Things you didn’t know about Badlands National Park in South Dakota

By Stef Zisovska
Publish Date:
Pinnacles and spires

Badlands National Park has one of the most distinctive landscapes in the entire US. It was established in 1978 and it covers a land of 244,000 in South Dakota. Every year, somewhere around one million people come to the Badlands to admire the formations striped by millennia of sedimentary rock. Badlands is not on the list of the most famous America’s national parks, but it’s a place that everyone should visit, especially the ones interested in exploring the geology of planet Earth. Here are some interesting facts about Badlands National Park that you would like to know about.

It used to be a sea

Badlands National Park – Author: Martin Kraft – CC BY-SA 3.0

When the Badlands first started forming 75 million years ago, they were covered by a shallow sea. As the water decreased, it left big amounts of sediment behind that include grains of clay, sand, or silt. These sediments helped in forming the plateaus and pinnacles that create the landscape of the park that we know today. The ancient sea also left fossils behind that were first discovered by the Oglala Lakota people.

The terrain in the Badlands was shaped by water

All the rock formations at Badlands were shaped by the powerful water flows in the past. The terrain in Badlands has characteristic stripes and each stripe is a different sediment. Therefore, all the stripes have different colors. Many years after the land dried, the leftover mud hardened into sedimentary rock displaying the layers that we can still see today. The depositing sediment wasn’t the only way that water helped the creation of the landscape. Around 500.000 years ago, erosion from the White, Bad, and Cheyenne rivers began carving away at the flat floodplain. This is a proof that all the sloping hills, jagged cliff faces, and precarious spires that we see today in the park were shaped by water.

The rocks are still eroding

Sunset – Author: Chris Light – CC BY-SA 4.0

You can say that the Badlands National Park is more than alive. The rocks in the area are still eroding and moving, but this event is not happening at a speed we can notice. The land moves for about an inch every year.

Badlands is not only about the rocks

The park is known mainly for its extraordinary rock formations, but it has much more to offer. Badlands has one of the country’s biggest mixed-grass prairie. The ecosystem in Badlands has more than 400 different plant species.

The name means exactly what you think it does

The first people who gave the name to the park were the Oglala Lakota people. The name was mako sica, that translates to “land bad”.

A native species is making a comeback

Boardwalk to the Windows – Author: Chris Light – CC BY-SA 4.0

Black-footed ferrets, once widespread across the Great Plains, came close to extinction in the 20th century. Prairie dogs are their main food source, and the destruction of this prey population had a drastic effect on ferret numbers. Thanks to the small ferret colony that was spotted in 1980’s in Meeteetse, Wyoming, there was a population rebuilding program. Finally, in 1994, the ferrets were brought back to the Badlands and their number is growing since then.

Badlands National Park is a cool place to be and if it’s not on your travel bucket list, you should add it immediately. If you’re looking for a landscape different than everything else you have ever seen in your life or if you want to surprise someone with an amazing trip, then take them to Badlands. Although not too famous, the park is one of the greatest natural treasures in the country. Start planning your trip to this beautiful place and good luck!