Happy Travel Tuesday Everyone! I hope you’re all snuggled up at home safe and sound. My drive to work this morning was absolutely awful. Like, I was in 4WD going 15 mph the entire way because I was terrified, awful. But instead of dwelling on the mess that is happening outside my window right now, I’m going to be daydreaming of one of the coolest places I’ve ever been… The Badlands.
But I’m getting ahead of myself!
This is all about the road trip right? (In case you’re new here, this is the second post of my Road Trip series! You can find the first one here.)
Road tripping from Michigan to anywhere is no easy task. (Kind of like I imagine trying to take a road trip from Texas would be.) If you live anywhere close to the boarder you’re good, but otherwise, you can tack on HOURS just trying to get out of your state. So because of this we always leave in the late afternoon/ early evening. Whoever the first driver is will sleep all day and drive through the night before we switch off. It’s how we’ve always done it, because then when we get to our first pit stop, we can actually enjoy it in the daylight.
I was still living in Grand Rapids at the time, so my parents drove down to my apartment to get Trev and me. We left the city right around 3:00, putting us in Chicago just in time for rush hour. (Still cringing just thinking about it.)
My sweet hubby is not a good traveler, which I know now, thanks to this trip in particular. It was here that I learned not to count on him driving, and not to let his snack bag get more than halfway empty. 😉 He looked like this 95% of the time! HAHA
So for the first part of our trip, it was me and my dad switching drivers. I REALLY like to drive at night. As long as it’s open roads and I don’t have to worry about exits and traffic. So when 2 am rolled around, it was time for me to take the wheel. I drove through most of Minnesota and the first part of South Dakota. I’ve never seen so much wide, empty, black space. It was crazy!
Okay. You’re probably getting tired of hearing about the beginning of our road trip… I know you’re here to read about The Badlands. And we’ll get there, I promise! I just have to tell you one quick little story first… and I think it will make you smile!
Around 5 am, it was time for me and my dad to switch back. At this point, we were running a bit ahead of schedule, because well, I’ll be honest, I drive pretty fast. If you read my first post, you’ll know our road trip out to Wyoming was going to be made up of the stops my dad saw on his first big road trip as a kid. He insisted we HAD to go to The Corn Palace. Before we know it, we descended upon Mitchell, South Dakota. A town so small, that they were all still asleep. You know that song lyric that says “They roll the sidewalks in this town on up after the sun goes down” well… that’s how I’d describe Mitchell. But we didn’t mind. We were heading to The Corn Palace and my Dad was beyond excited.
He thought it was the coolest place in the world when he was little and knew I liked “corny” stuff. (You see what I did there? HAHA) We knew we wouldn’t be able to go inside, because it didn’t open until 8 am. But we had planned to park and take a few pictures of the outside as the sun was starting to come up.
My dad insisted he remembered how to get to the majestic palace made of corn, and started turning us down small town streets. Pretty soon, we came to a barrier. And Lucy (our GPS) kept telling us to keep going straight. So, we turn onto another street, and try to get to The Corn Palace from here. Another barrier. Before we know it, we’ve been to every street that surrounds The Corn Palace and every single one was blocked off. Turns out, they won’t let you near it with a 10 foot pole before it opens.
Dad… was not a happy camper. My mom and I couldn’t stop laughing. And Trev, well he was asleep. So, we never did get to see the infamous Corn Palace, but we did find a great place to stop for warm donuts and coffee 🙂 And since the closest we got was two streets away, I have zero pictures. But I hear it’s pretty great. So if you stop and see it, let me know! I’d love to see your pictures!
Two more hours in the car, and we found ourselves at Badlands National Park.
Deep in South Dakota, Highway 240 becomes The Badlands Loop, twisting and turning through dramatic landscapes, geologic wonders, and prairie dogs. So. Many. Prairie Dogs.
Where to Stay: Alright. I think this is going to be the only time I recommend not staying at a National Park for more than a day. Could you stretch your stay out in The Badlands? Of course. But I wouldn’t recommend it. We were there for a few hours and it was more than enough time to see the beauty that the park had to offer. For me, it’s a place to stop, stretch your legs, enjoy the scenery and then get back on the road. I will say, the national park website says to fully experience it would take two days… but I really think you’ll be just as happy driving the main loop and stopping a few times!
When to Visit: Hit The Badlands in the morning. This area is an extremely harsh environment. You’ll quickly find that being in a grassland, you have little to no shade anywhere. If you’re there in the summer, (the most popular time of year to visit) you will be completely exposed to the sun the entire time you’re outside. Get up early, and see the park in the morning. Not only will it be cooler, but it will be a lot less crowded, and you’ll be able to take badass pictures like this…
Sightseeing: You guys. This is the easiest park to sightsee in. All you have to do is drive the loop. Now, I’m using the term “loop” very lightly. Know that it’s only a loop if you plan to end up where you started. What I loved about this is that we entered the park from the East Entrance, and left the park at The Pinnacles entrance, where we were could hop right on the highway and continue on our journey. It was super convenient! You can also pretty much pull of to the side anywhere, or at one of the scenic turnouts if you see something that you want to check out a little bit more.
There is one “must stop” while you’re driving the loop! And that is The Big Badlands Overlook. Trust me… you can’t miss this. I mean COME ON. So pretty!
Hiking: There are quite a few trails throughout the National Park if you’re looking for a quick hike. (And by quick I mean a few miles!) We did not hike any of the longer trails, because we were just passing through. While I’m sure the views are incredible if you hike a bit (usually the best views are the ones you work the hardest to get to!) I will tell you that I’m not disappointed we didn’t do an actual hike. We walked the shorter trails, and were thrilled with what we saw.
The one trail that I think you can’t miss is the Door Trail. This was a super easy walk, with a nice little board walk. Once the board walk ends, keep going! You can explore the other worldly landscape fairly easily, as long as you’re careful! There are quite a few drop offs, it’s pretty rocky and rattle snakes. However, don’t let these things stop you! You’ll get the best pictures off the designated board walk!
Food: You’re not going to find food or water inside the national park, so be sure to take your own if you need it! Just know, you’re only 11 miles away from Wall, SD, the greatest tourist trap ever! There is plenty to eat and drink here, so you’re not far from food if you really, really, really need it.
Things to Bring: There are a few things you must have with you while you’re in the national park.
- Don’t go without water. If you’re planning to get outside of your vehicle AT ALL you’re going to need it. Pick up a few bottles before you enter the park.
- Bring your sunscreen, especially if you’re visiting in the summer. The sun is very unforgiving in The Badlands. In fact, this is actually how they got their name. The Lakota people were the first to call this place “mako sica” or “land bad.” for it’s extreme temperatures, lack of water, and the exposed rugged terrain. Later, French-Canadian fur trappers called it “les mauvais terres pour traverse,” or “bad lands to travel through.” So seriously, don’t be stuck without your sunscreen!
- A rain jacket. While the summers are known to be hot and dry, they have occasional, unpredictable, violent thunder storms. (One had just moved through while we were there.)
- Camera. Duh. I know. But this place is seriously cool, and you won’t be able to stop snapping photos! And, if you have a DSLR, I’d recommend bringing a few different lenses with you.
- Closed toe shoes. Leave your cute shoes at home. You want to wear sturdy shoes that will support your feet while you’re climbing all over the rocky landscape. And if that’s not enough for you to leave your flip flops at home, remember… they have rattlesnakes.
What to Know:
- Entrance fee to the national park is $20 for the entire car. (Which is a steal if you ask me!) Or you can purchase an annual pass for $40.
- If you don’t stop at a single overlook, it will only take you about 60 minutes to get through the entire park, end to end. (For reference while you’re planning!)
- The park never closes (unless extreme weather causes rough travel conditions).
- Your pets are welcome! But please, watch them closely. Know that they can’t be left alone, and follow all the park rules for them while you’re there. These rules are for your fur baby’s safety. I couldn’t stand the thought of anything happening to them while you’re on vacation! So always play it extra safe when you’re brining your animals along. (And if you’re planning to spend most of your time at the park outside of your vehicle, in the summer, please don’t bring your pets. The extreme heat there can quickly make the inside of a car 135 degrees.)
Our time at The Badlands was short, but oh so sweet. It’s seriously stunning landscape is so unique, that you will feel like you woke up on a different planet. It was the perfect place to start our day in South Dakota. Our next stop was even MORE unique, if you can believe it.
Seven miles north of The Badlands lies a midwest institution. A place that’s been offering free water since 1931. A place that you literally can’t pass by without stopping at because you want to be able to say “I’ve been there!” And a place that can’t be ignored because of the zillions of roadside signs you see on your way there.
That’s right, it’s Wall Drug!
Wall Drug is located in the tiny town of Wall, South Dakota. What once was known as the “geographical center of nowhere,” has become a hub for tourism. You’ll hear it called the “Window to the West,” the “Gateway to the Badlands”, and the “Heart of American Tourism”. This little town sees MILLIONS of tourists every summer, with up to 20,000 visitors a day during the peak season. It’s the perfect place to grab some lunch, do some shopping, and of course, drink some free water.
Let’s begin with the town’s claim to fame… Wall Drug!
Y’all. This “drug store” is massive. Like it takes up an entire city block. It’s made up of a main store, mall shops, cafe and pharmacy. It’s everything you could ever want in a cheesy road side attraction and more.
I mean… how many places in the world can you ride a giant jackolope?
While you’ll find plenty of trinkets and typical souvenirs within the walls of Wall Drug, you’ll also find actual shops. From Western wear to art, jewelry to leather goods, everyone can find something to take home with them.
Wall Drug also has a world famous “backyard”. It is set up with tons of photo ops. And no. I don’t care how stupid you feel, you have to get your picture taken in them. Because if you don’t, you really haven’t been to Wall Drug!
Head outside of the drugstore, and you’ll find a super charming little town. Here, you’ll find more shops to wander through, and restaurants to eat at.
While Wall is small, it’s a great place to stop before you continue on your journey. It’s the gate way to The Black Hills, and the perfect “in-between” stop on our way to Keystone. And if you ask me, Wall Drug and The Badlands go together, hand in hand.
Leaving Wall in our review mirror, we were off to our final stop of the day… Keystone. Come back next week for my guide to Keystone and of course, Mount Rushmore!
And with that, I’m off to clean up the house and make dinner. My BFF is coming over and I’m so excited because I feel like I haven’t seen her in ages. Have a wonderful Tuesday friends!