About the Site
Badlands National Park  


Park History

Pinnacles Overlook

Overlooks (North)

Overlooks (Central)

Overlooks (South)

Big Badlands Overlook

Door & Window


Cedar Pass Lodge

Cedar Pass Area

Badlands Loop Road

Norbeck Pass

Fossil Exhibit Trail

Cliff Shelf Nature Trail

Other Trails



Fossil Exhibit Trail

The Fossil Exhibit Trail Trail, is found near the top of Norbeck Pass, about 5 miles west of the visitor center. It is a quarter mile long boardwalk trail which provides looks at fossils found at the location. The trail also includes a shelter near the start of the trail.

The Fossil Exhibit Trail is the most popular trail in the park. Fossils along the trail are presented in a plexiglass case to protect them from the weather and the elements.

The large number of fossils which have been found in the park area, and continue to be found there, is due to a number of reasons. First, there were a very large number of animals in the area during the Oligocene Era. Second, the conditions for fossilization at that time were very god. And, third, the process of erosion which is so pervasive in the Badlands uncovers large numbers of the fossils which exist beneath the surface.

For potential visitors, ParkVision recommends "Story Behind the Scenery" guides and "Trails Ilustrated" maps.

The peaks which can be seen northwest of the Fossil Exhibit Trail are known as The Castle.

Bones from animals require early or rapid burial for the process of fossilization to occur. Fossils are found in the park when they are uncovered from the cliffs or other ground as a result of erosion. The sediments in the park where many fossils are found possess a soil chemistry which is ideal for preserving the bones of animals.

Scientists have been coming to the Badlands to collect and study fossils since the 1800's. In 1843, Edward Harris gathered fossils in the Badlands. In 1846 Dr. Hiram A. Prout published the first account of fossils in the Badlands. In 1847, Dr. Joseph Leidy described fossils, and later became an authority on fossils in the Badlands. In 1849, Dr. John Evans, a physician and geologist, also visited the area to collect fossils. Some time later, in 1924, the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology started a systematic collection of fossils from the Badlands area.

When Europeans first arrived in the area there were fossils everywhere. Collectors and scientists have removed many of them over the years, but fossils are still commonly found in the park.

The fossils in the Badlands National Park date from about 80 to 20 (32 to 26) million years ago. This is too late for dinosaurs, whose bones cannot be found in the fossil fields in the park. The fossils found in the Badlands document the transition from early mammal species to those which exist in modern times. Fossils found in Badlands National Park represent over 250 separate species, including one of an early version of the horse.

As early as 1834 traders noticed the large amount of fossils in the area. By 1840, scientist began to inquire about the origin of the fossils. The fossils pictured below are of Archaeotherium, also known as the "Big Pig." This animal was a scavenger.

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  • All photographs ©Patrick Holleran, Shannon Digital Imaging, 1994-2013

  • Commercial use of the images contained in this document without express written consent is strictly prohibited.

  • Comments and other remarks can be sent via e-mail to parkvision@shannontech.com

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