Badlands National Park is a stunning amalgamation of rock spires, castles, cathedrals, and battlements sitting on rolling praries. Dividing the northern grasslands from those in the south, which are about 200 feet lower in elevation, the great Badlands Wall extends for 100 miles.
This multitude of pinnacles, spires, pillars, shelves, and chimneys is an immense natural barrier cutting through the landscape. The Wall is almost impossible to see from the northern plains, but it rises above the southern plains like an ancient and abandoned city skyline.
Visitors will discover perpetually active prairie dog colonies and quietly grazing herds of bison, golden eagles soaring overhead, and scattered bands of mule deer and pronghorn antelope. One of the rarest and most endangered mammals in the world is the black-footed ferret, which can occasionally be seen on the park grasslands, where it lives and feeds on the prairie dogs.
Elsewhere in the park there are brightly colored ridges (the sedimentary bands of color range from gray and blue to yellow and pink) and sandy tablelands. The park is best visited in the spring when the prairie wildflowers (evening primrose, mariposa lily, wild rose, and scarlet globemallow) are at their peak or in the fall when the summer sun has bleached the prairie grasses and the cloudless blue sky goes on forever. Such scenic wonder is a fabulous experience for all visitors who love the great outdoors.
Badlands National Park Photo Opportunities
Landscape photography in the Badlands is best pursued at sunrise or sunset when the warm orange and red light adds to the brilliance of the natural earth tones and blue shadows that begin to artfully form among the contours of the earth. Here are some stunning views you'll want to photograph:
- Door Trail: The Door Trail takes you just a few steps through a notch in the wall and onto what seems like the surface of the moon: a tangle of wildly eroded and barren hills that is the heart of the Badlands.
- Notch Trail: The Notch Trail winds up the Badlands Wall to a window, or notch, eroded out ot the top of a cliff. It faces southwest toward Cliff Shelf and Cedar Pass. The view is wonderful: prarie and badlands, the White River, and, in the distance, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
- Windows Trail: This trail leads to a spectacular natural window in the Wall that overlooks an unexpectedly deep canyon cut into the tableland.
Whether you choose to hike for a few hours or spend a few days camping and exploring the Badlands, the magnificent landscapes will stimulate your imagination. For a geological history of the region and a discussion of the area's previous dwellers, go to the next page.