Our final stop on our road trip was South Dakota’s Badlands National Park. Badlands NP has become one of America’s underrated national parks (Wind Cave too!?!). Its lack of a famous hike or individual land feature combine to make it a hard sell, but this is not a park to skip.
Badlands NP resides in South Dakota’s sprawling grasslands. If Montana has “Big Sky,” South Dakota has Big Land. As you drive along the interstate, you seem to be able to see forever. You can watch storms roll in from miles away while the blowing wind gives the impression that the swaying grasses are all part of some greater living entity.
One of the best aspects of Badlands NP is that it just sort of appears out of nowhere. There are no mountains or hills marking your approach. Just more and more grassland. Then, suddenly, you arrive on the park’s road and are able to overlook the eroded cliffs. Your eye can trace miles long lines of sediment in the hills.
While its lack of a defining trait makes The Badlands less respected, it is also what makes the park great. It is the never-ending continuous beauty that overwhelms you. Driving through the park, you get lost in the perfect balance of green and vermillion. Every viewpoint has its own unique touch. Can you spot the bighorn sheep in the above photo?
Jessica and I drove into Badlands NP in the afternoon and traversed the park to reach our campsite on its eastern side. The Cedar Pass campground was one of the most magnificent frontcountry camping spots we have stayed at. We hurriedly prepared and cooked dinner while a thunderstorm rolled in from the south. We feel asleep to the pitter-patter of rain on our tent fly while lightning flashes lit up the inside of our tent every few minutes. With a long drive on the itinerary for the next day, Jessica and I got up early, broke down our campsite, and hit the road as the sun was rising in the sky. If you have a chance to visit The Badlands, make sure you are out in the early mornings and late afternoons. The play of light on the eroded cliffs brings this park to life.
On our way out of the eastern edge of the park, Jessica and I stopped for quick hike on the door “trail”. Trail really isn’t a fair word to describe it. After walking on a raised wooden platform for a few hundred yards, you step down into a maze of exposed earth surrounded by cliffs and spires. It is so easy to become lost that park service installed steel pipes marked with numbers to direct you to and from the start of the trail. Otherwise you are free to explore and wander.
And, with that, the road trip was over. While we had our moments of wanting to
strangle kill maim poison take a break from each other (see driving from Park City, UT to Crater Lake in 1 day) the trip was unforgettable. Since returning home, many people have asked us what was our favorite place or experience, but it is too hard to choose. There are so many incredible places in this country; you just have to take the time to see them. Many months later, a few places and memories do stand out: Rocky Mountain National Park, the Bonneville Salt Flats, Crater Lake, the Olympic coast, rainforest, and mountains, and of course the Tetons.
Sitting at home in the middle of winter and snowed in with 4 feet of snow and more on the way, I know I would do this trip again in a second. Next time, though, 5 weeks might not be enough. I would want more time in the amazing parks and lands of the west. But, life moves on and big things are on the horizon. Instead of planning a road trip, I am busy planning a wedding. And, while there will be significantly less tents, wild animals, and mountains, there will be no less adventure and excitement!
Thanks for following us on the trip.