The United States Congress designated the Badlands Wilderness (map
) in 1976 and it now has a total of 64,144 acres
All of this wilderness is located in South Dakota
and is managed by the National Park Service.
About 38 million years ago this region was a marshy jungle filled with saber-toothed cats, camels no bigger than dogs, turtles the size of Volkswagens, and other long-extinct life-forms. Their bones were buried in mud washed down from the Black Hills and beneath gray and white ash from later volcanic periods. The jungle turned to grassland, and eons of wind, rain, and frost carved the land into a moonscape of cliffs, gorges, mesas, soaring spires, keen-edged ridges, and fossil-filled canyons. To the Dakota Indians it was Mako Sica, "bad lands to travel through." Prior to the park being established in 1939, early pioneers hastily filled their wagons with many fossils as they migrated west.
Slightly more than one quarter of Badlands National Park is designated wilderness, and the most spectacular parkland is within the Sage Creek unit in the northern section of the park. Due to an erosion rate of 1 inch per year, the Badlands change with the elements. It represents the largest mixed-grass prairie wildland in the United States. Deer, rattlesnakes, coyotes, bighorn sheep, and a large herd of buffalo live here. You'll find isolated backpacking opportunities with unrestricted camping. There are no established trails in this little-used wild area.