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. 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!