Are Badlands Good?
July 30, 2008 9:38 PM   Subscribe

Is it worth it to leave I90 and drive through Badlands National Park?

Google maps says taking SD 44 adds 13 miles to our trip and taking SD 240 adds 18 miles. Is either route worth the extra time so we can see the Badlands as we pass through?

We are towing a trailer and part of our concern is that either state highway will be more hilly than the interstate, putting more stress on the truck and reducing our time and mpg too far.
posted by silkygreenbelly to Travel & Transportation (37 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
posted by mmdei at 9:48 PM on July 30, 2008

It's definitely worth it; can't speak to the stress.

Also: feel free to skip Wall Drug.
posted by headlessagnew at 9:51 PM on July 30, 2008

It's a pretty excellent trip, and I'd highly recommend it, if you are able. It feels like you are looking at the surface of another planet.
posted by Benevolent Space Robot at 10:03 PM on July 30, 2008

Yeah, man, the first time I saw the Badlands was the first real look at the West that I got, I had never been further than Chicago when I drove out there and I was totally awed, just mind blown, maybe even slightly terrified.
posted by The Straightener at 10:11 PM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

another vote for skipping wall drug in favor of the bad lands. You will never find a more retched hive of scum and kitschy souvenirs than Wall Drug.
posted by cosmicbandito at 10:13 PM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by yort at 10:14 PM on July 30, 2008

Best answer: Yes.

My wife and I moved from Virginia to Portland, OR in a 17' U-Haul towing a trailer carrying a Volvo, and we took a detour through the Badlands. The speed limit through the loop was such that we didn't ever worry about our vehicle or being a nuisance to everybody else.

Skipping Wall Drug? You won't be transformed if you do go, but if you like kitsch it's got plenty of that. I'd been there on a family vacation as a kid, so it was entertaining to me to just walk around looking at shelf upon shelf of jackalope place mats and buffalo-themed collector thimbles with two sets of eyes.
posted by mph at 10:16 PM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yes. You should rent Thunderheart, which features some beautiful footage of the Badlands, to get in the mood.

Wall Drug is interesting in a touristy sorta way. They have a giant jackalope and an animatronic T-rex.
posted by Ostara at 10:17 PM on July 30, 2008

Yes on the Badlands.

But skip Wall Drug? I suppose you have to have a certain perversity of taste, but it's a stop right near the highway - a hundred-year-old drug store that has grown to the size of a small shopping mall, with its own chapel and animatronic dinosaur park. I find it more memorable than many of the other places I've stopped while traveling - certainly more memorable than anywhere else I've stopped to pee.
posted by XMLicious at 10:28 PM on July 30, 2008

Having done that drive three times now, any excuse to get off 90 is worth it, which makes it sound like I wasn't impressed by the badlands: I was. A lot. I also hit a prairie dog and I'm not sure how I felt about that. I ramble now.
posted by Teira at 10:30 PM on July 30, 2008

Yes, go through the Badlands. In the right season it's like a landscape out of Super Mario Bros, weird colors at different elevations, etc. Do this.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:42 PM on July 30, 2008

Oh, my heavens, yes. It's one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my entire life. Do not miss it. Well worth the stress and inconvenience you describe, though I'm not discounting that--it's still worth it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:27 PM on July 30, 2008

Nthing yes, just to drive the point home. Like the Straightener, it was my first trip out west, and I never got over the sight of the Badlands.
posted by Roman Graves at 12:29 AM on July 31, 2008

No, don't bother.

Just kidding -- of course you should.
posted by one_bean at 1:10 AM on July 31, 2008

See the Badlands. They are amazing.

But if you have any liking for roadside kitsch and Americana, see Wall Drug too.
posted by litlnemo at 2:06 AM on July 31, 2008

Absolutely yes. One of the most amazing places I've ever seen.
Dinosaur bones everywhere - you'll trip over them. Way cool.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 2:37 AM on July 31, 2008

I have never been to the US, but I can tell you that I have done lots and lots of driving, and have never once regretted getting off a highway to look at a national park. Never once.
posted by flabdablet at 4:18 AM on July 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

totally worth any extra gas and time spent. bring cameras and try to get some low sun angle shooting in
posted by caddis at 4:44 AM on July 31, 2008

THat you ask whether 13 or 18 miles is "worth the time" suggests that you're in one hell of a hurry. That you're towing a trailer suggests that you're moving.

The two hours you'll spend getting just a taste of the Badlands will be more than worth it at the end of the trip.
posted by notsnot at 5:35 AM on July 31, 2008

Another yes.

it's like a landscape out of Super Mario Bros

I kept expecting to see Wile E. Coyote around the next turn, struggling to open a crate labelled "ACME Rocket Sled".

There are "wow" vistas, and there are also views you drive up on to find out that that cool formation you're about to drive through is only about as tall as a house, which is kind of neat, too.

I remember a family of birds (crows? magpies?) that hung around the visitor center parking lot. They had figured out that the cars that parked there had front grills full of tasty bug bits after driving across miles of prairie, so they sat around all day until someone parked, waited for the people to go inside, then hopped on the bumper to snack.
posted by gimonca at 5:36 AM on July 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One of the best things I have ever seen in the United States was an insane gullywasher of a lightning storm rip through the Badlands. You will not be sorry. There are many other big vehicles and there's a slow speed limit and if I recall correctly there are pretty easy pull-offs because they expect everyone is driving a motor home. Go, do not hesitate.
posted by jessamyn at 5:44 AM on July 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

UKian saying yes. Like jessamyn, I got to see a lightning storm drench the place which added to the fun.
posted by i_cola at 6:07 AM on July 31, 2008

Definitely yes on the Badlands. Mount Rushmore too. And if you want kitsch, I like the Corn Palace better than Wall Drug.
posted by escabeche at 6:21 AM on July 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

I did a trip from Philly to San Francisco and back, and the Badlands were maybe my favorite part. South Dakota was shockingly beautiful. Might as well stop by Wall Drug too.
posted by excitementMD at 6:30 AM on July 31, 2008

Undoubtably YES.

It is not more hilly than the interstate. Well, there are no hills; it is probably not as pristinely flat as the interstate. More curves, but nothing tight.

The only stress will come if you head in TOO LATE and it gets dark, and double stress if a thunderstorm/pouring rain starts while you're in it, like the last time I was there.

Please hug the prairie dogs on your way out of SD.
posted by whatzit at 6:44 AM on July 31, 2008

And finishing reading the earlier comments: Corn Palace rocks over Wall Drug.
posted by whatzit at 6:45 AM on July 31, 2008

re: escabeche's note on the Corn Palace in Mitchell SD: while the Corn Palace can be very cool (depending on the current year's design), if you're towing a trailer and not that comfortable maneuvering it, you'd have to drive a few miles into the middle of town to see the Corn Palace, so be aware of that.

And of course you have to drive like 20 miles on two-lane mountian highways to get to Mt Rushmore from I-90.

But the Badlands loop is pretty easy driving in comparison, and a unique landscape. The SD 240 stretch is the one you want.
posted by aught at 6:56 AM on July 31, 2008

Such great advice.
I would avoid wall drug, unless on that day I felt the need for kitsch.
I would hit the Corn Palace if at all possible. I love c orn.

The Badlands are, without a doubt, one of the greatest places in the world. They are one of the many reasons why SD is my second favorite state. Take a hike while you are there. If you can, take one with a ranger who will explain some of the freakier elements of the bad lands.

If you get the chance, pull off the road somewhere in the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands which adjoins the park and wander out of sight of the road. Huge sky, endless prairie, wandering buffalo and coyotes in the distance; it's freaking majestic in a way that monstrous mountains (which I love) can never attain. Double plus good to listen to John Barry's score for Dances with Wolves as you drive out. If you have just visited Wall Drug, it will make your head explode.
posted by Seamus at 7:34 AM on July 31, 2008

OMG so very much yes. We went through the Badlands on our way back to Seattle area from Wisconsin, my farthest trip east by car. It was mind-blowing visually, and gives one a brand-new appreciation for the daring/insanity of the whole westward expansion thing.
posted by epersonae at 8:43 AM on July 31, 2008

Also, maybe unasked for advice, but there are a TON of cheapo motels right by the Corn Palace. You know how Motel 6 costs are variable? The cheapest Motel 6 I ever saw [and there are other similarly priced off-brand motels] was by the Corn Palace.
posted by jessamyn at 8:56 AM on July 31, 2008

Neither route through the Badlands is terribly hilly.
posted by Coffeemate at 10:25 AM on July 31, 2008

Yes. If you go to Mt. Rushmore, be sure to also visit Crazy Horse.
posted by cass at 10:58 AM on July 31, 2008

I drove the badlands loop about a week ago, and would also recommend it. While you're there, stop and see the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. This attraction is fairly new, so there aren't any signs for it. Get off I-90 at Exit 116 and turn southward. The pavement ends almost immediately, but a dirt road continues a short distance, turns left and ends at a rectangular area, fenced but with an open gate, containing an open, glass-roofed silo complete with an unarmed training missile. If you're lucky enough to find a ranger there, his name will be Cody; say hi for me.

Not too far east there's also a lovely, less traveled and less bizzare scenic route along the Missouri river. It starts around Oacoma (on I-90), follows SD50 up to Fort Thomson, crosses the Big Bend Dam and heads through the Lower Brule Indian Reservation via county route 10 and SD1806, ending in Pierre. If you find yourself in Pierre, I recommend the Pier 347 cafe.
posted by jon1270 at 11:02 AM on July 31, 2008

I also hit a prairie dog and I'm not sure how I felt about that. I ramble now.

Teira, is that a direct result of having hit the poor beast?
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 12:01 PM on July 31, 2008

Absolutely. Get out, walk around and keep an eye out for little prarie dogs on your way out!
posted by oreonax at 4:47 PM on July 31, 2008

I saw it as a kid and it's pretty much been seared into my memory ever since.
posted by Beardman at 11:43 AM on August 1, 2008

Response by poster: Update: We did end up driving through them (via 240). It was absolutely amazing and worth every extra mile and then some. Thanks to all you mefites that chimed in.
We were floored by the fact that there is flat prairie for miles and then suddenly WHAM! beautiful rock formations, cliffs and valleys. I went camera happy.

All I can say is that I am thankful ask.metafilter is here with so many people with such quick responses.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 1:49 PM on August 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

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