to the Ben Reifel Visitors Center.  Reservations are available online.  There are also some cabins available to rent next to the campground.  You can make arrangements at Cedar Pass Lodge.  A small restaurant serves basic meals from April through October.

Ben Reifel Visitors Center
Door Trail
Don’t go that way!
Cliff Shelf Nature Trail
Cliff Shelf Nature Trail
Castle Trail

Badlands National Park encompasses 244,000 acres.  It was set aside as a national monument in 1929 and became a national park in 1978.  It is a beautiful place to visit and to hike.  The scenic drive has many awesome overlooks.  Although not as deep or colorful as the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Badlands National Park deserves its designation as the Grand Canyon of South Dakota.