When we decided that we were moving to New Hampshire and that we were going to drive all the way there, I started researching places for us to stop along the way. Jason has always wanted to go to Badlands National Park. In fact, the first time we went to Moab together, he actually suggested Badlands instead but it was too icy to explore the trails (it was March). Since it was mostly on the way to New Hampshire, I made it the first stop of our cross-country trip. Since we had Moose pup, I knew we’d need to spend two nights outside of the park so that he could stay in the hotel while we explored.
After packing up the truck, loading the car on the trailer, and bidding farewell to our apartment in Broomfield, we drove the 6 hours to Rapid City, SD by way of Mount Rushmore. It was a perfect day for a drive. As soon as we got to our hotel in Rapid City it started raining. And didn’t stop until we made it to Michigan three days later!
I had big plans for a nice long hike through the park, hitting up all of the more scenic parts. Since it was raining like crazy and the couple of pull-offs we stopped were coated in thick, slippery mud, we decided to forego the long hike and instead enjoyed the scenic drive Badlands Highway, stopping at the viewpoints along the way.
The Badlands were formed as rain and wind eroded away the softer rock, exposing the multi-colored layers underneath. They are eroding at a rate of about 1 inch per year and are expected to be completely gone in less than 500,000 years (a blink of the geologic eye if you consider the nearby Rocky Mountains have been eroding for millennia). While usually harsh and inhospitable, we saw a completely unexpected side of the park. The grasses were lush and green, the flowers were blooming, and the usually dusty riverbeds were overflowing into lakes and streams.
After our scenic drive, we stopped for lunch at the Cedar Pass Lodge and to check out the Visitor’s Center. Being good Coloradans, we assumed that the muddy trails were off limits, but stopped to ask a Park Ranger if he could recommend any trails. When his first question was “how muddy do you want to get?” I had a feeling we could hike wherever we wanted. Since we said we didn’t want to get too muddy, he recommended a couple of trails with boardwalks, as well as the Door trail, that gives you the option to walk amongst the spires and fins.
Our first stop was the Window trail, which was completely on a boardwalk and offered a nice view into the “backside” of the Badlands wilderness. While I really wanted to do the Notch trail, we decided against it because we’d heard it turns into a slip-n-slide in the mud and we didn’t want to get too muddy. Instead, we went to the other end of the parking area to check out the Door trail. After stopping at the boardwalk overlook, we decided to brave the mud and wander around. Words really cannot do the area justice, so I’ll just let the next couple of photos do the talking.
After making it back to the parking lot, we decided to venture across the road to the Castle trail (which is also the trail I wanted to hike on before it started raining). As soon as we stepped off the wooden stairs we found ourselves in a mini stream that had overtaken the trail. We decided to travel on and turn around if it got too crazy. With all the rains, we found ourselves frequently fording large streams and lakes. In some places, the water was above my waist! It was amazing though and offered a very different view of the park than the scenic road or the shorter trails. The Castle trail occasionally winds through the Badlands formations, but spends most of the time bridging the gap between the badlands and the prairies, making the spires and fins seem even more shocking and otherworldly.
After hiking for about 1.5 miles, we decided to turn around and head back to the car. We knew Mr. Moose was probably wondering where we were and our bellies were starting to get hungry again. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get to do all the activities that I had planned (like the Night Sky series where you get to look through telescopes while Park Rangers explain what you’re seeing), but it was so amazing to see a side of the park that few get to experience.
Video of the rain in Badlands:
Video of me hiking through the river (sorry about the vertical video, it was for Instagram):
Video of Jason fording the deepest part of the river (sorry about the vertical video, it was for Instagram):