I powered through the rest of Minnesota and South Dakota in order to have two days in the Badlands. I knew I would want to spend time exploring them and I was right. I got there in the early evening. It looked like some storms were coming through and I had to drive almost all the way through the park to get to my campsite. I thought I would just drive through really quickly to make sure I set up my tent while it was still light out and not raining. I would explore the next day. Ha! Impossible in this park. The landscape was so striking when I pulled up that I definitely had to take my time.
Badlands became a national park with the stipulation that the Park Service build a road to show the public all of the most interesting features, so driving that road was the best part of the park. The storms in the distance made it even more dramatic. I still managed to set up my tent before the sun set. It was completely worth stopping and looking around.
During that first drive of the loop road, I checked off all the common species people go there to see. I saw bighorn sheep, pronghorn, and bison, and I was happy to back in the land of the prairie dog! Not as huggable as the groundhogs of the east, but pretty darn cute.
My campsite was basically in the middle of a field which was fantastic. No running water and no fires allowed, but so scenic and isolated. There were a handful of other campers there plus a bison giving himself a back rub on a picnic table. Perfect! This place is great.
There was a huge thunderstorm my first night. That area gets 16 inches of precipitation per year on average and I swear half of it must have fallen that night. The lightning flashing looked like there was a strobe light in my tent it was so frequent. Thankfully, I did not wash away or get hit by lightning. I woke up in a dry tent with a drizzly morning outside. I unzipped the rainfly and stood up to see what the day looked like and I was face to face with a bison! Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but he was really close to my tent.
Regardless of the rain, I was determined to hike the longest, and basically only, trail in the park. This park allows backcountry hiking and camping, which is great, but not when I’m by myself. I stuck to the trail and managed to get plenty lost anyway, no backcountry necessary. It all worked out thanks to the couple from Quebec who took me back to my car (see The Kindness of Strangers Saves Me From Myself).
By then, the sun had come out and I took another leisurely drive back to my campsite, stopping at some of the pull-offs I missed the day before.
When I got back to the campsite, the friendly bison was there again (I have to assume it was the same one). This time he was scratching his back on the bathroom building. Apparently, there was someone inside, since some kids were standing outside yelling, “You might not want to come out right now! There’s a buffalo out here!” It was the funniest thing I had seen in a while. That poor person on the toilet!
The Badlands were like nothing I had seen before. Jumping out of the plains in a 100-mile-long wall, they are impressive and unique. I enjoyed my time there very much. It was not crazy crowded or hectic and I never felt rushed, which was great since the landscape shifts and morphs as you drive around curves or as the light changes and it behooved me to take my time. It may not be high on people’s destination lists, but it should be. I loved it.