On a prior trip to the Black Hills several years ago we had bypassed the Badlands, I first assumed we could drive through on the way in or the way out, which we could have, BUT both times we were in a hurry to get where we were going so it never happened. This trip I told Jeff for sure we were going to stop. In fact, I looked into lodging in the area to make sure, and discovered there is lodging available in the Badlands, and booked us a room for the way home, typically after a rendezvous we are looking for a bed and a hot indoor shower so I knew there wouldn’t be much argument from Jeff. So in addition to a couple of campgrounds, there is Cedar Lodge, which offers cabins right next to the main visitor center, as well as running an “inn” right outside the south gate that still has beautiful views. For more info visit http://www.cedarpasslodge.com/.
I had saved the visitors guide on my laptop (in the name of conservation, I didn’t print it), and read through various parts of it to Jeff and the kids as we were headed that way. We discussed the geology that creates the badlands, along with how the Indians were able to hide out so well in this area.
Unfortunately Cedar Pass Lodge was booked up, so we ended up at their other property the Badlands Inn, which is 1/2 mile outside the south gate. The Badlands actually has two parts, the north unit and the south unit. The South Unit is located on Pine Ridge Reservation and is run by the Oglala Sioux Parks and Recreation Authority. Near as I could tell from my research, the south area is largely undeveloped and you would need some planning ahead of time as well as time and to be physically fit, the area was used as a bombing range at one time so there is unexploded ordnance also in some areas. The North area is more developed with the driving routes as well as several interesting looking hiking trails. As we had only a partial day again (we were coming from Custer State Park) we headed in through Southwest corner near a little trading post called “Scenic” on the map, where 590 branches off of 44. My plan was to hook up on the Sage Creek Rim Road as I was hoping to see the elusive Black Footed Ferret. A large part of the first part of our drive on 590 was grasslands; if that ferret was hiding out there we didn’t see him. We got into the Badlands area and there are some incredible lookout areas.
Badlands Lookout area off Sage Creek Rim Road
We finally did see some wildlife in the form of prairie dogs in the largest prairie dog town I have ever seen. In addition we ran across these goat like animals.
Coming in the way we did we bypassed the gate where you had to pay $15 for our vehicle, but we also bypassed the ranger station where we could have picked up the Junior Ranger booklet for our youngest. We continued on the Loop road and the scenery continued to change and each turn in the road brought a vista new and mysterious looking.
After a so so dinner at the cafe at Cedar Pass Lodge, and a browse through the gift shop, we headed to the Badlands Inn. I use the phrase Inn very loosely here as motel would be more fitting; it appeared to be a rather old run down place that perhaps Cedar Pass Lodge had bought for overflow guests. The room was a bit musty smelling, and run down looking, but it did work for our purposes and we got our hot shower. We saw the most incredible sunset that night from the parking lot, standing outside with several other guests and the front desk clerk, who termed it the best one she had seen while working there.
Sunset in the Badlands
There was several other things I would have liked to have done in the Badlands, the ranger station offered a night time sky program (June-September), as well there were several hiking trails that looked incredible (the best place to park for the longer trails appeared to be the Door and Window Trailhead area near the north Entrance.) But like most trips, I always find a reason to return! For a copy of the Planner visit http://www.nps.gov/badl/upload/BADL%20Planner%202010.pdf
The following morning, we had to go through the park to get to I-90, so ended up paying that $15 fee we saved the afternoon before, oh well! It’s an important cause for the National Parks.