When traveling from the south to Badlands National Park, the best route into the park is Sage Creek Rim Road. Sage Creek Rim Road is a dirt road that runs north from Highway 44 to the Badlands Loop Road, which is the main paved road in the center of the park. This overland dirt road is only about 6.5 miles long, but it can take several hours to traverse, simply because there are so many scenic overlooks along the way. The dirt road conditions do vary, especially after a rain storm, so it is best to check the status when making plans. Most sections of this dirt road are smooth during the summer season, but when Sage Creek Rim Road is rough, a regular passenger car will have to endure a bumpy slow ride. High ground clearance vehicles will have no problem, unless there are flash flood closures or a herd of bison decides to take take a siesta in the middle of the road!
Starting from the south end, Sage Creek Rim Road first goes through a hilly grassland area before the majestic Badlands scenery first comes into view in the distance. Wildlife abounds in the grasslands region and the best time to view grazing deer or Pronghorn Antelope is the early morning hours. Bighorn Sheep graze in this region too and they often head for the local water resources in the early evening hours. Herds of bison can be encountered just about any time of day and there are several prairie dog towns along the way that are fascinating to view. The seasonal birding action can be hot too, so be sure to pack binoculars or a telephoto lens for the ride!
As Sage Creek Rim Road heads into the Badlands, the majestic views become more intense as the finer details are revealed from the high ground. During the second half of the trek, the dirt road hugs the rim of the high ground overlooking the eroded Badlands landscape. From the high vantage points, the Badlands appear as a vivid eroded bare rock landscape that compares to nowhere else on earth, so be prepared to stop and stare in awe. There are dozens of roadside spots that are perfect for soaking up the views and there are a few scenic overlooks that will captivate onlookers for an extended time, so it is best to not be in a hurry.
For many visitors, especially wildlife viewers, Sage Creek Rim Road is the main attraction of Badlands National Park and there are camping options along this touring route. The Sage Creek Campground is located near the Badlands overlooks, which is a nice place to be. This developed campground offers 22 campsites on a first come, first serve basis, which means the early bird gets the worm during the busy summer season. Dispersed backcountry camping is also allowed in this National Park, but it is best to check the park rules before setting up a camp. Dispersed camping is also allowed in the neighboring Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, so there are plenty of options if you do not mind roughing it.
No tour of Badlands National Park will be complete without taking the time to drive Sage Creek Rim Road! This dirt road may be a bit bumpy for a regular passenger car and the going may be slow, but the views of the wildlife and the majestic Badlands landscape will certainly will make the venture worth it. On the downside, if stormy weather is in the forecast it is best to avoid Sage Creek Rim Road altogether, because the mud will be deep and flash floods can wash away sections of the dirt road. On a sunny day this dirt road side trip is guaranteed to be a real pleasure for the senses, so be sure to chalk it up when doing a grand tour of Badlands National Park!
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