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



Overlooks (North)

The centerpiece of Badlands National Park is the 80-100 foot cliff known at "The Wall" which stretches from the northwestern to the southeastern section of the park. The Wall is about 220 feet high and varies in width from about 1/2 mile to 3 miles. The Wall separates the upper prairie in the north section of the park from the lower one in the south, and serves as a natural barrier between the regions. A series of overlooks located off the side of the Badlands Loop Road are provided to allow spectacular views of the cliffs, canyons, and peaks along the wall easily accessible by automobile.

There are 15 overlooks along the Badlands Loop Road which provide views of the formations along the wall as well as prairies on the north and south side of it. These overlooks are so accessible and provide such outstanding views of the major features of the area that this could has been referred to as a "windshield park" (Durant and Harwood, 1988).

Conata Basin Overlook The view from this overlooks reveals softly curved hills. There is a transition from the Brule formation, which shows steep pinnacles, to the Chadron formation, which is characterized by softer, round, gray color formations.

The elements began to carve the formations which are seen in the Badlands today began half a million years ago. The effects of erosive elements on the landscape continue today. The rock along the Wall is worn away at about a rate of 1 inch per year.

The land of Badlands National Park is arid, averaging about 16 inches of rain per year. The 16 inches of rain per year are not evenly distributed but is concentrated into heavy downpours often associated with thunderstorms. Much of the rain occurs in downpours in the spring. 6 inches of rain fall in downpours in May and June. In addition to the effects of wind and rain, the freeze-thaw cycle also contributes to the erosion of the cliffs in the Badlands. The temperatures in the area vary widely, ranging from as hot as 115 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer to -30 degrees in the winter.

The grasslands below the wall are drained by the White River, which originates southwest of the park and flows in an easterly direction south of the Cedar Pass area. Eroded materials from the Badlands is carried by the White River into the Missouri, and from the Missouri into the Mississippi and eventually to the sea.

The roots of the grasses on the prairie hold back the erosive effects of wind and water. "Sod tables", isolated flat patches of sod on top of formations, such as the one below in the right side of the picture, are the remains of the upper prairie grasslands. The sod forms a protective cover on top of softer materials below.

"Haystacks" are patches of clay swollen by rain which impair drainage to lower layers. They create anchors in the seas of mud. Formations have also been described as buttes, battlements, and haystack hills.

The colored bands visible on many of the formations are evidence of what are called "soil horizons", layers laid down in different periods of geological history. The reddish hues characteristics of layers seen in many of these formations are a result of oxidized iron in the rock.

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

In earlier periods of geological history the deposits of sediments carried by rivers flowing into the area outpaced the effects of erosion. Now, and since near the end of the Pliocene era, erosion and the removal of sediments from the Badlands, has been greater.

The vertical ribs of rock evident in some formations are called clastic dikes. The cracks or breaks are formed after the horizontal layers have been deposited. The cracks are then filled with other materials. These clastic dikes are often tinted a white or pale green color.

The eroded cliffs are cut with cliffs and ravines. Along the edge of the cliff and among the formations there are woody draws, ravines and slumps which harbor freshwater springs. These areas collect some runoff and are the only locations in the park where trees and other vegetation such as green ashm elm, chokeberry, and poision ivy.

The yellow mounds to the north can be seen from this overlook. These mounds are composed of fossil soil which has been created from exposed sulfur.

Homestead Overlook South of the Conata Basin Overlook is the Homestead Overlook. The views from this and other overlooks of the Badlands reveal labyrinths of wild and exotic shapes. The name "badlands" may have been derived from the description of the area used by French fur trappers who would have found the area very difficult to inhabit or cross, but to the modern visitor they are quite spectacular.

These views have been described as billows and peaks and valleys of delicately banded colors" (Tilden, 1970).

There were many homesteads in the Badlands in the late 19th and early 20th century. The land between the White River in the south and and the Cheyenne River in the north was opened for settlement in 1890. Homesteads were originally set at 160 acres, but in this arid land with limited water resources that was not enough land to for homesteaders to be successful. A relatively large expanse was necessary, and so land allowances were then increased to 640 acres.

The forces which have created the formations have worked fairly quickly, in that sediments which were deposited during millions of years have been worn away on the order of centuries.

In various places along the wall streams have cut their way through sediments, and color banded layers laid down during the Eocene and Oligocene times are displayed. The light colored sediments visible from these views were washined into the area by rivers which used to exist in the area. These sediments are now being washed away by the forces of erosion.

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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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