It is home to more than 500 species of plants, more than 200 bird species, and mammals such as bison, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets. Badlands is one of the easternmost public lands for seeing bird species more commonly encountered in the western United States, including Rock Wren, Say’s Phoebe, Bullock’s Oriole, Black-billed Magpie, Lark Sparrow, Mountain Bluebird, Long-billed Curlew, Burrowing Owl, Ferruginous Hawk, Prairie Falcon, and Golden Eagle. Western Meadowlarks are ubiquitous and are by far the most common bird species in the park.
All habitat features are accessible by either trail or road. Off-trail hiking is permitted anywhere in the park, making it an exception to most national parks, where visitors are generally required to stay on trails. Be aware that the terrain includes treacherous components such as steep cliffs and sudden drop-offs.
At a Glance
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Badlands formations, mixed grass prairie, woody draws, prairie dog towns, sagebrush-dominated communities, juniper/cedar woodlands.
Highly variable. Trails primarily easy to moderate; they range from short loops to a 10-mile hike. Some secondary roads are relatively quiet and permit birding from a car. State Highway 240 has heavy traffic from mid-May to mid-September, during which time birders should always pull off the road for their safety and that of other park visitors.
Long-billed Curlew, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Burrowing and Short-eared Owls, Ferruginous and Swainson’s Hawks, Prairie Falcon, Golden Eagle, Western Meadowlark, Rock Wren, Say’s Phoebe, Bullock’s and Orchard Orioles, Western Kingbird, Blue Grosbeak, Black-billed Magpie, Lark Sparrow, Mountain Bluebird, Spotted Towhee, Savannah and Vesper’s Sparrows, Yellow-breasted Chat. Irregular: Yellow-headed Blackbird, Dickcissel, Canyon Wren. Spring migration: Blue-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, American Wigeon, Eared and Pied-billed Grebes, Sandhill Crane, American White Pelican, Snowy Egret, Wilson’s Phalarope. Possible in winter: Gyrfalcon, Snowy Owl, and Northern Shrike.
When to go
April through September. In summer, best in early morning and close to sunset.
The Ben Reifel Visitor Center, located a mile from the Interior entrance, is open year-round and includes fossil and nature exhibits and a resourceful interpretive staff. Lodging in Interior and Wall. Primitive campground on west end of park.
National park. Located 75 miles east of Rapid City. Accessible via exits off I-90 and along Hwy. 44. Fees: $30 for a private vehicle and its occupants for seven days; $55 for an annual pass.
Spotting scope useful. The presence of cactus and other plants with spines or thorns makes it wise to exercise discretion when it comes to footwear. When venturing out on a trail or into park wilderness during summer, be vigilant for prairie rattlesnakes. Wear sun protection and stay hydrated. Most of the park has poor cell reception, so visitors may not be able to make a phone call in an emergency.
For more info
Badlands National Park
South Dakota Ornithologists’ Union