It’s a cliché but its true – Badlands National Park in South Dakota offers one breathtakingly stunning vista after another.

Badlands Landscape
Badlands Landscape

The park gets its name from the Lakota Indians who lived there and called it “mako sica” or “land bad”, and later, in the early 1900s, French-Canadian fur trappers called it “les mauvais terres pour traverse,” or “bad lands to travel through.”

Nowadays we use the term ‘badlands’ to describe a geology that has formed when soft sedimentary rock, in a dry climate, is extensively eroded. This erosion has led to the park’s unmistakeable scenery of cathedral spires, torturous gullies, and sharp ridges blended with acres of mixed grass prairie.

Roadway in Badlands
Roadway in Badlands

As you drive through the Park it’s hard not to stop at every turn to photograph the strange, almost alien-looking landscape with its gold, red, brown and pink layers of colour, swirling across the horizon.

Fortunately, to help you get the best shots, there are viewpoints situated at regular intervals offering good photo opportunities and information boards with snippets of history.

Rhino, the ancestor of the modern horse, and sabre-toothed cats used to roam the wild landscape here – and their deaths are captured in the fossils all around you. Take a hike along the Fossil Walk; look down and you can see 1000s of years into the past, look up and you’ll be confronted with the fantastic views of the present.

Badlands Prairie Dog
Badlands Prairie Dog

And if you tire of the landscape (I can’t imagine you could) then there’s always the wildlife. Herds of wild bison roam the 240,000 acres and large dark Turkey Vultures circle overhead. Small burrowing owls make their homes in the Prairie Dog townships, where dozens of cute furry Prairie Dogs and (in May/June) their cuddly looking babies pop out of holes to nibble the surrounding grass. And every now and then a peculiar yelp can be heard as a Prairie Dog, for no apparent reason, leaps up in the air!  The owls look on disdainfully – as owls do.

Clambering over the rocky peaks you can spot Big Horn Sheep and in the distance on the grassland the Pronghorn Antelopes graze.

Grackles, Mountain Bluebirds, Rock Wrens and Lark Sparrows dart about in the trees and low lying scrub. You might even spot a group of wild Turkeys waddling along, gobbling as they go.

Sunset in Badlands
Sunset in Badlands

There is so much to see in Badlands National Park that a day doesn’t seem enough. So book yourself into a Cabin and watch the sun go down. The light turns the land a gentle pink and the drop in temperature delivers the iconic shot of the Bison snorting and their breath condensing in the air around their nostrils.

And then as the sun disappears behind the distant mountains and the sky goes from blue, to indigo to black, myriads of tiny stars appear. Unlike England their brightness is not dimmed by ground level light pollution.

A camera, binoculars, sunglasses, sturdy shoes and a warm jacket – that’s all you need to enjoy a day at one of nature’s natural wonders.


Badlands National Park


This blog was posted using – portable WiFi for smartphones, tablets and laptops.



Chantal Cooke

About the Author:

Chantal Cooke is an award winning journalist and broadcaster with a passion for the planet. In 2002 she co-founded the award winning radio station PASSION for the PLANET and in 2009 Chantal was awarded London Leader in Sustainability status. Chantal also runs a successful communications agency – Panpathic Communications.






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