I had driven through Badlands National Park with my family on a road trip to the Rockies many years ago. For many people on similar road trips it takes a similar status – a drive-through park where you take a few hours to stop at some overlooks. Don’t get me wrong, we did all that. But there is so much more to explore!
However, the scenic drive was indeed highlight. It zigzagged through the cracked, crumbly and colored fingers of the Badlands. The park mostly protects a 50-mile stretch called The Wall, which is the eroded division between the upper and lower prairies of the White River Valley and the Badlands formations carved in between. We also got onto almost every mile of the park’s few trails and loved getting close-ups of the crazy formations carved over thousands of years by the White River.
Badlands is fairly unusual because it is divided into separate northern and southern units. All the development and main attractions are in the Northern Unit. But your reward for braving the rough roads and trail-less routes of the Southern Unit is that you are joined by only 1% of the park’s visitors. We tried to backpack from Sheep Mountain Table to the Badlands floor, but couldn’t find our intended route down the steep ledges and when I thought we had it was choked with poison ivy. In the end, we didn’t cry too much because the view from the top of the table at Sheep Mountain Table Overlook was our favorite in the whole park.
Honestly, though, the thing we were really excited for was the heat. We had been in mountain parks for the last two months and were constantly cold. It was so nice not to need our double layer sleeping bags and coats to sleep! And the skies were a beautiful clear blue with those friendly marshmallow clouds. I never imagined I’d look so forward to putting on sunscreen after the suffocating clouds of our last three parks in the Rockies!