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  • Badlands National Park, SD
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    Badlands National Park,

    South Dakota

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    Land of Stone and Light

    The Lakota gave this land its name, “Mako Sica,” meaning “land bad.” Located in southwestern South Dakota, Badlands National Park consists of 244,000 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires blended with the largest protected mixed grass prairie in the United States. It is desolation at its truest, where you can look for miles and see no sign of civilization.

    This land has been so ruthlessly ravaged by wind and water that it has become picturesque. The Badlands are a wonderland of bizarre, colorful spires and pinnacles, massive buttes and deep gorges. Erosion of the Badlands reveals sedimentary layers of different colors: purple and yellow (shale), tan and gray (sand and gravel), red and orange (iron oxides) and white (volcanic ash).

    Badlands National Park also preserves the world’s greatest fossil beds of animals from the Oligocene Epoch of the Age of Mammals. The skeletons of ancient camels, three-toed horses, saber-toothed cats and giant rhinoceros-like creatures are among the many fossilized species found here. All fossils, rocks, plants and animals are protected and must remain where you find them. Prehistoric bones are still being uncovered today by park officials.

    Come enjoy this park’s biological diversity. The Badlands are home to the largest mixed grass prairie in the National Park System and is surrounded by the Buffalo Gap National Grassland. Wildlife roams the park's boundaries as well. Bison, pronghorn, mule and whitetail deer, prairie dogs, coyotes, butterflies, turtles, snakes, bluebirds, vultures, eagles and hawks are just some of the wildlife that can often be seen by visitors. In 1994, the near-extinct Black-footed ferrets were reintroduced into the Badlands prairie. These nocturnal animals are rarely seen by the visiting public.

    The rugged beauty of the Badlands draws visitors from around the world. These striking geologic deposits contain one of the world’s richest fossil beds. Ancient horses and rhinos once roamed here. The park’s 244,000 acres protect an expanse of mixed-grass prairie where bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets live today.

    Badlands National Park has something to offer every visitor. Families? Attend a Junior Ranger Program and hike Fossil Exhibit Trail, a great place for little ones to explore. Experienced hikers? Check out a social trail and backcountry camp for the night. Sore feet from days of exploring? Drive the Badlands Loop Road and keep an eye out for wildlife!

    Find more things to do, itinerary ideas, updated news and events, and plan your perfect trip to Badlands National Park
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    Badlands National Park Articles

    Inspiration

    The Wonders of South Dakota

    Mistakenly believing that it's hard to reach, many Americans fail to visit the greatest human monument in all the nation, chiseled into the Black Hills of South Dakota. It's called Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and (for Americans) it's on a par-artistically and emotionally-with the Great Wall and the Taj Mahal. It's also only one of many wonders in the southwest corner of the state. They include the otherworldly rock formations of Badlands National Park, the burgeoning bison herds at Custer State Park, the dramatic Native American history and culture at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and the Crazy Horse Monument-the world's largest sculpture in the making. There couldn't be a better time to visit these grand landmarks, in an area of the country where lodging, food, and sightseeing costs are among our nation's least expensive. A Swift Visit to Rapid City Though Sioux Falls is the state's largest town (and airport), you are much better situated for the drive we suggest by beginning the trip in Rapid City, five-and-a-half hours to the west (and thus much nearer to The Badlands and Mount Rushmore). Delta, Northwest, and United Express all fly into the quiet Rapid City Airport (usually via Denver), with United Express tending to be the cheapest of the three. Low-cost car-rental companies at the airport include Thrifty, Budget, and National. Most tourists on their way to Mount Rushmore speed through Rapid City without stopping, but this neat, clean, and historic town is worth at least a full day's exploration. With well-tended gardens, historical signs everywhere, and interesting shops and restaurants, the city is a standout. And the downtown landmark you won't want to miss is the Hotel Alex Johnson (523 Sixth St., 605/342-1210, www.alexjohnson.com), a 75-year-old, ten-story tower with chalet motifs that somehow fit in. Pick up a walking-tour brochure that describes the property's ornate lobby, woodwork, chandeliers, and artwork. And why not stay here your first night? Doubles start at just $59 in winter, $89 in summer. If it's full, try the modern Microtel Inn & Suites (1740 Rapp St., 605/348-2523, www.microtelinn.com), where rooms start as low as $57 in winter, $82 in summer. Take time to see the rest of the downtown, with its boutiques, Indian arts stores, and western shops. One store not to miss is Prairie Edge (606 Main St., 800/541-2388), which showcases remarkable Native American arts and artifacts like drums, pipes, jewelry, herbs, and clothing; it's free and interesting to browse, even if you don't buy a thing. Then have lunch or dinner around the corner at the Firehouse Brewing Co. (610 Main St., 605/348-1915), housed in a former old-time, brick fire station whose huge meals-like Hyperventilation Wings and Rings of Fire Fightin' Nachos-sell for only $7.95. You'll see real-life cowboys with Stetsons and tight jeans stuffed into their boots, sauntering about just like in olden times. Even if you don't stay in Rapid City, stop by the Journey Museum (222 New York St., 605/394-6923, www.journeymuseum.org; $6) before heading on. Recently opened amid much controversy (it went way over budget and is in an awkward, hard-to-find location), the collection here is nothing short of first-class, with all kinds of multimedia and interactive displays on Native American culture and history-everything you'd want to know about South Dakota history, geology, and mythology. Good times in the Badlands Now, from Rapid City, head east along Interstate 90 for roughly 60 miles to the famous town of Wall. With billboards and signs for Wall Drug (which began by giving away ice water for travelers during the Depression) stretching from here to the South Pole, the town has become a running joke for cross-country motorists. The actual Wall Drug store (605/279-2175, www.walldrug.com) is a huge souvenir emporium taking up more than one building, offering mostly tacky but fun ashtrays, mugs, and fake bows and arrows, as well as singing mannequins and historical photos of Sitting Bull, Red Cloud, and Annie Oakley. If you're hungry, Cactus Cafe & Lounge (519 Main St., 605/279-2561) in downtown Wall serves up Mexican food, steaks, and seafood in a down-home atmosphere for rarely more than $10. From Wall, head south on 240 until you reach the Pinnacles Entrance to Badlands National Park. The $10 car entrance fee is good for seven days ($5 for cyclists or hikers), and you'll want to spend at least two days at this magical outdoor U.S. attraction, rich in visuals and atmosphere. How did the Badlands get their name? The French Canadian fur trappers called them les mauvais terres ... traverser, or the "bad lands to travel across." The Native Americans' name for them, mako sica, also meant "bad lands." The reference captured the imagination of the American pioneers who had to traverse this unrelenting terrain in the 1800s. Named a national monument in 1939 and a full-fledged national park in 1978, Badlands, with its rock spires of different hues, is a mystical experience for intrepid domestic travelers. It's a place of intense history and controversy, which continues as Native Americans keep fighting for their land rights in this unforgiving land. Recent sit-in protests by activists postponed the digging up of ancient graves at Stronghold Table, a sacred area claimed by both the Lakota Nation and the National Park Service. With pointed, jagged peaks made from water-sculpted, crumbling rock, stark canyons in yellow and red tones, and frequent thunderstorms (legend says caused by the mythical Thunder Birds) creating a dramatic purple backdrop, it's amazing it took so long for the beauty of this area to be appreciated and accepted on its own terms. The Badlands lie 62 miles east of Rapid City, on I-90. Turning west on Creek Rim Road after the Pinnacles Entrance, you'll begin to witness the distinct badland formations and see some of the last virgin prairie land in the U.S. Five miles west from the entrance is Roberts Prairie Dog Town filled with mounds of earth dotted with peeking little heads of dogs. A vital member of the ecosystem due to their soil churning, the irresistibly cute prairie canines are endangered by ranchers who would rather see them all gone. Their natural predator, the black-footed ferret, once thought extinct, is still unusually rare. Badlands is one of the few places left to see such amazing creatures. The one main road east through the park is the Badlands Loop Road, which takes you through most of the park's natural wonders. A must-do is a hike along the Castle Trail near the Interior Entrance to the park. The Mars-like terrain will seem like the setting for a science fiction movie. Ranger talks are free during the summer, on topics ranging from fossils to prairie dogs. More information: 605/433-5361, www.nps.gov/badl. Near the park entrance are the only lodging facilities in the park at Cedar Pass Lodge (Cedar St., Interior, 605/433-5460), with individual cottages and a decent diner (under $10 for most meals) and gift shop. Doubles start at $55. You can also try the Badlands Budget Host Hotel (Hwy. 377, 605/433-5335), just outside the park entrance and open from May 1 to October 1. The 21 units start at $46 per double. Camping in Badlands National Park is available at two campsites. One campsite is free, the other charges only $10 a night (14-day limit). Call 605/433-5361 for information. And for your meals, try A & M Cafe (605/433-5340), just outside the park on Highway 44 in Interior. It's a very local diner where you can witness real cowboys and Indians munching on fried chicken, homemade pies, and Indian tacos, all under $9. The place feels like a living room. As you drive west back out of the park on Highway 44, you can take in the wide-open vistas of the Buffalo Gap National Grassland (which, unfortunately, has no buffalo on it but is leased to cattlemen for somewhat destructive grazing by livestock), adjacent to the Badlands National Park. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee A visit to Badlands wouldn't be complete without a detour south to Wounded Knee. Located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (second largest in the U.S.) about 60 miles south of Badlands National Park, this unassuming valley masks a horrific history-it's the site of a genocidal massacre of hundreds of unarmed Indian men, women, and children by the U.S. Cavalry in 1890 (including the Sioux leader Chief Big Foot). A somber graveyard marks the spot, and there's a friendly little visitors center affiliated with the American Indian Movement, with information on current-day Native American politics and the tribes' rough handling by the federal government. (The long, brutal history of Native Americans in this country can be read in the classic book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown.) Obviously weary of outside government intervention but extremely friendly to guests, the residents of the Pine Ridge reservation welcome respectful visitors to their famous Sun Dances and powwows-cultural events not to be missed. To witness the ancient rhythms and colors of these Native American rituals is to fall in love with our great country and its land and people once again. For an event schedule, go to www.travelsd.com/history/sioux/powwows.htm, or call 605/867-5821, and also check out the political site www.fireonprairie.org. There's no place to stay within the reservation, but if you choose to spend a night in the area, do so just south of Pine Ridge near the Nebraska border at the charming Wakpamni B&B (605/288-1868, www.wakpamni.com), a family-run farmhouse getaway amid cornfields, with tepees to sleep in if the spirit moves you. Prices start at $60 for a double. You're soaking in it Heading northeast from the town of Pine Ridge on Highway 18, you'll begin the ascent into the Black Hills. One of the first towns you'll encounter is delightful Hot Springs, a turn-of-the-century resort with over 50 buildings built from blocks of pink sandstone. The warm-temperature Fall River goes through the heart of town, and you can bathe in the healing thermal waters at Springs Bath House for only $8 for the entire day (146 North Garden St., 888/817-1972, www.springsbathhouse.com). Whether or not you do have a soak, get out of your car and stroll along the Freedoms Trail, a mile-long sidewalk that follows the banks of the river. You'll also want to stop by the Mammoth Site Museum in Hot Springs (1800 W. Hwy. 18 By-Pass, 605/745-6017, www.mammothsite.com; $6.50), a mass graveyard of over 100 mammoths and other prehistoric animals where you can watch paleontologists work on the bones. Now you'll want to head north on Highway 385 toward Custer State Park. The hills become forested as you approach Wind Cave National Park (605/745-4600, www.nps.gov/wica), one of the world's longest and most complex cave systems (they still haven't found the end of it). Cave tours of the intricate box work, "cave popcorn," and flowstone formations cost only $6. Just north of Wind Cave is the superb, 73,000-acre Custer State Park (605/255-4515, www.custerstatepark.info), which is surely as impressive as any national park. These green, rolling hills are home to one of the largest bison herds in the world (at 1,500), as well as an 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road full of pronghorn antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, wild turkeys, and a band of friendly burros that often come right up to your car. The Needles Highway (Hwy. 87), which snakes through the northwest corner of the park, is like a visual fairyland, with thin rock spires magically jutting up above the forest canopy. A must for outdoor types is a hike up the 7,242-foot Harney Peak, a sacred mountain for the Sioux, with breathtaking 360-degree views of the Black Hills from a stone watchtower on its summit. Seven-day passes for the park are $12 per vehicle in summer and $6 the rest of the year. All the lodges in Custer State Park are impeccably run and world-class-you will definitely want to spend at least one night here. One special recommendation (for which you'll want to make reservations) is the historic stone and wood State Game Lodge and Resort, which President Calvin Coolidge used as his "summer White House" in 1927; its rooms start at $75. Another you can opt for is a full-fledged modern log cabin with a double bed and sleeper sofa that can comfortably sleep four for $99, booked through the Blue Bell Lodge and Resort. Info for either property: 800/658-3530, or www.custerresorts.com. The heads of state We finally arrive at the grand finale of the trip: overwhelming, majestic Mount Rushmore National Memorial (605/574-2523, www.nps.gov/moru; $8 parking fee). One of those phenomena that needs to be seen to be believed, the four stunning, 60-foot presidential heads were built between 1927 and 1941 by the eccentric genius Gutzon Borglum (with the help of 400 workers, of course). An excellent visitors center shows films and houses displays of little-known facts and artifacts, like the large, cave-like shrine that is half built behind Lincoln's head, the original plans to also carve out the upper torsos of the presidents, and the controversial decision to include Borglum's friend Teddy Roosevelt in the sculpture. Schedule at least half a day to take in this human achievement that Borglum proclaimed would stand over 10,000 years from now (and no one doubts it). Nearly every visitor to Mount Rushmore makes a pilgrimage to the nearby Crazy Horse Memorial (605/673-4681, www.crazyhorse.org; $9) off Highway 385, which is also home to the comprehensive Indian Museum of North America and the Native American Cultural Center. Be sure to see Mount Rushmore first, because it will pale in comparison with Crazy Horse, which will be the largest sculpture in the world when it is finally completed (heaven knows when). The carved-out mountain of Crazy Horse sitting on his horse pointing outward is a three-dimensional monument so enormous that the four heads of Mount Rushmore could fit inside of Crazy Horse's head alone. At the request of Native Americans, sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski began the project in 1948, and his family has since kept the blasting and carving going, relying entirely on private funds. Avoid the touristy area of Keystone, where everyone stays in cookie-cutter motels while visiting Mount Rushmore (but check out the fun President's Slide, where visitors plunge down a long mountain on a toboggan run for $8-605/666-4478, www.presidentsslide.com). Head instead to more secluded areas of the Black Hills for accommodations. For instance, the Harney Camp Cabins (605/574-2594), located on a creek four miles south of Hill City, are only $45 per double, and that includes the use of a sundeck and hot tub. Or mosey north to Deadwood (800/999-1876, www.deadwood.org), a historic town and National Historic Landmark popular for its Old West casinos and 1800s buildings. After a gold rush in 1876, prospectors, Chinese laborers, Calamity Jane, and Wild Bill Hickok all converged on the town to make it one of the most colorful spots in the West. By all means, try to get a room at the historic Bullock Hotel (633 Main St., 800/336-1876, www.heartofdeadwood.com/bullock), the first real hotel in Deadwood, opened in 1885 (before then, the town had only been full of flophouses and bordellos). Refurbished and full of character, it's the place to stay in Deadwood ($74 a room; slightly higher in summer). Or try the Deadwood Inn (27 Deadwood St., 877/815-7974; rooms start at $69), once a feed store and now a 19-room Victorian hotel with casino.

    Road Trips

    Road Trip: South Dakota's Badlands and Black Hills

    Get ready to visit historical monuments like Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial, see the Old West come to life in historic Deadwood, and experience plenty of brag-worthy encounters with nature-where else can you say you were caught in a traffic jam because a herd of wild buffalo decided to cross in front of your car? Leave your trusty GPS behind (there's no reception in the mountains, anyway!), break out the old road map, grab your friends and family—or take on the adventure solo like I did—and whatever you do, don't forget your camera. DOWNLOAD OUR FREE ULTIMATE ROAD TRIPS APP HERE! WALL & BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK 55 miles From Rapid City Regional Airport, it's about an hour drive to Wall, a funky little town that's home to Wall Drug, an area institution since 1931 where you'll find everything from souvenir shops to a giant animated T-Rex, and plenty of space for the kids to unwind after a long day on the road. Stop by the Western Art Gallery Restaurant for their famous homemade donuts, bison burgers, and five-cent coffee. The best part: admission is free, as is the ice water—a marketing tool that has brought in visitors since the 1930s. As you leave Wall, stay on Highway 240 and head south into Badlands National Park along the Badlands Loop Scenic Byway, driving west to east through some of the most amazing prairie landscapes and impressive canyons in the country. Keep an eye out for bison, pronghorn, deer, eagles, prairie dogs, and hawks as you drive and be prepared to pull over every time there's a sign that says, "Scenic overlook." Trust me. The park is never too crowded and you can spend hours just admiring the views around you in relative peace and quiet. Stick around for the evening program, usually around 9 p.m., where kids can meet Smokey the Bear, stargaze, and learn about how the park was formed. Park entrance fees are valid for seven days: $15 per vehicle, $10 for motorcycles, $7 for hikers and bicyclists, or $30 for an annual pass. Stay at Frontier Cabins, located just off I-90 on the way into Badlands National Park (rates from $108-$149 per cabin from May-August; lower in shoulder season months). BEAR BUTTE STATE PARK & DEADWOOD 100 miles Cruise down I-90, turn off at Highway 79, and drive through Sturgis on the way to Bear Butte State Park. While a popular hiking spot for travelers, the site is still considered to be sacred to Native Americans—as the ranger in the Visitor Center explained it to me, hiking up Bear Butte is kind of like going to church, so remember to be respectful. It's only about a 30-minute drive heading the opposite way on Highway 79 from here to Deadwood, but you might as well be driving 200 years back in time to the Old West. Visit during the summer to see the Days of '76 PRCA Rodeo—you can still go to the Days of '76 Museum year-round to see exhibits about Deadwood's first settlers (admission is $5.50 for adults, $2.50 for children ages 7-13, while children ages six and under get in free). Stroll around town-a dead ringer for any western town you've ever seen in the movies-and take the Alkali Ike Tour around historic Deadwood and up to Mt. Moriah Cemetery to see the gravestones of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane-real, legendary characters who once called Deadwood home ($10 for adults, $5 for ages 6-16, $9 for seniors). Catch a free reenactment of an Old West shootout in front of the Franklin Hotel (several times a day, just follow the crowd!) and witness the shooting of Wild Bill Hickok inside Saloon #10 daily at 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 5 p.m., and 7 p.m. Their website proudly states, "Bring the kids!" Stay at the Springhill Suites by Marriott, located on Main Street about a 15-minute walk from the historic downtown area (rooms from $79 a night). MOUNT RUSHMORE & CUSTER STATE PARK 72 miles Take a scenic ride down highway 385, then highway 16, and follow the signs to Mount Rushmore, one of America's most iconic attractions featuring the larger-than-life faces of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln carved into the side of the mountain. Take a walk on the boardwalk trails that lead up to the base of the mountain for a better view, and stop by Carver's Café for lunch and the chance to try out Thomas Jefferson's original ice cream recipe! (Admission to the park is free, but you must pay $11 to park your vehicle). Drive along Iron Mountain Road, or Alt. 16, a winding two-lane road that will take you through one-lane tunnels (honk first!) and past beautiful mountain vistas. As you get closer to the park, get your cameras ready-buffalo roam in and around Custer State Park and will often decide to randomly cross in front of your car. Resist the temptation and only take photos from inside your vehicle—these animals are majestic but strong and big enough to cause some major damage. Pay $4 per person to enter Custer State Park and stay in the middle of all the action at the State Game Lodge, the former Summer White House for President Calvin Coolidge in 1927 (room rates from $115 a night in June for a lodge room). While you're there, sign up for a Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour to get up close to the park's resident buffalo, prairie dogs, and other wildlife on a bumpy, off-road adventure through the native wilderness. End the day with a chuck wagon cookout in the wild, where cowboys sing as you feast on your choice of sirloin steak or hamburger, beans, cornbread, potato salad, coleslaw, watermelon, and fresh lemonade ($85 per adult and $65 for children under 12 for the combination Jeep Tour and Chuck Wagon Cookout; $45 per adult and $38 for children under 12 for just the Jeep Tour; $49 per adult and $40 for children under 12 for just the Chuck Wagon Cookout). CRAZY HORSE MEMORIAL, HILL CITY & RAPID CITY 69 miles Drive along Needles Highway (Highway 87), another mountain road with several one-lane tunnels and beautiful views of Sylvan Lake along the way. When you get to the end of Highway 87, turn left and head south on Highway 385/16 for about 20 minutes to Crazy Horse Memorial. Started in 1948 as a way to pay homage to the legendary Lakota leader and our nations' Native American heritage, Crazy Horse Memorial is funded by admissions and donations rather than the U.S. Government—the upside being, it will never close if there is another National Parks shutdown, the downside being the stone carving is still a work in progress. Tour the Indian Museum of North America and the Native American Educational and Cultural Center while you're there, and stop by the restaurant for the best Tatanka Stew in the area—people kept telling me to try it at Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park the day before! ($10 for adults, $27 per carload, $5 for motorcycles, and free for children under age six, Native Americans, active military members, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in uniform, and all residents of Custer County, South Dakota). Visit the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in Hill City on your way back towards Rapid City on Highway 385/16—it's 20 minutes up the road and kids will love seeing enormous dinosaur skeletons and a room full of shiny gemstones (admission is $7.50 for adults ages 16 and up, $6 for seniors, veterans, and U.S. military members, $4 for children ages 6-15, and free for children ages five and under). From here, it's a half-hour drive on Highway 16 into Rapid City, home to the Museum of the American Bison, a vibrant downtown with concerts and outdoor festivals year-round, and have your picture taken with life-size bronze statues of your favorite former Presidents that line the streets of the historic district. Stay at the Adoba EcoHotel Rapid City, a newly renovated hotel that is stylish and eco-friendly (room rates from $99 a night).

    Family

    Deal of the Day: Your Mt. Rushmore Summer Vacation Starts NOW

    Is this the summer you finally see Mt. Rushmore up close? We've got a deal from Travelzoo that nabs you two nights in midsummer at The Lodge at Mt. Rushomore from $169. The lodge is minutes from the monument, one of America's must-see sites, and this deal saves you up to 50 percent off typical midsummer rates. You'll enjoy two nights at a TripAdvisor four-star hotel plus complimentary hot breakfast, parking, and Wi-Fi. Families will especially love the heated indoor pool and quick drive (and complimentary parking pass!) to Mt. Rushmore National Monument. And exploring other local attractions such as the Wild West town of Deadwood, Badlands National Park, and the iconic Wall Drug ("America's Favorite Rest Stop") makes this an unforgettable summer vacation. To learn more or book your stay, click here.

    National Parks

    National Parks Closed? Try These State Parks and Local Attractions Instead

    In these bizarre times, it's best to keep an open mind, especially when the government suddenly throws a wrench in your national park vacation plans. As Budget Travel's Digital Editor, I've been keeping track of how the recent shutdown has affected the travel industry—and it isn't pretty. For starters, more than 800,000 "non-essential" government workers are temporarily out of a job and most, if not all, of the country's National Parks and Monuments have been closed. You're not even allowed to stop on roads that happen to go through National Parks to take a photo. Camping enthusiasts around the country were given a 48-hour grace period to vacate the parks, while others who held reservations for National Park lodges were technically allowed to stay, though not permitted to hike or otherwise enjoy themselves while inside the park. I recently tried to get ahold of my usual media connection for the TSA to see if the shutdown reached as far as the airline industry, but alas, my email to him was returned, as he had, as it turns out, been furloughed as well. Still, for those seeking take a trip anytime in the forseeable future, all is not lost. In the coming days, prepare to be flexible with your travel plans and check in with the state or county tourism office, local outfitters, and guide services for updates and insider tips on what's currently open and available in the area you wish to visit. Has the shutdown shut down your National Park vacation? Try these alternative State Parks and nearby local attractions instead: UTAHRather than mourning the closure of popular parks like Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, and Zion, the Utah Office of Tourism has come up with a list of 50 Awesome Alternatives to Utah's National Parks, a lineup of State Parks and other points of natural beauty and historical significance that are also worth a visit. All Navajo Nation Tribal Parks are currently open as well, including Little Colorado River Navajo Tribal Park, Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Four Corners Monument, Bowl Canyon Recreation Area, and Window Rock Navajo Tribal Park. Among the many alternatives for visiting Arches and Canyonlands are Dead Horse Point State Park, Edge of the Cedars State Park, Goblin Valley State Park (pictured above), Goosenecks State Park, while those for Capitol Reef include Anasazi State Park, Horseshoe Canyon, and Otter Creek State Park. Alternatives for visiting Bryce Canyon include Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Kodachrome Basin State Park, and Red Canyon, while alternatives to Zion include Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Gunlock State Park, Quail Creek State Park, Sand Hallow State Park, and Snow Canyon State Park. Please click on the links above for a full list of alternative parks, monuments, and scenic byways; visit this website for updates on park closures. SOUTH DAKOTABadlands National Park and Mount Rushmore are both closed at the moment, but that doesn't mean your trip to this part of the country is ruined. Custer State Park is located just an hour's drive south of Mount Rushmore and is one of those places where reaching it is half the fun—there are plenty of twisting mountain roads, gorgeous views, and incredible wildlife encounters to keep you on your toes, and very few places on earth where you can actually get stuck in traffic because a herd of buffalo decided to cross the road, so keep those cameras handy! Once inside the park, opt to spend the night camping in the South Dakota wilderness or visit one of the Custer State Park Resorts—I stayed at The Game State Lodge, a beautiful historic property that once served as the "Summer White House" for President Coolidge in 1927 and was later visited by President Eisenhower in 1953. The best part: it's the launching point for Buffalo Safari Jeep Tours, a spectacularly intimate way to get up close and personal with the park's diverse wildlife—we drove right up to a grazing herd of bison, past fields of noisy prairie dogs, and ended the night with a traditional chuck wagon cookout. Admission to Custer State Park costs $4 per person per day, or pay $15 per vehicle for up to seven days. Children ages 11 and under get in free. Rooms at The Game State Lodge start at $115 a night. Adults pay $82 each—children ages 12 and under pay $62—for the Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour plus Chuck Wagon Cookout. Prices for just the Jeep Safari are $43 for adults, $36 for kids 12 and under. Prices for just the Chuck Wagon Cookout are $47 for adults and $37 for kids 12 and under. Rather than harp on how you won't be able to get a close up shot of Mount Rushmore, visit nearby Crazy Horse Memorial, soon to the be the world's largest mountain carving, and located about a 30-minute drive southwest of Mount Rushmore, just 10 minutes outside of Custer. Luckily for visitors, Crazy Horse Memorial is privately funded, meaning no matter how bad things get in D.C., it will still stay open. Don't leave without trying the Tatanka Stew at The Laughing Water Restaurant (it's delicious!). Visit the museum to learn more about one of the Sioux's most famous leaders and to view Native American artifacts from around the area. You can even take a $4 bus ride to the foot of the mountain for a closer look at the stone carving, still a privately-run work in progress, or you can make a personal donation of $125 or more per person and get an escorted trip to the top of the mountain carving to meet the famous warrior face to face. Admission is free for Native Americans, military personnel with a valid I.D., uniformed Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, and residents of Custer County, SD. General admission is $10 per adult or $27 per car; those on motorcycles are charged $5 per rider. NEW MEXICOWhile all 13 National Park Service units in New Mexico—including Carlsbad, Gila, White Sands, Chaco and Bandelier, among others—are currently closed, the bright spot is you can still visit portions of Petroglyph National Monument since the Boca Negra Canyon and Piedras Marcadas Canyon sections are technically owned by the City of Albuquerque. Another good thing about New Mexico: there are several opportunities to explore Pueblo culture on tribal lands. A great day trip from Albuquerque is the Sky City Cultural Center at the Acoma Pueblo, located 60 miles west of the city center, where tours are given daily and you'll get a chance to meet the locals of the longest-inhabited city in the U.S. If you prefer to stay closer to town, take a ride on the scenic Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway for some of the best views in New Mexico, and stop by the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center for a taste of Albuquerque's unique history and culture. Admission to the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway costs $20 for adults and $17 for seniors over age 62, active military with a valid I.D., and teens ages 13-20; children under age 5 get in free and those between 5-12 pay $12. Admission to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is $6 for adults over 18, $5.50 for seniors over age 62, $4 for residents of New Mexico, and $3 for students with a valid I.D. and for children ages 5-17; children under 5 get in free. HAWAIIVisiting the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor is a major bucket list item, and unfortuntely, it's not possible as long as the Congressional craziness continues, however, you can still visit the Battleship Missouri Memorial next door. You'll be able to experience a special complimentary pier-side interpretation of what happened the morning of December 7th, 1941, from the 1,000-foot long pier located a few hundred feet from the closed USS Arizona Memorial. You also have the option to pay admission for access to and tours of the Battleship itself. On nearby Ford Island, the  Pacific Aviation Museum gives visitors a look at the way the are was impacted by the attack on Pearl Harbor—you can still see bullet holes in the outer walls of some of Ford Island's buildings if you look closely enough. General admission to the Battleship Missouri Memorial is $22 for adults and $11 for children ages 4-12. Military personnel and Hawaiian residents can obtain special discounts with a valid I.D. Admission to the Pacific Aviation Museum is $20 for adults and $10 for children ages 4-12.

    National ParksBudget Travel Lists

    BT Staff Picks: 8 National Parks We Love!

    Visiting a U.S. national park is a bargain no matter what day it is, but this weekend, on April 18 and 19, admission to every park is free in celebration of National Park Week. Can't decide which one to visit? Take the National Park Service's quiz on FindYourPark.com to find out which of the U.S.'s 407 parks you should explore first. (The Statue of Liberty is one of them!) The site and social-media hashtag #FindYourPark is part of a public awareness campaign for the service's centennial anniversary in 2016. We want to guide you in the right direction too. Asking the BT staff members to choose a favorite national park is a little like asking us to choose a favorite child, but we sifted through our best travel memories and each picked one that's special to us. We hope our stories help inspire your next adventure. BT staffers weigh in: What's your favorite national park, and why? "Glacier National Park, in Montana, is not just my favorite national park, but also my favorite place on earth. Pristine mountain lakes, easy hikeable trails, mountain goats greeting you at the continental divide at Logan Pass, plus huckleberry ice cream." —Robert Firpo-Cappiello, editor in chief "Badlands National Park, the first place I visited during a road trip through the Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota. The landscapes were like nothing I'd ever seen before, and I kept pulling over at every sign that said 'scenic overlook' because I knew there was another amazing view behind it. If you go, give yourself plenty of time to sit back, enjoy the scenery, and listen to the sounds of nature around you. Just remember to stick to the walking paths—those are rattlesnake rattles you're hearing!" —Kaeli Conforti, digital editor "Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Enveloping the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, the park is unparalleled in the fall. The specks and flecks of warm-colored foliage are painted throughout the layered mountain range as its signature fog hangs between peaks, making any view of this park a remarkable one." —Whitney Tressel, photo editor "Arches National Park, near Moab, Utah, is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to. It's what I imagine being on Mars would feel like: The landscape is an incredible, fiery ochre, and delicate rock formations defy gravity. Basically, you'll spend the day here picking your jaw up off the ground." —Sophie-Claire Hoeller, contributor "Haleakala National Park, on Maui, is amazing and one of the most unusual parks in the USA. You can explore lush rain forest and the colorful crater of a volcano all in one park, a trip that will definitely earn you bragging rights." —Darley Newman, contributing editor "If you want to guarantee a wildlife encounter during your national park visit, it's impossible to beat the Florida Everglades. From the second you enter the park, you're bombarded with more than 350 bird species—plus alligators and crocodiles out catching rays. And you can skip the binoculars; you'll practically be tripping over wildlife during your entire trip." —Nicholas DeRenzo, contributor "I've always loved this quote by John Muir: 'The mountains are calling, and I must go.' To me, Yosemite, in California, is the most beautiful national park, from the first moment you see the incredible vistas at Tunnel View to the stunning reflections of the immense mountains in the valley streams. I'll never forget hiking to Vernal Falls with my best friend and how we were both in awe once we got to the top." —Jennifer O'Brien, marketing manager "Putting the unique beauty of Joshua Tree National Park into words is nearly impossible, but I still try to describe the feeling I had when I first saw it for myself. I've told people the towering boulder piles, spiny trees, and arid desert floors are 'otherworldly,' 'alien,' or 'incomparable,' but 'spiritual' is probably the best term for Joshua Tree, as the park will speak directly to your soul." —Jamie Beckman, senior editor

    National Parks

    How To Visit U.S. National Parks For Free

    Happy 99th Birthday, National Park Service. You Look Great! In case you hadn't noticed, the U.S. is home to some of the greatest national parks in the world. The best part: if you do your homework, you can visit them for free. Here's how. Enroll in the Every Kid In A Park program Get ready for the ultimate family national parks road trip adventure! Starting in September 2015, 4th grade students around the country can sign up through the Every Kid In A Park website to receive a voucher for free entry until Aug. 31, 2016 to U.S. national parks and public lands for the student and up to a carload of people. Translation: you and your family will get the chance to see wildlife and spectacular natural wonders up close—just remember to stay in your car when the urge to take that perfect bison photo suddenly hits. Visit during free admission days The good news in case you didn't get a chance to visit your favorite national park today during the 99th anniversary of the National Park Service, you can still take advantage of free entrance days on Sept. 26th (National Public Lands Day) and Nov. 11th (Veterans Day). Next year, you'll also be able to score complimentary admission on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Presidents' Day weekend, National Park Week's opening weekend, and on Aug. 25th, the 100th birthday of the National Park Service. Free annual passes are available for certain groups Current military members and their dependents, families of deployed service men and women in the U.S. Navy, Army, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard, and most members of the U.S. Reserves and National Guard can pick up a free annual pass at any federal recreation site by showing a valid current military ID. U.S. citizens with permanent disabilities are eligible for the Access Pass, a free annual pass that must be obtained in person at any federal recreation site or you can pay a $10 processing fee to submit your application online. Have you volunteered with a federal agency (ie. the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, or the Bureau of Reclamation) for more than 250 hours? You can apply for a free Volunteer Pass by applying through the Interagency Pass Program or by visiting Volunteer.gov for more information. Seniors get in for (almost) free If you're over the age of 62, you can pay just $10 for a Lifetime Pass if you apply in person at any federal recreation site, or $20 for a processing fee if you choose to apply via mail. The pass also includes a 50 percent discount on certain fees that are normally charged by the parks for camping, boat launches, swimming, and other activities. Please note that Golden Age Passports are no longer being sold, but will be honored if they've already been purchased. Need more ideas? Find Your Park. At Budget Travel, we're huge fans of our national parks and try to visit them as much as possible. In Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, I had the chance to view lava from the visitor center, walk through the dormant Thurston Tunnel, and hike along a path that looked down onto active steam vents. In South Dakota's Badlands National Park, my other favorite, each stop at one of the "scenic overlook" markers becomes a scene you'll never forget, a postcard with every view. Want to visit a handful of amazing national parks and monuments in one road trip? Try Southern Utah's National Park circuit through Capitol Reef, Bryce, Zion, Arches, and Canyonlands—with a stop at Monument Valley in Northern Arizona—for the summer road trip of a lifetime. We want to know: which national park is your favorite? Is there a certain one you keep going back to? Which ones are still on your travel bucket list? Sound off below!

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    DESTINATION IN South Dakota

    Black Hills

    The Black Hills (Lakota: Ȟe Sápa; Cheyenne: Moʼȯhta-voʼhonáaeva; Hidatsa: awaxaawi shiibisha) is a small and isolated mountain range rising from the Great Plains of North America in western South Dakota and extending into Wyoming, United States. Black Elk Peak (formerly known as Harney Peak), which rises to 7,244 feet (2,208 m), is the range's highest summit. The Black Hills encompass the Black Hills National Forest. The name "Black Hills" is a translation of the Lakota Pahá Sápa. The hills are so called because of their dark appearance from a distance, as they are covered in evergreen trees.Native Americans have a long history in the Black Hills. After conquering the Cheyenne in 1776, the Lakota took the territory of the Black Hills, which became central to their culture. In 1868, the U.S. government signed the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, establishing the Great Sioux Reservation west of the Missouri River, and exempting the Black Hills from all white settlement forever. However, when settlers discovered gold there in 1874, as a result of George Armstrong Custer's Black Hills Expedition, miners swept into the area in a gold rush. The US government took the Black Hills and, in 1889, reassigned the Lakota, against their wishes, to five smaller reservations in western South Dakota, selling off 9 million acres (36,000 km2) of their former land. Unlike most of South Dakota, the Black Hills were settled by European Americans primarily from population centers to the west and south of the region, as miners flocked there from earlier gold boom locations in Colorado and Montana.As the economy of the Black Hills has shifted away from natural resources (mining and timber) since the late 20th century, the hospitality and tourism industries have grown to take its place. Locals tend to divide the Black Hills into two areas: "The Southern Hills" and "The Northern Hills." The Southern Hills is home to Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, Black Elk Peak (the highest point in the United States east of the Rockies, formerly and still more commonly known as Harney Peak), Custer State Park (the largest state park in South Dakota), the Crazy Horse Memorial, and The Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, the world's largest mammoth research facility. Attractions in the Northern Hills include Spearfish Canyon, historic Deadwood, and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, held each August. The first Rally was held on August 14, 1938, and the 75th Rally in 2015 saw more than one million bikers visit the Black Hills. Devils Tower National Monument, located in the Wyoming Black Hills, is an important nearby attraction and was the United States' first national monument.