Our closest National Park is about 600 miles west, in South Dakota. There, the 244,000 acres of the Badlands National Park is known as the “Land of Stone and Light” and is home to many animals, including bison that roam the plains and bighorn sheep that climb steep rocks, according to the National Park Service.
The park has jagged peaks, long trails and even a fossil preparation lab where paleontologists study remnants of animals that lived in the park millions and millions of years ago.
The people who take care of our national parks are known as Park Rangers — and whether you’re visiting the Badlands in-person or online, you can become a certified Junior Park Ranger! Visit nps.gov/thingstodo/pick-your-park-adventure.htm to explore the park, choose-your-own-adventure style, to earn your ranger badge.
The Badlands itself is full of interesting landmarks, but there are lots of noteworthy sights nearby, too. Here are a few things you might see on a trip to the area.
The location of Mount Rushmore — where the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln were carved — is sacred land to the Lakota Sioux people. Gutzon Borglum carved these presidents because he thought they represented the most important parts of U.S. history, but not everyone agreed with his opinion — or that he should have carved the faces at all. A monument to the Sioux chief Crazy Horse has been underway nearby since 1939, according to PBS.
Black Elk Peak
Situated in the Black Hills, this peak is the highest point in South Dakota — and the highest point in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the peak (known as Harney Peak until 2016) is 7,242 feet above sea level. Iowa’s highest point, Hawkeye Point, is just 1,670 feet by comparison. It takes hours to hike to Black Elk peak, and from a lookout tower at the top, you can see Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana.
Part of National Treasure 2 was filmed in the Black Hills. The movie makes it look like there’s a lake behind Mount Rushmore, but the swimming hole is actually in nearby Custer State Park. Rock formations jut out of the waters of Sylvan Lake and are perfect for climbing and jumping.
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In the Badlands themselves, you might find Bighorn Sheep, which do in fact have pretty big horns. According to the National Park Service, the bighorn population in the Badlands was dangerously low in 1940 all across the U.S. but — thanks to conservationists like Sen. Peter Norbeck, the namesake of the park’s Norbeck Pass — herd relocations from Canada, Colorado and New Mexico have helped restore the animal’s presence in South Dakota. About 250 bighorn sheep live in the park, eating in the grasslands and hurrying to the cliffs to digest their food.
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