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Decoding the Dakotas: Badlands

Courtesy North Dakota Tourism

The colorful, arid terrain the Lakota called “bad land” and the Spanish termed “wasteland” stretches as far as the eye can see in southwest North Dakota and South Dakota. Although settlers and Native Americans found it daunting to pass the badlands’ canyons, ravines and hoodoos, today’s visitors can enjoy the spectacular beauty of its striated red and yellow hues.

South Dakota’s 244,000-acre Badlands National Park shows no sign of civilization along most of the 31.5-mile Badlands Loop Scenic Byway. The road turns with the contours of the eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires for picturesque outlooks over the desolate land.

A small portion of the abundant dinosaur and fossil findings from the park line the walls of the Ben Reifel Visitors Center. For a more touristy outing after viewing endless wilderness, the quirky 76,000-square-foot Wall Drug roadside attraction offers free ice water and shopping.

Two parks cover much of the vast badlands in North Dakota: Theodore Roosevelt National Park and Little Missouri National Grassland. For 1.2 million acres, the National Grasslands offers opportunities to spot elk, antelopes, bighorn sheep and other abundant wildlife living on the land. The park encompasses the 70,446-acre Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which boasts Painted Canyon Visitor Center and the 13.7-mile North Unit Scenic Byway.

Visitors to the park can watch for herds of wild horses, canoe in the Little Missouri River or ride bikes along part of the scenic 96-mile Maah Daah Hey Trail, which traverses some of the most scenic areas of the rugged North Dakota badlands.

Researching Your Trip:

Badlands National Park
(605) 433-5361

Theodoore Roosevelt National Park
(701) 842-2333

More Destination Dakotas:
North Dakota
South Dakota