If you’ve been following the blog regularly (and I know you have!), you’re aware of my insane obsession with bighorn sheep. It probably started because I failed to see any when I searched for wildlife in Yellowstone. And even though I saw a few at the Georgetown Bighorn Sheep Viewing Area, they were far away and only visible through binoculars.
So the Badlands of South Dakota offered a chance for redemption, and I embraced the opportunity. Here’s what I saw!
Seeing bighorn sheep at Badlands National Park
A stop at the visitor center taught me that there is a certain bend on the road where sheep often gather in a forest ravine below. I went straight there and was rewarded with the sight of about a dozen sheep, from very close range. Score!
This is an unusual sight, because normally when you view bighorn sheep, you have to look up on the sides of mountains. It’s rare that you’re looking down on them. They were mostly just feeding on plants and looking up at all the strange humans staring at them. The sheep came and went; the most I saw together at a time was four. There were some cute babies too!
The Badlands bighorn sheep I saw in this ravine were all females and juveniles. A few youth males had the beginnings of horns, but none had the full giant horn set that you’d see on a mature male adult.
Prairie dogs and other animals in the Badlands
For the non-sheep-obsessed, the Badlands offer plenty of other sights. In terms of wildlife, you have to love the prairie dogs. These adorable creatures run around in the grass, until someone gets close, and then they all run underground in their holes, except for one “lookout” prairie dog, who stands guard and shrieks loudly to warn the others of impending danger.
Yes, that’s a pile of bison dung next to the poor prairie dog’s hole. How unfortunate for that little guy! Don’t you hate when you think you have a prime piece of real estate, and then some other species leaves behind excrement the size of your own body?
If you happen to be hiking through prairie dog territory, the animals will shriek at you all the time. Even if you think, “Don’t hide little guys, I won’t hurt you!,” they will view you as a threat. The lookout stands watch until you approach within about 10 feet, and then he or she finally heads underground.
Don’t run, little fellow! I just want to say hi! And maybe pet you!
Rock structures in the Badlands
One of the most impressive things about the Badlands are the seemingly-neverending hills of rock. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen anywhere else. I can only imagine what the early explorers who stumbled on this place would have thought.
I camped for a night in the Badlands at Sage Creek Campground. It was a fun backpacking experience. We did some hiking the next morning, walking through prairie dog villages and stepping around fresh bison dung all over the place.
The bison wander around wherever they feel like, although they’re not as numerous here as they are in Custer State Park. You can run into them on a hike, so keep your distance!
Here’s a basic map showing the main hiking trails in the Badlands:
What’s the best time to visit Badlands National Park?
For the nicest weather, come during summer. In the U.S., summer is June through September. But the Badlands actually get really nice weather from May through October. High temperatures in May average about 77 F (25 C).
From June to August, temps get quite a bit hotter, averaging 91 F (33 C). Bring lots of sunscreen and water if you visit then. In September, average highs dip to 80 F (27 C), and in October they remain comfortable at 68 F (20 C).
Rain can happen any time of year, but it’s usually not that heavy. You can still visit the Badlands during winter, but expect temperatures to be around freezing. Snow is frequent from November to March. The Ben Reifel Visitor Center is open all year, until at least 4 pm (longer hours during summer.)
Badlands has two campgrounds. Sage Creek, where I stayed, is first-come, first-serve and offers primitive camping. Cedar Pass Campground has more facilities.
If you visit the park, stop by the Badlands Visitor Center to get all your questions answered regarding camping, weather, wildlife, hiking, cabins, and more. For a Badlands National Park map showing campgrounds, roads and points of interest, click here.