Badlands National Park (I'll tell you where the buffalo roam!)
Jan 15, 2009
Pros: No crowds, even in August. Incredible geological formations. Being surrounded by hundreds of buffalo!
Cons: Not easy to get to from New York.
The Bottom Line:
Love nature and wildlife? You might just enjoy a visit to the Badlands National Park, in South Dakota, as much as this family did. Even my teenagers loved it.
We took a family trip to Badlands National Park, in South Dakota, over the summer of 2008. This was the first time this New Yorker had ever been to the Wild West, and it is a trip that my family and I will never forget. We spent one full day in Badlands National Park, and felt that that made for a nice exploration.
My teenage sons love animals, and when one of them expressed an interest in seeing wild animals, such as bison, that became one of our primary motivations for arranging the trip. In addition, my husband had wonderful memories of the trip he had taken to the Badlands National Park as a child, so he was eager to return with his own family.
We traveled in August. Although I had read reports of people complaining about the summer heat there, we got lucky, in that the weather was cooler than usual, and very breezy. We were quite comfortable.
We drove around the Loop Road, our jaws dropping as we stopped at nearly every viewing station. The geological rock formations, deep crevices, and buttes, interspersed with vast, open grassy prairie were something out of a science fiction movie. The cliffs were at once breathtaking, incredible and yet deeply frightening (at least to me). The four of us snapped hundreds of photographs, and we kept going back and forth between using our cameras and our binoculars.
The colors of the rock formations were unbelievable, as well. Stripes of bright white and pink, bases of yellow, gray and brown. The grassy prairie held more textures and colors as well: wheat-colored fields, grasses in shades of green and a remarkable blue.
The vastness of space and the wide-open sky cannot fail to impress. This New Yorker had never seen anything like it before. I admit to being a bit frightened, as well. I kept watching my children, even though they are teenagers, fearing they would get too close to the edge. In fact, I will admit that the night after our visit, I slept fitfully, waking with a start several times, thinking that my younger son had gotten too close to the edge. I certainly would not have enjoyed bringing a toddler there: I would have been a nervous wreck! Coming to think of it, we did not see many very young children there, and perhaps that is the reason why!
Now, let me tell you a bit about the wildlife, and then, as promised, how to find the bison herd:
As we drove around Loop Road, the main road that visitors drive, to explore the Badlands, we saw plenty of big-horn antelope and pronghorn-sheep. However, we really were hoping to spot some buffalo, but found none on Loop Road.
We decided to make a side-trip off of the main Loop Road, onto Sage Creek Rim Road, a dusty, gravel road, in order to see the Prairie Dog Town. The Prairie Dog Town can be viewed five miles from the turn-off onto Sage Creek Rim Road. We enjoyed watching all the prairie dogs that were “barking”, walking around, and popping into and out of their underground holes. After enjoying the prairie dogs, we decided, by pure luck, to explore a little further on Sage Creek Rim Road, and lo and behold, we found the very large herd of buffalo. They weren’t exactly close to the road, but with our binoculars, we could get a very good look at them, and it was quite a large herd. The herd was on the move too, which made it even more exciting! We were mesmerized, and watched them for quite some time.
Afterwards, I read in a few places that Sage Creek Rim Road is where the herd has been congregating in recent times.
So, I would encourage visitors to Badlands National Park to check out Sage Creek Rim Road, in order to hopefully see the buffalo. I understand that this is the largest buffalo herd in the United States, too. Another thing that is very worthwhile is to ask other visitors if they have seen the buffalo herd, in their travels that day, and if so, where they saw them. We found that fellow Badlands travelers were uniformly friendly and happy to exchanges information on which animals had been seen in different locations.
Speaking of other visitors, another noteworthy point is the lack of crowds. Considering the fact that this is an enormous national park, we saw no crowds at all. Even at the most popular viewing areas, we generally saw no more than ten other cars pulled over, and usually fewer than that. Even during the time that we were watching the buffalo herd, we only saw an occasional one or two other cars stopping to watch also. The lack of crowds made our fabulous vacation even better.
While we spent most of our day traveling by car, and stopping only to gawk at the scenery or wildlife, we did manage to walk one small hiking trail. There are a couple scenic trails that are about a mile long, and can be accomplished pretty easily and quickly. We also had a meal in the Cedar Park Lodge. That was a nice place to stop and get some burgers, nachos and salads.
We did not stay in the campgrounds there, so I cannot comment on them.
Of cactus and sunburn: a couple warnings: Beware of prickly pear cactus. These ankle-high cactus are quite common, nestled within the tall grasses. At one point, I followed my son, as he made his way up a grassy hill. Next thing I knew, I had a prickly pear cactus ball sticking into the back of my calf. Believe me, if was tricky getting that thing out, one painful spine at a time. I even bled a little. So, be careful walking off the paths into grassy areas, particularly if you are not wearing closed shoes and long pants.
Also, in the warmer months, don’t forget your sunscreen. There isn’t much shade.
Overall, our trip to Badlands National Park, in western South Dakota, was an incredible experience that we will remember for life. My teenage sons stated that this was the best vacation they had ever taken, since they got to see amazing scenery and so many wild animals, particularly that very large herd of buffalo.
The funny thing is that most New Yorkers seem surprised when I tell them that we took our summer vacation at Badlands National Park, South Dakota. Seems that most people around here are not familiar with the Badlands at all. Perhaps the lack of direct flights is an issue. We were scheduled to take two flights to get to Rapid City Airport. However, stormy weather caused us to get redirected, and we had to take three planes to get there! However, it was well worth the hassle of getting there. The lack of crowds was wonderful, so perhaps I can ask all of you who are reading this review to keep this information hush-hush, ok? Perhaps Badlands National Park can just be our LITTLE secret!
Review Topic: Wildlife
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About the reviewer
Just your basic mother, wife, doctor, email addict. Oh, and I have a bunch of hobbies and enjoy trying new things and meeting new people.
Located in southwestern South Dakota, Badlands National Park consists of nearly 244,000 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires blended with the largest, protected mixed grass prairie in the United States. Sixty-four thousand acres are design