Plan to be in South Dakota on your family travels? As part of our 17-day road trip this summer, we crossed the state and found a fabulous place for exercise and learning. Badlands National Park is huge–244,000 acres winding through central and southwestern parts of the state. The landscape was like nothing we'd seen before–even coming from volcanic, historic Yellowstone. It was hard to imagine Native Americans and homesteaders crossing this part of the country.
Insterstate 90 (I-90) is directly north of the park, and there are spots where you can access the Hwy 240 Badlands Loop Road. 240 takes you through the north parts of the park before connecting back up to I-90 at Exit 110. We chose to continue east and take Exit 131 to reach the Park Headquarters and Ben Reifel Visitor Center. Since we were already doing so much driving (we left the Mount Rushmore area early that morning), we preferred to get out and explore rather than do the car loop.
Inside the Visitor Center, you'll find exhibits sharing the geology, paleontology and biology of the Badlands area. Kids 12 and under can ask the ranger on duty for a Junior Ranger booklet and use the exhibits to complete it. There were fossils to touch and paleontology equipment to try. We learned about the Lakota people and the wildlife that inhabits the Badlands. My kids were excited to earn their fifth badge on this trip!
We spent most of our time at Badlands National Park climbing the huge boulders between the Visitor Center and I-90. There were plenty of access points, beautiful views, and (thankfully) a restroom. Even I got in on the climbing action! If we'd had more time, we would have enjoyed doing a hike elsewhere in the park, but we were headed east across the state and it was already a long day. Climbing was the perfect way to break up the 8 hour drive!
Planning to visit any National Parks in the next year?
You may be eligible for a FREE National Park Pass with the Every Kid in a Park program.