How mountainous/hilly is the driving around Badlands National Park (SD)?
July 13, 2019 6:19 PM   Subscribe

I'm considering a trip to South Dakota in September to visit Badlands National Park and the surrounding area (partially inspired by this AskMe). If I fly into Rapid City Regional Airport and drive there, how much mountainous/hilly driving can I expect - steep mountain passes, exposed drop-offs, etc.?

Driving on mountains where there's a steep drop-off on one or either side is very scary to me. I recently had a panic attack driving over the mountain passes in the Shasta/Trinity National Forest in northern CA. I'm trying to figure out why my driving anxiety has gotten worse recently but that's another issue -- the question at hand is, can you drive from Rapid City to Badlands N.P., then around Badlands, without steep elevation gains and drops?

(Hiking from a low place to a high place is fine -- it's the driving that is currently bothering me).
posted by rogerroger to Travel & Transportation around South Dakota (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It's been a while since I've been through that way but I don't remember it being particularly precipitous driving through Badlands. But if it is a matter of concern to you have you considered previewing it on Google Street View? There's footage of state route 240's entire length through the park..

I would say that (depending on the severity of your anxiety) you might be significantly less comfortable on parts of the drive through the Black Hills, which is often visited in combination with Badlands National Park. I wouldn't characterize the roads through the Black Hills as particularly treacherous but there are definitely steep parts and drop-offs and the traffic can be an additional source of anxiety during summer visiting season.
posted by Nerd of the North at 6:40 PM on July 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It's been many years since I drove through the Badlands, but I don't recall any drop-offs. It was essentially flat-ish with the hills off to the side. There were some canyons, but not adjacent to the roadway.
posted by hydra77 at 7:52 PM on July 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm also an incredibly nervous driver and passenger in mountainous driving like you describe. It's been a couple of years since I was last there (2017 IIRC), but my recollection about the Badlands NP specifically is that there aren't really any places that have steep drop-offs on the sides of the roads; there might be some within the hikable areas of the park but none that I recall on the roads. Driving from Rapid City to the Badlands is basically a straight shot east on I-90; it might be a little hilly but it'll be up and over the hills, not on their sides (if that makes any sense).

As Nerd of the North says, the Black Hills do have some places where there's a drop-off on the roadside, but they're not too awful -- between the posted speed limits on the road and the traffic, you'll be going pretty slow. And there are lots of big trees to help camouflage the drop-off. I don't think you have anything to worry about -- enjoy your trip!
posted by Janta at 8:05 PM on July 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't remember Rapid City, Badlands, and the surrounding area being hard to drive in. Did it in a Honda Civic one time, in a VW Bug another time. It's a great trip.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 8:42 PM on July 13, 2019

Best answer: Yeah, almost none of the roads in that area are of the type where only a railing separates the road from the cliff edge. I was in Custer State Park a couple of months ago, and the road up to the Needle's Eye (SD-87) was the closest I think it comes to that. (You can drive through Custer without going past the Needle's Eye, and in fact it's no big loss IMO.)

In Badlands National Park itself, I was aware of the cliff edge from the Sage Creek Rim Road (see the park service map, top center). That's an unpaved road, and really the only reason I was kind of nervous was that you had to move off to the side a bit when someone passed the other way. Still, not required to see the park.

This picture is a pretty good representation of the steepest drop-off along the main route. Definitely a slope, but you can see pretty much forever. It's more like you're driving across a ridge than hugging the mountainside.
posted by five toed sloth at 8:45 PM on July 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh man, you folks are lifesavers. Thank you so much. And I hadn't thought of previewing potential routes on Google Street View, either. Badlands ahoy!
posted by rogerroger at 8:47 PM on July 13, 2019

As long as you are in the neighborhood, you might visit Wall Drug. It is a Hustead family-owned business started in 1931 and built on free ice water for thirsty travelers.
In World War II there were signs put up by homesick service people noting how many miles to their home towns. Many of those signs were to Wall Drug store.
posted by Cranberry at 1:40 AM on July 14, 2019 [3 favorites]

There is a large canyon in Badlands National Park that you can drive down into. Avoid that part.
posted by tacodave at 5:31 PM on July 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Confirming the above based on a trip two years ago. I am an anxious, infrequent driver and I was fine. In the park there's very little traffic so you can ride down the middle of the wlel paved roads. If you do Custer Park (recommended), the Needles section can be a little challenging. No drop offs, just tight windows through which to wiggle a car.
posted by TravellingCari at 11:33 AM on July 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

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