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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



Pinnacles Overlook

For many visitors, particularly those who enter the park from the north on Highway 240, 9 miles south of Wall, South Dakota, the first sight of the magnificent formations of the Badlands is found at the Pinnacles Overlook. Approaching the park, there seems to be nothing unusual about the view of the prairie grasslands until the Pinnacles Overlook is in view, and then a spectacular view is aparent.

The Pinnacles Overlook provides a glimpse of the ridges, pillars, overhangs, shelves, tabletops, and chimneys which make up the Badlands. These are eroded remnants of laers of sediments which were deposited by rivers which flowed from the west some 30 million years ago. At the overlook, there is a short trail and observation area below the parking lot along the Badlands Loop Road.

In addition to being the point of entrance to the Badlands, the views from the Pinnacles Overlook are among the most spectacular in the park. The views show the buttes, towers, and gargoyle shapes of the eroded cliffs.

The Pinnacles Overlook is located at the highest point along the Badlands Loop Road at 3,625 feet. The view reveals the wildly eroded formations of the Wall as well as the prairies of the Badlands Wilderness Area to the west and south.

The view of the spires, cliffs, ravines, and formations along the wall has been called "one of the most amazing natural wonders in the world." (Oswald, 2012).

From the Pinnacles Overlook, a cove-like slump, where portions of the cliff have fallen, is visible. The area is covered by juniper trees. The compressed nature of the fallen rocks enables them to hold moisture which makes vegetation possible in a generally arid environment. The Rocky Mountain junipers are the only real evergreens in the park and surrounding region besides some Ponderosa pines seen on the cliffs in various areas.

With the exception of grasses, the land in Badlands National Park is not heavy with vegetation except for grasses. Trees can be found along watercourses, in slumps which retain moisture, on north-facing sides of ridges, and also on buttes or hills which are out of direct sunlight.

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

Plains cottonwood, which grows in areas of necessary moisture, is the largest of the trees here, can be found along streambeds. The cottonwoods were used by the Sioux for a variety of purposes, and settlers used the cottonwood for construction.

Other trees found in the park include Rocky Mountain junipers, eastern red cedars, and Ponderosa pines on the cliffs themselves. Green ash and American and slippery elm trees can be found in sheltered areas. Additional vegetation includes skunkbush sumac, brittle pricklypear, Missouri pincushion, golden currant, common chokeberry, small soapwood, rubber rabbitbrush, and a half dozen kinds of sagebrush.

To the modern day visitor the area seems scenic and magnificent, but not "bad." But in a earlier day the the area was quite difficult to inhabit or travel through, because of the steep, rough, topography, scarcity of water, and the way in which the sun beats down on and is reflected by the light colored soil. Interestingly, when Senator Peter Norbeck was working to try to have the area set aside as a National Park he proposed names such as Wonderland or Teton National Park on the theory that the name "Badlands" might impart a negative image.

The Pinnacles Overlook provides expansive views of the Badlands Wilderness area to the south and west. These can be seen in the picture below. On a very clear day it is possible to see the Black Hills far to the west.

The Badlands Wilderness Area is the best location to see wildlife in the park. An unpaved road, the Sage Creek Rim Road, along the rim on the upper level of the prairie leads west from the Badlands Loop Road providing additional views of the wilderness area. The road leads down to the Sage Creek Basin. This area provides extensive grasslands which support number of animals, including bison, pronghorn, and mule deer. There is a prairie dog town along the Sage Creek Rim Road as well. This road is seen in the picture below. It provides the best place to view large wildlife in the park.

At 64,125 acres the Badlands Wilderness Area is the largest prairie wilderness in the U.S. There are more than 170,000 acres of prairie protected in the park.

The amazing formations which can be seen at this overlook and throughout the park are a result of the arid climate a well as very soft rock and a very high rate of erosion.

The Lakota (Sioux) were the first people who were really able to thrive in the arid lands here. Their culture was based on the bison who were numerous at that time.

There is a evidence of early habitation in the Pinnacle Point area. Evidence found in the area indicates sites of occupation lated from about 380 BC to 1650 AD.

Ben Millard, who built the visitor facilities in the Cedar Pass area, also recommended visitor facilities in the the Pinnacles area as well. A temporary concession building was built there and operated until 1950 when it was removed.

Badlands National Park contains some of the most photogenic scenes in the national park system. Some of the first photographs taken of the Badlands were taken by N. H Darton, a photographer for the U.S. Geological Survey.

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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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