Wind Cave and Badlands National Parks
Wind Cave and Badlands National Parks, South Dakota
When I was planning our trip, we went back and forth as to whether or not to explore South Dakota, and we are all so glad that we did.
Our first visit was to Wind Cave National Park, near Hot Springs, South Dakota. We arrived very late the first night after our drive from Rocky Mountain, and checked into our site at the Elk Mountain Campground, right on the edge of the prarie. I got up super early the next morning to get in like for first come, first-served Cave Tour tickets, the best way to explore the park, and secured six tickets for the tour we were hoping for. SCORE. Only problem was, when we returned for the tour, we were quickly informed that there were no tours available as the elevator in the cave had broken. Such a bummer, but we knew it was out of our hands.
We spent some time in the Visitor Center, learning about the park, and visited the original cave entrance. We learned so much, and it was fascinating hearing about the now 150 miles of cave in this area. The kids especially loved reading all of the unique names of the “rooms” in the cave, many of which were very funny (Quinn’s favorite was “Bob’s Big Toilet,” of course!).
We drove through the park, and saw Bison RIGHT UP CLOSE, a highlight for sure, before heading on our way. in light of the fact that we couldn’t do a cave tour, we decided to head straight for Badlands, our next stop.
Badlands was fascinating! The kids loved the fossil lab, where they were able to watch two paleontologists work firsthand on excavating fossils from rock. One of them spent some good time talking to the kids, and even let them touch the fossils of a Hyracodon tooth. Quinn was immediately talking about the fact that he would certainly find a fossil in the park, and was jazzed to head out on a hunt.
After touring the Visitor Center and watching the park movie, we headed out on a drive through the park, stopping at “Window” and “Door.” It looked nothing like I thought it would (I am not quite sure what I was expecting, but it was breathtaking!). The kids had a blast climbing the sandstone rock formations.
We then headed to the “Fossil Trail,” the location of many fossil finds in the park. Though we didn’t find any fossils, we had a blast exploring the area and climbing on the sandstone formations throughout. It was gorgeous there, the light-colored sandstone a harsh contrast to the blue, cloudy sky, and a gorgeous non-native yellow flower called Mullein that COVERED the state of South Dakota (and, we later found, parts of Wyoming).
On our drive through the park, we also encountered a huge herd of bison, and were able to get pretty close without risking safety, and a herd of bighorn sheep (and babies!) grazing cliffside. The kids are LOVING the up-close encounters with the animals!
SOUTH DAKOTA RULES!