Badlands Loop Scenic Byway


Badlands Loop Scenic Byway
Badlands Loop Scenic Byway
View along the Fossil Exhibit Trail at Badlands National Park

The Badlands Loop Scenic Byway is a 31.5-mile drive along South Dakota Highway 240. The route crosses the northern unit of Badlands National Park ($15 entry fee for private vehicles, good for seven days from date of purchase) and skirts around the northern edge of the eastern part of Badlands Wilderness. If you were to continue west on the Sage Creek Rim Road at the junction, you'd be skirting the northern edge of the Sage Creek Unit, possibly the most beautiful section of Badlands National Park and Wilderness but the road is rough and not recommended for large RVs. A few miles down that road is the Sage Creek Campground: primitive and free with facilities for equestrian users and offering easy access to the Badlands Wilderness.

This area contains the largest preserved example of a complete mixed-grass prairie ecosystem in North America. That prairie (also known as Buffalo Gap National Grassland) surrounds the fantastical eroded geological formations that give the "Badlands" name to the property.

The Badlands Loop Scenic Byway follows the contours of the land along the northeastern edge of the Badlands escarpment. Everywhere along the route you can exercise the option of exploring the countryside further on foot as the National Park practices an "open ground" policy: the back country is always open for foot and horseback travel and overnight camping (but open campfires are always prohibited because of the dangers of prairie wildfire). You might want to stop at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center (just inside the east entrance to the park) and get a good map, though, because marked and maintained trails are few and very far between. There are fourteen designated overlooks (with parking areas) along the length of the Badlands Loop Scenic Byway.

Folks who explore the countryside on foot have a very good chance of stumbling across numerous fossils sticking out of the ground and embedded in the sides of rock formations as Badlands National Park contains one of Earth's most complete and most prolific mammalian fossil collections dating back almost 40 million years.

Near the eastern end of the Badlands Loop Scenic Byway you'll find the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, a place where you can explore the history of the Minuteman Missile and vicariously relive the days of the 1950's and 1960's Cold War.

View from the Yellow Mounds Overlook along the Badlands Loop Scenic Byway
View from the Yellow Mounds Overlook along the Badlands Loop Scenic Byway