Perhaps one of the most underrated states in the country, “The Land of Infinite Variety” affords visitors the chance to witness spectacular landscapes, Old West history, abundant wildlife, and Native American cultural sites. From the Black Hills and Badlands to the rolling plains and river valleys, South Dakota is the perfect spot to escape the crowds and enjoy nature’s solace.
National and State Parks
Bighorn sheep passing through camp.
Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park, located near the town of Wall, comprises over 244,000 acres of colorful spires, striped buttes and expansive grasslands. It’s renowned not only for its otherworldly beauty but also as one of the world’s richest fossil beds. Long before the arid badlands were formed, the region was part of an inland sea. Beginning in the late Cretaceous Epoch, roughly 75 million years ago, the landscape evolved when the sea receded, leaving behind clay, silt and sand. Water flowing from the Black Hills eroded this changing landscape, carving out the valleys, canyons, buttes and spires you see today. The colorful stripes within these formations not only tell the tale of time, but they also hold the answers to the first inhabitants of this area. Although no dinosaurs have been found within the park, creatures like saber tooth cats, rhinoceroses, mammoths, three-toed horses, camels and giant marine predators called mosasaurs have been found.
Badlands National Park viewed from Yellow Mounds Overlook.
The park is also rich in human history, as evidence of early nomadic people dating back over 10,000 years. These Paleo Indians were big game hunters, and the valleys provided the perfect hunting grounds while the top of the badlands wall served as a lookout for enemies and wandering herds. In addition to oral traditions, further evidence of these early inhabitants has been found in the arrowheads and tools they left behind from hunts and the remnants of their campfires along stream banks. If you’ve wondered how the badlands got its name, you can credit the Lakota people who dubbed the area “mako sica,” which roughly translates to badlands. Later, French trappers referred to the region as “les mauvaises terres a traverser” — bad lands to travel through, as they found the extreme temperatures, lack of water, and rough terrain hard to navigate.