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Make the Most of 2 Days in the Badlands Region

Make the Most of 2 Days in the Badlands Region


avatar   Stacy
Trip Date 08/08/2020
Posted On 04/07/2021 09:15:47

Camping | Destinations | South Dakota | Badlands | Wall | Wall Drug | Minuteman Missile National Historic Site | Delta-01 | Delta-09 | Badlands National Park | Sage Creek Rim Road | Badlands Wilderness Area | Badlands Loop Road | Cedar Pass Area | Sleepy Hollow Campground



There's more to the Badlands Region of South Dakota than just the unique landscape found in the national park. The city of Wall, home of the famous Wall Drug, is an excellent home base for exploring the area. Those who plan on camping can reserve a spot at Sleepy Hollow Campground. If you prefer more traditional lodging, the city has options as well.

The three destinations which make up the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site are all interesting and educational experiences. Although a short commute is required between the three sites, each is in close proximity to a national park entrance. Delta-09 is nearest to the city of Wall and the northwest entrance to the park. Delta-01 and the Visitor Center are both a short distance from the park's northeast entrance.

The North Unit of Badlands National Park is home to the most popular and most accessible areas within the park. Sage Creek Rim Road and Badlands Loop Road are two distinctly different but very enjoyable scenic drives. Both the Badlands Wilderness Area and Cedar Pass Area have scenic overlooks, wandering wildlife and a variety of hiking opportunities.

After a brief introduction to the city of Wall, we'll provide some hints on what to see and do at Wall Drug and the Minuteman Missile sites. Before sharing a sample two-day itinerary which includes the best of the region's attractions, we share the high points of any visit to Badlands National Park.

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Wall, South Dakota

If it weren't the home to a famous drug store, Wall, SD wouldn't be on the radar of most travelers. In reality, the small rural town with only about 800 residents is in the perfect spot for anyone planning to explore the state's Badlands Region. In fact, the city actually gets its name based on its locale - Wall is the northern rim (or "wall") of the Badlands.

Surrounded by prairie land and home primarily to a community of farmers, it's Wall's western vibe that attracts about two million visitors each year. The city has a variety of hometown dining and lodging options (bed & breakfasts, campgrounds and motels). With its location just off of Interstate 90, road trippers also have easy access to the state's southwest area attractions.

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Here's a map to help you visualize getting from the town of Wall to nearby tourist destinations:


Map of South Dakota's Badlands Region

Map of South Dakota's Badlands Region

Wall Drug

Traveling east or west along I-90 and other nearby roads in the Badlands region of South Dakota, there's no possible way to miss the hand painted billboards advertising Wall Drug Store. Similar signage dates back to the mid-1930s, often promoting free water, cheap coffee or the distance to the still family owned store.


So Many Signs Advertising Wall Drug Store

So Many Signs Advertising Wall Drug Store

Even More Advertising!

Even More Advertising!

Like the signs along your journey, when you finally arrive into the city of Wall there's even more signs leading you the final distance to the store and the spacious parking area. Truth be told, it would be near impossible to miss the huge green building spanning Main Street!


Hustead's Wall Drug Store

Hustead's Wall Drug Store

Once you make your way inside, deciding where to go or what to see or do first can feel overwhelming. The size of Wall Drug will blow your mind and it will surely not match what you typically envision when you think of a "drug store". With separate "stores" for purchasing food, pharmaceuticals, fudge and everything in between, you'll feel like you are in a shopping mall.

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Before you take off, here's some tips on a few of the must see's - both inside and out:

  • Make sure you've got your camera along with you. You'll find plenty of "picture takin' props" and other photo opportunities as you wander through the maze of stores that make up Wall Drug's interior . . . and more outdoors as well.


    Scott's Quick Break Outside of the Bookstore

    Scott's Quick Break Outside of the Bookstore

  • Learn more about the 90 year old store by checking out the historical photos displayed on the interior walls. Better yet, take time to read some of the articles to understand how Wall Drug became such an icon that continues to attract both new and return visitors.
  • If you are still looking for some suggestions for your visit to the Badlands and Black Hills Region of South Dakota, a stop at the Visitor Information may be just the ticket for finalizing your itinerary.

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  • Searching for a souvenir from your Black Hills and Badlands vacation? There are more options at this one stop than you'll find anywhere else in the region. Need a gift for someone helping you out back home while you're away? You'll have such a large selection in all different price ranges that it will be difficult to choose just one. As you might expect, you can find apparel, books, bumper stickers, greeting cards, jewelry, ornaments, puzzles, toys and, of course, t-shirts - plus hundreds of other affordable items.


    Bring Home a Wall Drug Ornament for Your Christmas Tree

    Bring Home a Wall Drug Ornament for Your Christmas Tree

  • Many visitors to South Dakota want a western themed keepsake, and there's no bigger collection than at Wall Drug. There's also a wide variety of price ranges with their selection of both common and more rare items. You'll see the work of local artists in mediums including ceramics, pottery and other crafts plus paintings, prints and sculptures. You'll find western apparel (clothing for adults and kids plus cowboy hats, belts and boots - some even made of exotic animal skins). There's jewelry crafted of Black Hills gold . . . and even mounted heads of jackalopes!


    Unique Wall Decor: Mounted Jackalope Heads

    Unique Wall Decor: Mounted Jackalope Heads

  • Believe it or not you can even find items found at more traditional drug stores including over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. Even if you don't need a prescription filled or refilled, make sure to take a look at the Apothecary Shoppe. It's there that you'll find a reproduction of the Wall Drug original storefront dating back to 1931. The antique pharmaceutical equipment on display is also worth perusing.

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  • As the signs inside say, "Don't miss out on the Wall Drug Backyard". Although it was not in full operation during our visit due to the pandemic, it's easy to imagine how much both kids and adults would enjoy the Backyard activities or available food and drinks. It's another area that you'll definitely want to have your camera ready for capturing the fun!


    Don't Miss the Wall Drug Backyard

    Don't Miss the Wall Drug Backyard

    Fun Decor in the Backyard

    Fun Decor in the Backyard

    Want to Cool Off When The Sun is Beating Down?

    Want to Cool Off When The Sun is Beating Down?

  • If you are hoping for a brief respite, the indoor chapel is likely the only place where you'll find some peace and quiet. Even if you are enjoying all of the activity, at least a short stop is worthy of your time - it's so unique to have a place like The Travelers Chapel inside a building the likes of Wall Drug!


    The Travelers Chapel

    The Travelers Chapel

  • Try to plan your stop around meal time. Whether it's breakfast, lunch, dinner or even snack time or dessert, Wall Drug has you covered. We can vouch for the tastiness of the hot beef sandwich served with mashed potatoes and homemade gravy and the buffalo burger with fries. A slice of cherry pie to share plus chocolate shakes were like icing on the cake of our awesome early dinner! (Unfortunately we didn't have room to try the handmade cake donuts or 5 cent coffee that they are so well known for.)


    Dinner and Dessert for 2 at Wall Drug

    Dinner and Dessert for 2 at Wall Drug

  • Even if you're not planning to eat a meal, don't miss out on seeing the decor. The Western Art Gallery Dining Room and Cafe are filled with what is advertised as the "largest private western art collection in the country". In addition to paintings by famous artists, other decor includes carvings and amazing Tiffany-style lamps.

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  • The Soda Fountain is a top priority for our return visit since it was closed due to the pandemic. I am already dreaming of sampling the homemade ice cream next time!
  • Finally, make sure to get at least one cup of the free ice water that originally brought fame to Wall Drug 90 years ago!


    Free Ice Water at Wall Drug

    Free Ice Water at Wall Drug

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

Three locations situated between the city of Wall and Badlands National Park make up today's Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. Between the mid-1940s and early-1990s, the United States and Soviet Union (along with allies of each country) were in the midst of a Cold War. Weapons known as Minuteman missiles were hidden underground in a thousand football field sized silos across the Great Plains of the United States for reactionary use.

Located within 15 miles of each other on I-90, the visitor center, launch control facility and underground missile silo site make up the world's one and only national site devoted to the Cold War. The Western South Dakota missile field was in operation for about 30 years beginning in 1963. Today, visitors can learn more about the war and see two preserved ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles).

Minute Man: "A member of the 1700s colonial militia trained to respond in a minute's notice of an attack."
Minuteman: "A nuclear missile that a missileer can launch with less than a minute's notice."

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Minuteman Missile National Historic Site Visitor Center

The best place to start exploring the "park" is at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site Visitor Center. Displays, exhibits and a film tell the story of the nuclear arms race and the Cold War - all without any entrance fee.


Minuteman Missile National Historic Site Visitor Center

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site Visitor Center

Seeing a chair that a missileer could have been seated in when called upon to launch an ICBM by "turning the key" definitely makes you realize the responsibility on his or her shoulders. You can even read about some very serious malfunctions that, if handled differently, would have resulted in a more severe outcome.


Could You Turn the Key?

Could You Turn the Key?

Based on the locations of the three sites, if it works better with your schedule to visit in a different order, don't skip the visitor center. (It was the last of the three sites that we visited, and we are still glad that we made time for a stop!)

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Delta-01: Launch Control Facility

Seeing Delta-01, the Launch Control Facility, is only possible on a small-group Ranger-led walk. Reservations for the 45-minute tour are available on a first-come, first-served basis at a cost of $12.00 per adult.

Of the 150 missiles hidden in South Dakota, the Delta-01 team was responsible for both maintaining and controlling 10 of the ICBMs. In case you are wondering, in this case, the word "control" meant to be responsible for arming, authorizing or launching one or more of the Minuteman missiles. There was, however, always a "two-man rule" in place. No one person could make any decision that would lead to nuclear war on their own.

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The tour starts with a brief walk on the grounds at Delta-01. After heading inside the building, we saw the former living quarters for the missileers - bunks, kitchen, "family" room and more.


Touring Grounds at Delta-01

Touring Grounds at Delta-01

Minuteman Security Vehicle

Minuteman Security Vehicle

Missileer Bunkhouse

Missileer Bunkhouse

"Family" Room at Delta-01

"Family" Room at Delta-01

A tour of the once secret location has typically included both the ground level support areas as well as the actual mission control center which is underground. Like so many other modifications due to the pandemic, the facility's small elevator was off-limits. That meant that we couldn't see the actual electronic consoles which controlled the ICBMs.


Just a Glimpse of Mission Control from Above

Just a Glimpse of Mission Control from Above

Delta-09: Minuteman Missile Silo / Mission Launch Facility

The fenced area at Delta-09, the missile silo, was a high security area during the Cold War. Motion sensors tracked all activity 24/7 and the use of deadly force was authorized for anyone entering the area.


Entering Missile Launch Facility Delta-09

Entering Missile Launch Facility Delta-09

Today, walking into the fenced area through a gate during open hours is easy! A very interesting (and free) cell-phone audio tour explains why South Dakota was chosen as the home of so many missile silos. Nine additional stops along the self-guided tour describe the various equipment including antennas, motion sensors and the missiles themselves.


View of the Above Ground Silo

View of the Above Ground Silo

Personnel Access Hatch

Personnel Access Hatch

Made of reinforced concrete lined with steel, the silo is approximately 12 feet wide and 80 feet deep. Peering down into the silo through a glass viewing enclosure, you see a deactivated training missile looking quite similar to the actual nuclear weapons located in the silo during the Cold War years.


Inside the Minuteman Missile Silo

Inside the Minuteman Missile Silo

Prior to September 1991, these nuclear weapons could reach the Soviet Union in only 30 minutes via the then operational Minuteman Missiles.

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Badlands National Park

The North Unit of Badlands National Park has three entrances. The Pinnacles Entrance, nearest the city of Wall, provides easiest access to the Badlands Wilderness Area.

Exploring the park's Cedar Pass Area can begin at any of the three park entrances. By entering through either the Northeast Entrance (closest to the Minuteman Missile NHS Visitor Center) or Interior Entrance (at the city of Interior), park visitors drive from east to west along Badlands Loop Road. Exploring from west to east is best done by entering through the Pinnacles Entrance.

Admission to the national park is free for those with an America the Beautiful National Parks Pass. Without a pass, there is a $30.00 per vehicle entrance fee. The fee covers an unlimited number of entries into the park for all vehicle occupants for seven consecutive days.

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Badlands Loop Road and Cedar Pass Area

The most popular scenic drive in the Badlands is Badlands Loop Road (also known as SD 240). The 27-mile long roadway is, in fact, not a loop at all. It connects the Pinnacles Entrance in the west with the two entrances further to the east. With the Ben Riefel Visitor Center, more than a dozen potential stops including scenic overlooks and picnic areas plus plenty of hiking options, this is where most of your time will likely be spent.

We started our drive at the Northeast Entrance and stopped at the majority of the overlooks. Heading west from the Big Badlands Overlook, what started as muted pink, red, gray and white rock layers transformed along the way. Depending on the sun and shadows, at times the colors seemed more vibrant. Probably the biggest surprise was the introduction of vivid yellow tones as we approached the Yellow Mounds Overlook.


Big Badlands Overlook

Big Badlands Overlook

Yellow Mounds Overlook

Yellow Mounds Overlook

Hiking the Door Trail is a fun way to get a more up close view of the unique landscape. The trailhead is found in the Cedar Pass Area which encompasses the eastern portion of the Badlands Loop Road.

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Before exploring the rugged badland terrain, the trail starts with an easy stroll along a boardwalk. At the end of the boardwalk, there's a natural door that leads to a more difficult desert hike. The goal is to make your way from one yellow metal marker to the next until you reach the "End of Trail" marker for the trail's best view.


The "Door"

The "Door"

We Did It! The End of the Door Trail

We Did It! The End of the Door Trail

Badlands Wilderness Area

Although less crowded than the Cedar Pass Area, the Badlands Wilderness Area is where park visitors are most likely to have a wildlife encounter. Starting at the Pinnacles Entrance, Sage Creek Rim Road (also known as SD 590) is an unpaved dirt and gravel road which follows the park's northern boundary. The 13-mile one-way journey passes Roberts Prairie Dog Town plus three scenic overlooks between the entrance and primitive camping area.


Badlands Wilderness Overlook

Badlands Wilderness Overlook

Just One Resident at Roberts Prairie Dog Town

Just One Resident at Roberts Prairie Dog Town

If you are a wildlife lover, time can pass by very quickly in this area of the Badlands. In addition to prairie dogs, you'll likely spot bighorn sheep and maybe even be held up by a bison jam. Including stops at the overlooks plus photographing wild animals, we spent almost two hours traveling the 26-mile round-trip distance!


Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep

Badlands Bison

Badlands Bison

Sunset

Watching the sun set over the Badlands can be the perfect end to a day of hiking and exploring. When the conditions are right, seeing the sky and the land formations change colors as the sun moves lower and lower is truly memorable.


Pinnacles Overlook at Sunset

Pinnacles Overlook at Sunset

Of the westward facing viewing areas, our favorite for capturing the setting sun was Pinnacles Overlook. There's plentiful parking, a large viewing platform plus an expansive backcountry area which provide an array of options for both sunset lovers and photographers. Once you are ready to call it a day, Pinnacles is also in a great location for anyone heading toward Wall. It's just one mile from the overlook parking to the Pinnacles Entrance.


Sunset at Badlands National Park

Sunset at Badlands National Park

Other spots that come highly recommended for capturing the sunset are Bigfoot Pass, Conata Basin Overlook and Norbeck Pass.

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Overview of 2 Day Itinerary

To help you plan your time, here's a sample two-day itinerary. Although there is no right or wrong order to see the area, this itinerary worked well for our group of four:

Day 1: Delta-09, Wall Drug & Badlands National Park

After our early afternoon check-in at Sleepy Hollow Campground, we made the 10 minute drive to Delta-09 (closes daily at 3:00 PM). After touring the Missile Launch Facility, we returned to Wall where we spent a couple of hours exploring all that Wall Drug has to offer. We didn't leave before eating an early dinner at the Western Art Gallery Dining Room and Cafe.

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We wrapped up our day at Badlands National Park. After passing through the Pinnacles Entrance, we drove along Sage Creek Rim Road on the park's west side. Before heading back to our RV, we made a stop at Pinnacles Overlook to watch the sun set.


Watching the Sun Set at Pinnacles Overlook

Watching the Sun Set at Pinnacles Overlook

Day 2: Delta-01, Minuteman Visitor Center and Badlands National Park

We started our second day in the area at Delta-01. At the conclusion of our pre-reserved ranger-led tour of the Launch Control Facility, we spent some time wandering through the exhibits at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site Visitor Center.

After leaving the Visitor Center, we drove less than 5 miles to the Northeast Entrance of Badlands National Park. We spent most of our day at the park driving along Badlands Loop Road. We took photographs from the many overlooks and hiked parts of several trails as we headed toward the Pinnacles Entrance. Since we didn't bring a picnic meal along with us, we drove the short distance back to our campsite for dinner before returning to the national park in search of an even better sunset than during the previous night!

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Sleepy Hollow Campground

If you have an interest in the Badlands, Minuteman Missile National Historic Park and Wall Drug, there's no better location for camping than in the city of Wall. Stop back later this month to read, "Sleepy Hollow is Legendary for Exploring the Badlands Region". Sleepy Hollow is walking distance from Wall Drug and an easy drive to both of the nearby national park sites.

Badlands Region

What's your recommendation for a must-do for anyone visiting the Badlands Region of South Dakota?



Make the Most of 2 Days in the Badlands Region







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