Located in the southwestern corner of South Dakota, Badlands National Park is 244,000 acres of mixed-grass prairie punctuated by beautifully striped stone peaks. A visit to the area on our U.S. National Parks: Mount Rushmore to the Rockies tour means an opportunity to drive the loop road, hike along the many trails or catch the sun setting over the plains. If that’s not enough to pique your interest, here are a few of the reasons the park is so special.
Untouched wilderness means lots of wildlife sightings
The park is home to 39 mammal species, nine reptile species and 206 bird species, as well as 69 kinds of butterflies. Depending on the time of year, you may encounter big horn sheep, bison, prairie dogs, porcupines or cottontail rabbits on the trails. The protected area is also being used as the site of the reintroduction of the black-footed ferret, the most endangered land mammal on the continent.
Stunning geological wonders
Two basic geological processes combined to make the jagged, colorful landscape of the Badlands: deposition and erosion. Over many millions of years, different kinds of soil (including volcanic ash and black ocean mud) were deposited in layers. Then, around 500,000 years ago, rivers began to cut through what was once a flat flood plain to create the jagged shapes that characterize the landscape today.
Centuries of hidden history
As the area was once under water, the many layers of rock hold a wealth of fossils. The first to hunt for these rock treasures were the Lakota tribe who populate the area. In the mid-19th century, paleontologists were tipped off to the wealth of fossils by the fur trappers who frequented the area. Today, the Badlands maintains its reputation of fossil-richness and is a favorite destination for paleontologists as well as amateur fossil hunters.