Badlands National Park is a photographer’s dreamland for unique landscapes. The striking landscape in South Dakota contain a maze of buttes, canyons, pinnacles, and spires. It is also blended with the largest, protected grassland prairie. Wildlife is abundant in the park's 244, 000 acres. There are numerous overlooks to show off panoramic vistas and multiple hiking trails. All you have to do is to jump into the car for an unforgettable scenic drive along the Badlands Loop Scenic Byway.
The different seasons play so well in making Badlands National Park a different experience on every excursion. One of the best times to visit is in June to mid-July. The grasslands are green and lush, adorned with prairie flowers. Autumn brings a change to the scenery with the beautiful golden color filling the ravines. Winter you may come across the landscape covered in snow.
There are numerous hiking trails to explore, that are a million of years in the making. The trails range from the flat grasslands to the uphill climb through the Badlands formations. These striking geologic deposits contain one of the world’s richest fossil beds. One of my favorite places is the Yellow Mounds. The oldest rock, Pierre shale is from the shallow dinosaur sea that is 68 to 77 million years ago. The sea drained away and the black ocean mud weathered into yellow soil to form the most colorful section of the park. The best views are from the bottom, on the section of the road east of the Yellow Mounds Overlook, you will find a large pullout.
Take the Sedge Rim Road into vast grasslands to spy on Pronghorn, Prairie Dogs, Bison, Mule deer and Bighorn Sheep in their natural habitat. It also offers overlook views of the Badlands Wilderness, which is rolling hills of grassland. This area is the best place to see wildlife throughout the park. Prairie Dog Town is a reliable site for photographing prairie dogs. Make sure you keep an eye out for Burrowing Owls and Badgers as they can be seen mixed among the prairie dog mounds. In the spring and summer you will often see a variety of birds in the area. Keep an eye out for Meadowlark, Horned lark, Orchard Orioles, Lark Sparrow, Bluebirds, Western Kingbird and Blue Grosebeak. While you are traveling around close to dusk keep an eye out for Coyote and Bobcats that can be seen roaming on the horizon.
The Badlands is the best place for photographers for the magic hour (sunrise and sunset), which reveals the most magnificent color striations and hues that cross the landscape. It also provides the best shadows which highlight the cuts and contrasting pinnacles and valleys. Some of the best places for sunrise or early morning would be along the northeast side of the park. This includes Big Badlands Overlook, and along the Door/Window/Notch trails. The best places to check out later in the day or for sunsets are Yellow Mounds Overlook, Pinnacles, and Sage Creek Basin. The evening sky can also be a delight due to its remote location and open country, the park contains some of the clearest air in the country. This makes it perfect for viewing the stars shining bright over the badlands.
Badlands National Park provides a great diversity from fossils, prairie grasses, wildlife, geologic anomaly, Lakota and Pioneer history. It is all there waiting to be explored!