According to the Badlands National Park website, the average visitor to this South Dakota park spends 1-2 hours here. This means that most visitors drive the 26 mile pave scenic drive, stop at a few overlooks, snap a few pictures, and then move on to Mt. Rushmore or the Black Hills.
I spent five hours in the park, so I doubled the length of the average visitor. What I saw will definitely bring me back to visit again as the park is definitely worth further exploration.
Although the main drive takes visitors through the most incredible scenery in the park, I found the Sage Creek Basin a more interesting part of the park. There is a 12 mile gravel road at the far western boundary of the park, which is about 9 miles from Wall, South Dakota on route 240.
The road starts off at the lip of some spectacular canyons, but the topography levels out the farther west one travels. It is here where the best wildlife viewing can be found. There is a healthy reintroduced population of 800 bison along this stretch of road, so buffalo sightings are a guarantee.
Five miles down the road is the Roberts Prairie Dog Town. It should be called a prairie dog metropolis as there are thousands of the varmints running wild on each side of the road for miles.
The amount of small prey attracts a multitude of predators. I spotted three coyotes in a matter of 15 minutes. Several golden eagles were circling the air in search of a careless prairie dog that might stray too far from safety. Pronghorn and deer are also frequently spotted on this stretch of road.
At the end of the road is a primitive campground. There is no water here, but they have picnic tables and shelter from the sun. Sites are free and are reserved on a first come first serve basis.
There are few trails in the Badlands, but hikers are allowed to hike and camp anywhere in the park. The campground is a great place to start a hike as there are buffalo trails that snake through the grassy hills that wind their way into the interior of this interesting national park.
One must be careful not to approach the buffalo as they can be ornery and dangerous. Prairie rattlesnakes are also a concern in warmer times, but the near freezing temperatures would keep them at bay at this time of the year.
I took a fifteen minute walk along one of these trails and reached the summit of one of the hills. It gave a great view of the surrounding prairie and the canyons farther east. A golden eagle soared by and came within 15 feet of me as is surveyed the prairie below.
I had to return to my car, but the wide open spaces and the way the sedge rustled in the wind had an eerie haunting quality that beckoned me to wander further into the park. Not on this day, but I will be back soon.
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