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Badlands Wilderness

General Location Maps Contacts Area Management Wilderness Laws Trip Planning Images


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.

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.

Planning to Visit the Badlands Wilderness?

Leave No Trace

How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Badlands Wilderness.
  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
For more information on Leave No Trace, Visit the Leave No Trace, Inc. website.

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