If you wish to travel back in time then there is perhaps no better place to choose for a hiking trip than the Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Here centuries of wind and water have carved out deep canyons where the dinosaurs once roamed millions of years ago and where scientists today enjoy some of the world’s most extensive fossil deposits including the remains of saber-toothed tigers, three toes horses and ancient turtles.
Near the Conata Picnic area at a site known as Pig Wallow, which is still being actively excavated today, scientists have discovered the bones of a remarkable hornless rhinoceros known as Subhyracodon and, if you are lucky enough you may be able to talk to one of the paleontologists as you hike through the area.
Not all of the Badlands National Park is a barren moon-like landscape however and the park also includes some 64,000 acres of grassy wilderness grazed by bighorn sheep and American buffalo and home to the swift fox and black footed ferret, amongst many other creatures. You will also see many deer and antelope roaming around this section of the park.
Within the 240,000 acres of the park hiking is very much a favorite activity with trails ranging from quite easy hikes for the beginner up to trails which will challenge even the most experienced hiker. But, whatever your level of experience, the end result when you get up onto the jagged spires and look out across the prairie below will be well worth the effort put in to get there.
One fascinating area which is well worth exploring is the Stronghold District, half of which lies within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. During the Second World War this area was used as a firing range and this section of the park today houses the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, where you can take a look at the buildings which once housed one of America’s primary defense installations.
For thirty years during the Cold War these installations were manned around the clock and today they are home to a fascinating museum where you can still see the underground launch control facility and a silo complete with a now disarmed nuclear missile.
Another unique feature of the Badlands National Park is the homesteaders’ houses built from sod blocks and heated with buffalo chips. Although the period of the great dust bowl in the 1930s finally drove the homesteaders from the land, much of the evidence of the courageous struggle which they made all those years ago still remains today.
The Badlands National Park is a wonderful place for hiking with its colored and golden sands and azure blue sky and provides plenty for the amateur and avid hiker alike. If you do decide to visit the area though do stop by the Ben Reifel Visitor Center where you will find a wealth of information which you will find especially useful if you are backpacking in the area and plan an overnight stay.