Our Boomerang Trip – Badlands

South Dakota, BadlandsFrom Mitchell, South Dakota, we continued our westerly trek.  I couldn’t wait to get to Badlands National Park.

South Dakota’s Badlands holds a special place in my heart.  I was a mere 14 years old the first time this gal from Illinois laid eyes on this incredible land.

It was the first family excursion in my dad’s new pride and joy; a brand new motorhome.

South Dakota Badlands

Badlands, South Dakota

That was an exciting adventure for our family of five, because this was a trip that didn’t entail fishing in Wisconsin, my dad’s favorite pastime.  Family vacations ALWAYS centered around camping near fishing action.  No fishing involved during this trip!South Dakota, Badlands

My brother was eighteen at the time and getting ready to head off to college.  Dad put him in charge of navigating, which was a much better choice than my mother, who could get turned around in the blink of an eye; directionally challenged one might say.  While the guys were up front driving and navigating my little sister, mom, and myself sat at the dinette table taking in the sights out of the motorhome’s big windows.Badlands, South Dakota

The barren, rugged land made mom quite uncomfortable. While the rest of us were oohing and aahing, she sat in silence.  You see, mom and dad grew up in Germany, even my brother was born in Germany and this kind of vast desolation doesn’t exist in her homeland.  This was like nothing she’d ever seen before and it made her feel uneasy.

South Dakota, BadlandsWe stopped at various pull-outs and scenic overlooks before it was time to decide where to camp for the night.  Dad was definitely feeling adventurous during this trip and decided to take the twelve mile rutted and rough gravel-dirt road to the primitive campground.  It wasn’t a campground, but merely a designated parcel of land allowing overnight camping.   I don’t even remember there being a pit toilet, just raw open land.  Ah yes, this is what us RVer’s now refer to as boondocking.South Dakota, Badlandsprairie dogsThis was definitely not mom’s idea of a relaxing vacation and I remember her freaking out as my brother and I took off exploring.

I wanted to see buffalo and maybe even a rattlesnake.  I saw neither during that trip but wasn’t disappointed because the adorable Prairie Dogs captivated my attention.South Dakota

So here I am, umpteen years later and oohing and aahing every bit as much, if not more, as I did years ago.  I really wanted to camp at that same primitive campground from the family trip, but with temperatures in the 90 degree plus range, we opted to stay at the Cedar Pass Campground with electric hook-up so we could run our air-conditioning during the heat of the day. camping in Badlands

Cedar Pass

Loved my view! Cedar Pass Campground – Badlands National Park

However, a trip to the primitive Sage Creek Campground was in order.  I had to refresh my memory.  Unlike my last visit, this time I saw plenty of buffalo aka bison.

camping in the Badlands

We pass herds of bison on the way to the Sage Creek Campground

We turned off the main paved road onto a well maintained gravel road.  The road was in much better condition than all those years ago.  We continued the twelve miles down the road passing herds of buffalo in the distance.  The sky was hazy with smoke drifting down from the Pacific Northwest wildfires.South Dakota Badlands

Not only was the road very well maintained, the campground turned out to be a little more developed than all those years ago.  There were picnic tables and pit toilets…. no water.  The campground is used predominantly by tents, but is also accessible to RV’s.

camping in the Badlands

Sage Creek Campground, Badlands National Park

Bison routinely meander through this campground causing a need to watch where you step…. fresh Bison droppings wouldn’t be fun to step in.

Buffalo in the Badlands

The cars give perspective showing how large Bison are.

I assure you, on our next visit to the Badlands National Park we WILL definitely be Badlands National Park, South Dakotastaying at this campground.  I’ll admit though, I did have an uneasy moment with one Buffalo.

I was sitting in the truck taking his photograph when he started to approach me; heading straight toward me and the driver’s side door.   As his pace quickened in my direction, I dropped my camera and put the truck in drive, not waiting around to see what his intentions, if any, were.  Perhaps we made eye contact a little longer than he liked or perhaps he just wanted me to scratch behind his ears horns.  Didn’t matter, I was outta there!

Bison have been known to attack, so ample distance, a wide berth, and good judgment should always be heeded.

Badlands National Park

Check out the wounds on this guy!

After my fun moment of reminiscing and communing with buffalo, we continued on the scenic drive to the town of Wall, located near the Badlands National Park western entrance.  This is definitely a tourist attraction complete with plenty of souvenir and T-shirt shops.

Wall Drug, South Dakota

Wall Drug, South Dakota

Wall Drug is the focus of this tourist draw and although Al and I usually shy away from such venues, we found ourselves entertained.  The story of the Hustead family is one of tenacity and the pioneer spirit.  You can read their fascinating story here.  We were also surprised to find a place where you can still get a cup of coffee for 5¢.  Granted, we’re not talking designer coffee (aka Starbucks), but for a nickel it was a tasty cup of Joe.

Wall Drug

The corridors at Wall Drug were filled with old photos and newspaper clippings. History buff hubby loved it and even non history buff me, found it enlightening and interesting.

Three T-shirts later (yeah, I have a thing for T-shirts), we headed back to camp.  I spent the next couple of days close to camp observing natures beauty.

Badlands South Dakota

Beauty near and far!

Upon first glance, the buttes, spires, and pinnacles of this steeply eroded land may look desolate.  But if one looks closely, diverse and beautiful signs of life can be discovered.Badlands

There’s an abundance of rich and varied vegetation, including one of the largest mixed-grass prairies in the country.

Badlands National Park



And then there’s the bountiful wildlife.  A watchful eye and a silent slow pace will reward onlookers.

This land of extremes, evokes a sense of mystery.  While living in my RV surrounded by the Badlands, I immersed myself in this surreal landscape.

South Dakota, Badlands

I share the amazing scenery with my friend perched on the picnic table.

Badlands National Park

these little blue birds offered a sharp contrast to all the unique colors seen in the Badlands

South Dakota, Badlands

Mountain Sheep abound in this harsh environment

Badlands National ParkThe weather can be extreme but when approached with a preparedness, the Badlands can offer an endless supply of pleasure and fascination.Badlands National Park

Due to the smoke-filled, hazy skies and extreme heat during our visit, our explorations at Badlands National Park may have been minimal, but the visit was equally as memorable and special as my childhood experience.Badlands National Park

I’m so glad we changed up the trip and added this stop to the itinerary.  I know….. I’ll be back! (she said in a heavy Austrian accent)Badlands National Park

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68 thoughts on “Our Boomerang Trip – Badlands

    • This blogging/RV community is sometimes smaller than one might think. We were actually there the first week in September. I’m usually behind in my posts. Hope the weather was a little cooler for you 🙂

  1. So amazing to see the bison walking around the tents like that! They are impressive creatures. The scenery is so vast, open and majestic. Beautiful pics and a great commentary again.

    • Thank you Jane. It is indeed majestic and unique. The buffalo roaming about like that can be imposing. I’m not sure I’d want to be staying in a tent with them so close.

  2. Glad your trip met the expectations from your childhood. You got some great shots, especially of the bison – I think putting the truck in drive was a wise move.

  3. Love this post. We have driven across I-90 several times and like so many other RV’ers traveling through South Dakota we skipped camping in the Badlands. After reading your post I’m really sorry we didn’t stay for a few days. We did take the driving tour towing our fifth wheel one year. Even stopping at all the overlooks we never saw any wildlife.

    • Thank you Beth. Sounds like you still managed to get in a good view of the Badlands. I did enjoy staying within the park and hope to so again…. with cooler temps 🙂

  4. Ingrid your memories of your family camping trips give me hope that my children will look back on our trips in the same way. There is really nothing like bonding as a family over the memories and mishaps of a camping trip. I am sure my husband would be happy to put me in the back seat instead of the navigators seat. I have no seance of direction either.

    • I think you’ll be surprised what they remember. My children have the fondest of memories of our tenting outings and other trips. Just be sure to take lots of photos and get them in a book/album so the memories can be preserved.
      I’m so very grateful I have a good sense of direction and love reading maps.

  5. Always love your story telling, Ingrid.

    And you even have a friend that enjoyed the views with you, how lucky.
    As for the Bison, the only time I got near one was in Kansas, I won’t trust that guy.
    We did enjoyed badlands and while there was on the lookout for a Laredo or a blue pick up truck 🙂

    • I thought of you when I spotted that little blue bird. I saw them all over the Badlands and loved their contrasting color against the pale hills. Guess you figured out we were stalking you LOL. Once in AZ, best you keep looking over your shoulder 😆

  6. I just love revisiting places after a long time and being pleased with how well they’ve held up. The Badlands isn’t doing too “bad” is it? Glad you got to see it again. Yeah, this heat is still a bit much. We’re in Nebraska and it topped 100 yesterday. Yes, Thank goodness for full hook-ups at these times.

    • The Badlands nor the Black Hills disappointed. I see us returning to the area again…. especially when it’s cooler and not a crowded Labor Day Weekend. Safe travels as you head east and try and stay cool. That said, winter will be here before we know it!

    • Thanks and yes, I would expect July to be HOT. It’s hard to enjoy when the heat gets into the danger zone. Thus, we skipped a lot of trail exploring. Guess that means we’ll just have to return. I know, tough gig!

  7. Beautiful Captures – Beautiful Country 🙂 I have great memories of traveling through the Badlands with my parents as well as my boyfriend who later became my husband. Thanks so much for sharing – Happy Day – Enjoy!

    • Perhaps you’ll share that memorable travel tale (hint, hint). The Badlands NP is a unique landscape that I look forward to exploring more of 🙂

  8. Ingrid it seems like your exploration and road trips have a long history! I am intrigued by the bison roaming about the campsite. Do they cause any damage or try to get into any food? the photo of the one by the tent made me think it might just decide to take a nap in there!

    • On a cold night in a tent, the warmth of a buffalo might be tempting to invite one in – Haha. I believe bison are grass grazers, and unlike Bears, have no interest in human anything. My mom used to tease me by saying we had gypsy blood in our veins. You might find this post https://livelaughrv.net/2012/03/08/534/ interesting It adds a little more enlightenment about my past 🙂

      • Ingrid thank you for sharing the link. Firstly I am sorry to hear of the loss of your Mom. What a gift to her that you could spend that final week with her and sharing stories..
        Your sense of exploration is obviously long standing and founded in those many family adventures. What a wonderful legacy you are carrying on.

  9. A wonderful post Ingrid! I really liked hearing about your first trip to The Badlands with your family, and the vastness that was exciting but disconcerting for your mother. Then the photos of today with the vastness, harshness, loads of wildlife and the grown-up Ingrid still enjoying the awesome and wild beauty. You share so many lovely photos here, but I think my favorite is the monarch on the purple flowers. 😀

    • Sometimes it’s the little things in life that provide the most pleasure. I found it incredibly intriguing to see the delicate beauty of the Monarch in such a rugged environment. Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

  10. What a spectacular landscape! I haven’t been there since I was a child (traveling in a Volkswagen bug camping in a tent with my folks). We definitely need to get ourselves there! Loved your story of your childhood adventure. Sage Creek Campground looks wonderful, but perhaps we should plan on visiting in October to avoid a heat wave.

    • Yes, I think October should be perfect. You would love the Sage Creek Campground. The gravel road did have a little washboard here and there but nothing for you to be concerned about and there aren’t any run away boulders to cause havoc 😉 Since you too were there as a child, I would put a stop at the Badlands high on your list. It was a special visit for me.

  11. Oh what a place and what a great story! I’ve yet to go here myself, but I’m dying to go. Great narrative!

    • Thanks Nina. There’s an awesome boondock spot right up your alley just outside the National Park, (details on Campendium) but you would love the Sage Creek Campground as well. And even though the NP site says 25′ limit for the CG, it wouldn’t be a problem for you guys. Definitely put the Badlands on your list. You won’t be disappointed 🙂

  12. Thanks for sharing your family adventure to the Badlands. Fun times. How neat you got to relive this trip:) Yes, air conditioning would be a must with the temps. You certainly found a great spot. Love the view:) Bighorns…great find!

  13. That looks incredible. I love how up close and personal the bison got in the campgrounds. That might have made me a bit uncomfortable though since they’re so huge and strong. That butterfly picture should be on a calendar. You should make some calendars or your travels on Zazzle or something. Your pictures are the best.

    • Awe, thank you Char for the sweet comment on my photos. Overall I was disappointment with the landscape photos due to the wildfire haze, but the butterflies made up for it. Being close to the bison is an adventure!

  14. When we went to SD two years ago, we didn’t have time to go there. Next time for sure! Looks wonderful. That bison looked a bit scuffed up too.

    • There’s a great boondock spot just outside of the National Park that you two would love as well as the Sage Creek Campground. I know, we’ll return. I only noticed those wounds on that bison once the photos were downloaded on the computer. He did look like he’d been in quite the battle.

    • Thank you. As Midwesterners, you can imagine what a sight this type of landscape had on us…. shock, awe, disbelief. It was fun to return and see this amazing land as an adult.

  15. Thanks for the great pictures and for taking me on that virtual tour. 🙂 Those bison do come quit close, don’t they. I’d be happy to have the metal of the car between them and me, not the flimsy canvas of a tent!
    Have a great day,

  16. Loved your story. We missed exploring the Badlands when we visited South Dakota several years ago. That was a mistake. All the recent posts from a few bloggers I follow have made me really wish we’d spent some time there. Great pics!

    • This was a stop high on my list and when we decided not to go to Michigan, the Badlands NP quickly became the priority. I definitely want to go back when the weather isn’t as hot so we can get in some of the interesting hiking opportunities.

    • Ah, so many places to explore! The hiking opportunities appear to be endless in the Badlands NP and I’m already looking forward to a return trip to explore some of that back country. It’s such a unique experience.

  17. My father drove through here with his family years ago, when he was a little boy. I still remember how awestruck he was by the landscape, and have always wanted to go. So happy to see your photos and read your story.

    • The landscape has a surreal feel to it; desolate but alive at the same time. I would highly recommend a vacation to the Badlands NP and Black Hills. Gorgeous country 🙂

  18. What a great narrative, Ingrid. That’s an area we haven’t explored yet. Were you there in just the last few weeks, or was this earlier? Love the fact that the campground looks fairly uninhabited. Good idea to cut and run with the bison – that’s a battle with no winner.

    • Thanks Judy. We were there the first week in September. The temps were great that first day and then soared making it too uncomfortable and dangerous to hike. You would Love camping at the Sage Creek Campground. We’ll be back once we have our solar in place. I wouldn’t feel right running a generator even briefly. And the Black Hills has some fabulous National Forest Campgrounds, again right up your alley.

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