Saturday, April 19, 2014

Must-do trails for seeing Badlands’ wonders

Among the best ways to see Badlands National Park’s major sights is via a day hike. Just three short trails will allow you to enjoy each of the park’s highlights – fascinating geological formations, fossils and prairie.

The 1.5-miles out-and-back Notch Trail runs through eroded buttes, pinnacles, spires that this corner of South Dakota is known for. The rock making up the formation were deposited from 75 million to 34 million years ago; they only started to erode away about half a million years ago. The trail begins at the south end of the Door and Window parking area. If you have a fear of heights, avoid this route and instead do the Door or Window trail.

The Badlands is a treasure trove of fossils – reptile sea monsters, rhinoceroses, camels, three-toed horses, clams, ammonites. The Fossil Exhibit Trail provides a 0.5-miles round trip on a boardwalk past fossil replicas and interpretive displays through the eroding buttes.

The Badlands sits on a mixed grass prairie; Western wheatgrass, which grows up to two-feet high, dominates and is a vital food source for wildlife from prairie dogs to bison. The Medicine Root Loop is a 4-mile trail through the prairie; from a parking lot off of Old National Road, take Castle Trail as a stem to Medicine Root Loop.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.