Badlands National Park is not one of the most visited American parks, let alone by Europeans. However, during our road trip in Colorado & South Dakota, we decided, with my traveling companions, to go to Badlands. Indeed, although I did not know this park yet, it was only a 1.5-hour drive from Mount Rushmore, another monument that we had planned to discover.
If you also plan to take a tour of South Dakota or a neighbouring state, I recommend spending a few hours in Badlands. I was positively surprised by the park’s beauty with its white and coloured rocks, its expanses of greenery, and its lunar landscapes.
In this guide, I show you the must-see points of view and hikes that can be found along the Loop Road, the road that allows you to travel North Unit, one part of Badlands easily. And, as usual, I will give you information and advice concerning the climate, visiting times and accommodation in the park.
New travellers to the USA that are minor
Who needs an esta? Some parents also wonder if it is necessary to obtain an ESTA authorization for their very young children, such as infants or children under the age of two. In fact, it happens that for some specific practices or situations, very young children can benefit from preferential rates or be automatically registered with their parents.
This is not the case with the ESTA electronic travel authorization device, which is perfectly clear about it. Anyone, adult or minor, wishing to board a plane to the USA is required to have previously obtained a residence permit, regardless of the minor’s age. Likewise, you will also need to obtain an individual passport in your child’s name in advance, even if it is a newborn, because it is to this passport number that the residence permit will be linked.
In some special cases, such as a trip with grandparents or a close relative or friend, you will need to have other official documents for your children so that they can travel to the United States without difficulty.
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In any case, if the minor travels without his parents, an authorization to leave the territory signed by the parents or by the legal managers is requested as well as a copy of their identity card required at the time of crossing the border.
To avoid problems when embarking or arriving in the United States, make sure you bring any documents that may be required of you. If possible, we also recommend that you have a copy of an official document certifying your family relationship with the child you are accompanying, and do not forget that your children’s name must also appear on their travel documents and airline tickets. In short, there is nothing like a free ESTA application for minors.
Best time to visit Badlands national park
Badlands’ weather is very variable and unpredictable during the day. In summer, the park receives the most visitors; it is then hot there with relatively violent stormy episodes. Autumn and spring offer milder temperatures. In winter, the park is very pretty and can occasionally be covered with a thin layer of snow.
What to do in Badlands national park sunrise
These are various locations you can visit:
Loop Road Badlands
The Loop Road crosses North Unit: you can travel it from east to west or vice versa. We entered the park via Northeast Entrance during our road trip and travelled the Loop Road from east to west. We first stopped at the Ben Reifel Visitor Centre. The latter is a real museum that provides information on the history and geology of the park has a rich collection of fossils dating back 30 million years. Therefore, it is the direction that I advise you to take, but it is also possible to cover it from west to east starting from Pinnacles Entrance. Here are some of the views along the route:
Big Badlands Overlook
This is the first viewpoint just after Northeast Entrance but before Ben Reifel Visitor Centre. It gives an extended panorama to the east of the park.
Yellow Mounds Overlook
From these two points of view, you can discover the rock rich in a colour characteristic of Badlands. Yellow Mounds is my favourite place in the park because the view is simply magnificent. Climb on the hills and enjoy a green and colourful landscape.
Pinnacles Overlook the highest elevation point in North Unit. I loved it because it gives a panorama on Sage Creek Wilderness with its rocky butts and meadows; I find the colour contrast really very pretty. You can see wild animals such as bison but especially mouflons.
The Loop Road ends here; you can take a right out of the park via Pinnacles Entrance or go straight on Sage Creek Rim Road. By taking this unpaved road, prepare to meet more wildlife and a lot fewer human! Peace of mind.
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What to do in Badlands national park in winter
You can visit these areas:
It is a short and accessible path of 0.8 km for a 20-minute walk that opens onto rock walls.
With a distance of 1.2 km for a 20-minute hike, this trail aims to immerse you in the geology of the park.
This one is more difficult than the previous two since it takes you up steps towards a magnificent viewpoint on the White River and Pine Ridge Reservation. Distance of 2.4 km for 1h30 to 2h of hiking.
Cliff Shelf Nature Trail
This is a 0.8 km loop for 30 minutes of walking that takes you 60 meters in altitude to reach a platform giving a beautiful panorama of White River Valley.
Fossil Exhibit Trail
0.4 km path for 20 minutes of hiking makes you discover replicas of fossils of creatures that once lived in the park.
Conclusion on Badlands National Park
Is this a must-see park in the United States? No. Is it worth stopping by if you’re around? Definitely! In any case, I have not regretted it. Badlands is the perfect national park if you’re in South Dakota and have some time to spare. These landscapes are very different from those I used to see; the rock formations can make me think of those of the Grand Canyon, but in Badlands, they are surrounded by green meadows, which give all its specificity to the environment. It’s also the perfect terrain if you want to get off the beaten track and explore areas of the less-visited park, such as along Sage Creek Rim Road or Stronghold Unit.