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National Parks #1 and #2: Badlands and Wind Cave National Park

As far back as I can remember I have loved South Dakota. I visited once when I was much younger prior to traveling there in May 2016, and I must say it was just as amazing this time around. While some of our adventures were similar to what I did when I was younger, a few of the experiences were brand new; others renewed my appreciation for the beauty of this country.

We visited Badlands National Park twice during our stay, once upon arriving to the area and the second time the final day of our stay. The first night we simply enjoyed the fantastic sunset against the orange rocks, so very different from anything we have in Minnesota. We then drove the Badlands Loop Road that goes through the park, which is absolutely worth the drive. The scenery is beautiful and the wildlife abundant at Badlands. We saw plenty of rabbits, prairie dogs, horses, bison, and bighorn sheep in our time there the first night.

When we returned to Badlands National Park, we tackled some of the more difficult trails, my favorite of which was the Notch Trail, which included climbing up a log ladder to make it to the top of the ridge to get a beautiful view of White River Valley.

I wouldn’t classify the climb up the log ladder as “easy,” but the view was sure worth it.

The trails at Badlands ranged from really easy to adventurous for us, but there were none we couldn’t tackle. I do strongly recommend hiking boots of some sort though: the first day I attempted to tackle a trail in my Nike tennis shoes and it didn’t go terribly well, so the next day I went to Cabela’s and purchased real hiking boots, which I have used many times since then.

In between our two trips to Badlands we explored Wind Cave National Park, one of the longest and most complex caves in the world. This park also has abundant wildlife, although mostly comprised of just bison and prairie dogs. When we were here, we went on the Natural Entrance Tour, which is listed as the moderately strenuous guided tour option.

For us it wasn’t strenuous at all (the steps were the part that was considered moderately strenuous, but we didn’t think they were difficult), and was an excellent introduction to Wind Cave and complex cave systems in general.

I highly recommend visiting both of these national parks, and doing so in the same trip is absolutely doable. Wind Cave national park is perfect for horseback riding. They got the best horses at their solarium horses facility, you can check them out anytime. If you are a horse lover, you can also get an idea on how to build a solarium for horses.

We saw a lot of horse owners preparing a western saddle and other horse riding gear needed for their adventure.

These parks are so different from one another that fear of boredom shouldn’t be a concern. Additionally, you can make the hikes or tours as adventurous as you want: we chose the moderately adventurous ones for now, but hopefully will be back soon to tackle the most intense excursions. Happy travels!

This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. I loved learning about the trails at this National Park. I’ve only lived on the Coasts and haven’t been to this part of the country…. yet! The ladder climb looks so cool! Thanks for sharing great pictures!

    1. It was spectacular – the ladder climb was fun and not too challenging, but offered some amazing views. We highly recommend it!

  2. I love your photos! They captured the beauty of these gorgeous rock formations really well. And I really enjoyed your writing style as you shared the details here. Thanks for sharing this information and making it enjoyable in every way 🙂

    1. Thank you Carrie! The rock formations were gorgeous- and we had beautiful weather too! Thanks for reading!

  3. I’ve heard of Badlands but didn’t really know what it was like. I had no idea it was so beautiful! That main photo is just incredible. I love that there’s wild life too, it looks like it could be quite barren!

    1. It was gorgeous! There’s plenty of wildlife there – between the Badlands and Custer State Park we saw lots of animals on that trip, and we got to view them close up, so that was exciting.

  4. Thank you for sharing your photos and experiences. We look forward to visiting these two spots when things open up. We’ve been traveling the US and Canada going to as many National Parks and other sites as we can. Looks quite beautiful.

    1. Thanks Suzannah! It’s on our bucket list to visit every U.S. National Park! What have been some of your favorites?

  5. So beautiful. The hike up the ladder doesn’t seem so easy though. The landscape is so wonderful and different it is absolutely a treasure and needs to be seen in person.

    1. The ladder climb wasn’t too challenging, but it does take some coordination and balance. And you are right, the landscape is wonderful and worth seeing in person!

  6. Thank you for sharing! I haven’t been to the Badlands since I was a kid. Reading your post and seeing your pictures makes me want to go back again. This time I’d love to try the ladder climb!

    1. I also hadn’t been since I was young, and loved it again the second time! The ladder climb and the hikes were awesome- I highly recommend checking them out if you make it back out there.

  7. Oh wow it looks so beautiful there! And that log ladder looks like a lot of fun 😀 Will definitely add this place to the list 🙂

    1. It is so worth it! The views are gorgeous, and the Black Hills offer plenty of fun and exciting things to do!

  8. This is absolutely incredible! Definitely one of my dream destinations – when I was a kid I sooo wanted to be a paleobiologist. Hopefully one day we can get there! Beautiful views!

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