They quit their jobs, mapped out their plan, and hit the road to explore all 59 US National Parks. With their yearlong mission almost over, the happy-go-lucky couple will only visit just a few more national parks, but here’s Cole giving us another update on their latest adventure in Badlands National Park.
“I had driven through Badlands National Park with my family on a road trip to the Rockies many years ago. For many people on similar road trips it takes a similar status – a drive-through park where you take a few hours to stop at some overlooks. Don’t get me wrong, we did all that, but there is so much more to explore!
The ETA on our Drive Assist read 10 p.m. on the night we got into the park. We navigated directly to the free Sage Creek primitive campground in the remote area of the Northern Unit, found a patch of grass and pitched our tent in the dark. The morning lit up a beautiful surrounding of rolling prairie hills with a few bison in the distance. We got a closer look at the huge herd later when they blocked the road for about 40 minutes. For now, we were excited to drive into the heart of the park and check out all famous highlights.
Honestly, the thing we were really excited for was the heat. We had been in mountain parks for the last two months and were constantly cold. It was so nice not to need our double layer sleeping bags and coats to sleep! And the skies were a beautiful clear blue with friendly marshmallow clouds. I never imagined I’d look forward to putting on sunscreen after the suffocating clouds of our last three parks in the Rockies!
The drive through cracked and colored fingers of the 50-mile Wall of the Badlands did not disappoint. We stopped for a few short hikes to get close-ups of the crazy formations carved by water. My favorite was the Notch Trail, which climbed a ladder up to a cutout in the Wall where you could look out and see the Badlands run into the broad, green White River Valley.
At the end of the day, I gave in to my ‘go big or go home’ mentality and decided to squeeze in the last trail we hadn’t hit in the Northern Unit while Elizabeth relaxed with her Kindle. To fit in the 4-mile trail I set my fēnix 3 and went on a trail run through the Castle Trail-Medicine Root Loop. The time was not nearly up to my old high school track standards (a prairie dog inexplicably kept pace in front of me on the trail for a quarter mile!), but I’ll chalk that up to stopping for so many pictures (and trying to video that darn prairie dog!).
On our last day we drove out to the Southern Unit, which sees only 1% of visitors. The road had some major ruts, but our Ford Escape was up to the challenge and we eventually made it all the way out to Sheep Mountain Overlook. The view of all-encompassing the Badlands ridges forming deep chasms and hoodoo formations stacked high blew us away.
We then attempted a 2-day backpacking route that we found in a magazine. There are no trails in the area, but off-trail exploring is encouraged. Our plan was to pick our way down a ravine to reach the floor of he Badlands and set up a base camp to explore the area. With our eTrex 35t we weren’t worried about getting lost, but that didn’t help us find the start of the route. A few times we thought we’d found the start of the route to go down from the table through the steep Badlands, but the way was choked with poison ivy. Eventually we had to throw in the towel on the trip down, but I definitely think the view from the top of Sheep Mountain Table is the best in the park!
We found the views from the road in Badlands were incredible, but for the real gems you had to get out and get a little lost!”