Badlands National Park Scenic Drive

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Norbeck Pass instantly became my favorite spot in Badlands National Park.  The park’s scenic road curves gracefully through the pass, as it squeezes in between sharp cliffs of eroded rock.

I visited this part of the park early in the day, and again at sunset.  It was extraordinary both times.  I bet I took 100 pictures, just in this one spot.

Look to the north, and there are even bigger hills.  This is some of the most jagged landscape in the park.

To the east, those hills diminish into flat land, which stretches out as far as you can see.

To the south, the road curves gently downhill.

After I spent an incredible amount of time taking pictures at Norbeck Pass, I continued west, on the park’s scenic loop road.  The next stop is Fossil Exhibit Trail.  I passed it earlier in the day, but on my return trip at sunset I took a few minutes to walk the trail.

Beyond Fossil Exhibit Trail, the road stays on top of the plateau for a while, then dips down and climbs back up at least one more time.

White River Valley Overlook

There are plenty of good viewpoints at White River Valley Overlook.  Several unofficial paths lead out onto some dangerous spots, where you could easily fall in three different directions.  If you successfully keep your balance…

… you’ll enjoy great views like these.

Panorama Point Overlook

Panorama Point leads to a safer viewpoint — one with guardrails and a paved path.  It offers a great view to the south, across some eroded hills and, in the distance, flat prairie land.

You might also find some wildflowers growing here.

Burns Basin Overlook

The view is similar at Burns Basin Overlook…

… while on the road itself, not much exciting is happening.  The road prepares for another dip at…

Conata Basin Overlook

Conata Basin Overlook is a great location, just before the road drops down into a bizarre valley of colorful mounds and strange formations.

Yellow Mounds Overlook

Halfway down from the Conata Basin Overlook, after slipping through Dillon Pass, there’s a roadside turnout that provides a nice view of the Yellow Mounds.  The name isn’t quite accurate — there are many more colors here than just yellow.

Pinnacles Overlook

If you happened to enter the park at its western “Pinnacles” entrance, directly south of Wall, South Dakota, the Pinnacles Overlook will be your first stop.  From the parking area, a staircase takes you down to a plateau, where you’ll find a couple of viewpoints.

The landscape is different here, than it was, just a few miles back.  The eroded cliffs seem whiter, and there’s a lot more plant life here as well.  Those trees are Junipers, which provide an important refuge for the park’s bird population.

At this point, you have a couple of choices.  You could call it a day, leave the park, and drive north to Wall, and I-80.  Or, you could continue westbound, on the park’s unpaved Sage Creek Rim Road.  While the landscape isn’t as breathtaking, there is a very good reason to check out this part of the park: Prairie Dogs.

Note: This trip was first published in 2008.

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