Badlands

As you are cruising down I-90 in South Dakota, you start to notice a slow change in the scenery in the distance. Then suddenly rising from the wind swept prairies and cow pastures, you are greeted by the stunning formations of Badlands National Park

The Badlands are just absolutely beautiful. I don’t know what I was expecting but I wasn’t expecting all of this:

The park is very large and the Ben Reifel Visitor Center is the main visitor center for the whole park. Depending on how you enter the park, the visitor center may not be close. The parking lot is also very small compared to the size of the park so just a heads up there. 

There are lots of great view points and kid friendly trails. We enjoyed the Window Trail, Door Trail and the Fossil Exhibit Trailhead.

The most popular hike in the park is the Notch Trailhead. This trail leads you to a log ladder that you can climb up to an awesome view. Unfortunately, it had rained the night before our visit and this trail was too muddy for our liking during our visit but you should try it for yours. 

We were able to see several kinds of animals throughout the park. The prairie dogs were plentiful and we even saw some roaming bison. The bison are mainly near the Pinnacles Entrance as there is more open prairie at this end of the park. 

Another great thing about Badlands is that there is another National Historic site close by. Located on Interstate 90 is the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.

This is an absolutely fascinating stop where you can learn about the Cold War and the nuclear arsenal stored nearby. You stop by the visitor center to watch the movie, see the displays and gather the Jr Ranger book. Then you can stop at other locations along I90 and see the now decommissioned missile sites and bunkers. Don’t skip over this stop. 

Another great stop on I90 is Wall Drug Store. You can’t miss it because there are a million signs along the interstate pointing you that way. This is a large complex filled with a drug store, restaurant, shops, kids play area and even a splash pad. There are Tesla charging stations also available. It is an iconic stop and its just plain fun. 

Just as you are leaving Wall Drug, you will pass right by the National Grasslands Visitor Center. The Visitor Center is currently being renovated but you can still pick up a super fun Jr Ranger booklet and earn another badge. The booklet is focused on the black footed ferret and my kids really enjoyed this one. 

The Badlands were stunning and, despite the location appearing the be in the middle of nowhere, there is actually a lot to be done in this area of South Dakota.

Happy Travels!

Scotts Bluff

As you are meandering your way through the fields of Western Nebraska, you will suddenly be greeted by a gigantic series of bluffs that have risen out of the ground seemingly from nowhere. Welcome to Scotts Bluff National Monument!

The Bluffs are a stark contrast to the surrounding plains and due to this they were a landmark for the covered wagons making their way along the Oregon Trail (also California and Mormon Trails). 

We stopped in to the newly renovated visitor center. There were lots of kid-friendly, hands-on exhibits. We also took the short Oregon Trail Pathway that leaves from the visitor center. 

This brings you to the covered wagon replicas but also brought us to some living history demonstrations. These re-enactors taught us about how food and water was transported, common kids toys, and how to assess a buffalo chip to see if it is ready to be used for fuel. My kids were fascinated by the buffalo chip thing and this would come in handy when we visited Custer State Park. Ha! If you walk to the end of this trail you will also see the old wagon wheel ruts that mark the Oregon Trail. 

When returning to the visitor center, you can either take the Saddle Rock trail (1.6 miles) up to the top of the Bluff or you can drive to the top. We opted to drive.

There are 2 overlook trails at the top. Both are easy to manage and you can view down to the valley with the visitor center or look over the town of Scottsbluff. 

This was a quick stop and you can easily do some other activities in the area to complete your day. May I suggest:

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument

This is located northwest of Scottsbluff. It is a bit out of the way but still fun and they do offer an engaging junior ranger program. The visitor center is surprisingly big with large fossil displays. The Native American artifacts and story steal the show. 

There are two trails available in this monument and we opted for the Daemonlix Trail. There is a Paleocastor fossil displayed on this trail. This is the spiral corkscrew fossil that made this monument famous. The story is really interesting but I don’t want to ruin the surprise. 

Chimney Rock

This famous rock (that is displayed on the Nebraska quarter) is due east of Scottsbluff. You can see the rock from the Overlook Trails at Scotts Bluff NM. This was also a landmark for travelers on the trails. There is a hands on museum located here but it is not included in the National Park Pass. 

Carhenge

This is advertised as “The Nebraska answer to Stonehenge”. It just cracks me up. We were thwarted in our visit due to a Thunderstorm and I was devastated. It looks amazing. This is also east of Scottsbluff in Alliance, NE so you could loop this together with Chimney Rock. 

Runzas

Runzas are these doughy balls full of ground beef (along with cabbage and onion I believe). They are a Nebraska tradition and I’m pretty sure you are required to eat at least one before leaving the state. The Runza chain restaurant that is located throughout the state will help you accomplish this goal.

Town of Scottsbluff

The town of Scottsbluff itself is fairly large. It has large chain restaurants, shopping and hotels. We stayed overnight here to break up the trip. There are other tourist attractions in the town including the Legacy of the Plains Museum. So don’t just skip over Scottsbluff. 

Our next destination….South Dakota!

Happy Travels!