Did you know there is more than one area known as The Badlands? Two of the major badlands regions are located in Alberta, Canada and in South Dakota, United States. Despite the distance between them, some of their features are surprisingly similar, from frigid winters and arid summers to fossil deposits, sedimentary hills, wild grasses, and clay-rich soils.
Why are they called ‘Badlands’?
The Canadian Badlands were named by early French explorers as “mauvaises terres à traverser” or “bad lands to cross” because of their steep-sided mesas, deep gullies, and clay-rich soil that becomes slippery and sticky when it rains.
In the United States, the Badlands were named by the Lakota people who called the land ‘mako sika’ which means ‘land bad’. Since the French explorers spent time with the Lakota during their travels, it is likely that they used a French translation of the original Lakota when they discovered similar lands in Canada.
Given the many similarities and differences, is there one Badlands region that stands out as being the ‘Baddest’? Today RVT takes a closer look at the two.
Canada’s Badlands are located in southeast Alberta, covering 35,000 square miles (56,327 sq. km) from Drumheller, Alberta to the Saskatchewan border, and continuing down to the USA/Canada border. The Canadian Badlands are home to prickly pear cacti, sage flats, prairie rattlesnakes, short-horned lizards, the western small-footed bat, deer, and coyotes. The Badlands also contain the largest deposits of dinosaur bones in the world.
Popular destinations include:
Drumheller is home to many popular tourist sites including:
Drumheller is located approximately 75 minutes northeast of the city of Calgary and 2.5 hours from the gateway to the Canadian Rockies and Banff National Park. The Dinosaur Trail, a 30 mile (48km) scenic loop just east of Drumheller, is a great way to view many of the sights.
Places to camp in Drumheller
River Grove Campground A treed campground containing both fully serviced 30 amp RV sites which include power and water and unserviced RV sites. There is an on-site dump station. Features include a large playground, a vintage arcade, a convenience store, a laundromat, two bathroom/shower houses and a wheelchair-accessible bathroom. Only a short walk from downtown Drumheller.
HooDoo Resort provides spacious lots for any size of trailer (lots are 40-45 feet wide and 50+ feet deep). The campground offers 30 amp power and water sites, coin laundry, 2 dump stations and is pet friendly. Located along the Red Deer River it offers river access along with two playgrounds, a small soccer field and a full-sized baseball diamond. Located 8 miles (13km) east of Drumheller.
Dinosaur Provincial Park
Dinosaur Provincial Park is located 104 miles (168km) east of Drumheller and covers 29 square miles (75 sq. km). It is considered less ‘touristy’ than Drumheller and has fewer amenities. Dinosaur Provincial Park contains one of the most abundant dinosaur fossil fields in the world and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.
Popular activities include:
- Guided tours
- A scenic loop road
- Hiking trails
- Interpretive fossil displays
More than 50 species of dinosaur have been found in the park. You may even see dinosaur fossils while hiking, but it is illegal to remove them from the park. If you decide to travel from Drumheller to Dinosaur Provincial Park, be aware that the trip takes about 90 minutes and there is little in between. Gas up before you go!
Places to camp in Dinosaur Provincial Park
Dinosaur Campground is located inside Dinosaur Provincial Park. It offers over 120 RV and tent-friendly sites, including unserviced, powered, and pull-through. The campground is situated in a valley near the Red Deer River and many of the sites back onto a creek. Amenities include a playground, gift shop, coin-operated showers and laundry, and an on-site dump station.
Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park
Writing-on-Stone/Áísínai’pi Provincial Park is located deep in the southeast portion of Alberta, 79 miles (128km) from Lethbridge, close to the US border. It covers 11 square miles (17.8 sq. km). The name for Writing-On-Stone in the Blackfoot language is “Áísínai’pi” which means “it is pictured/written.”
The Park is home to the largest collection of rock art in the North American Great Plains, with over 50 groups of petroglyphs and thousands of pictorials. This incredible rock art shares the stories and beliefs of the Blackfoot (Niitsítapi) people. Other artifacts in the park include bison jumps, tipi rings, and buried campsites.
Popular activities include:
- Hiking (trail and backcountry)
- Canoeing/kayaking the Milk River
- Guided tours of the rock art and hoodoos
- Relaxing on the natural, sandy beach alongside the river
Places to camp in Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park
Writing-On-Stone Campground is located in the park and is a treed campground along the Milk River. It offers 61 sites suitable for tents and RVs; 47 have power and water, and 14 are unserviced. Amenities include a playground, coin-operated showers, grocery/supply store, firepits (firewood sold on site) and a dump station. There are no ATMs or cash-back services on site, the nearest ATM is in the town of Milk River or in Foremost.
Badlands National Park
The American Badlands are located in South Dakota and span 379.3 square miles (982 sq. km). Founded in 1929, the Park is imbued with Lakota and French explorer folklore. The landscape is varied, featuring striking buttes, canyons, pinnacles, and spires. Badlands National Park is populated by over 60 types of wild grass, dozens of flowering plants, prairie rattlesnakes, mule deer, bison, black-footed ferrets, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep.
Badlands National Park is also home to the largest fossil beds of the Eocene and Oligocene Epoch of the Age of Mammals, including saber-toothed cats, three-toed horses, and ancient camels. You won’t find dinosaur bones here!
Between the second week of June and the third week of September, you can visit the Fossil Preparation Lab in the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to watch the paleontologists at work.
Popular activities within the Park include:
- Driving the scenic 39 mile (62km) Badlands Loop Road. With 16 scenic outlooks, 8 hiking trails, and a great visitor center, there’s lots to see and explore.
- Junior Ranger Program — kids and youth who enjoy nature, history and exploring will be right at home in this program. In the summer, there are many ranger-guided activities to get involved in. At the end of the Program participants receive a certificate and a Badlands National Park Junior Ranger badge.
- Night Sky Viewings — Park Rangers and astronomy volunteers help point out objects in the night sky for viewing through telescopes.
- GPS Adventure — A family-friendly scavenger hunt using a GPS to navigate through many features of Badlands National Park. An “I walked the Badlands” patch is awarded when you hand in the activity.
Looking for even more cool places to visit? Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave National Park, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, and Jewel Cave National Monument are all within a two-hour drive of the Park.
Places to Camp in Badlands National Park
Cedar Pass Campground features 96 level sites with scenic views, and tent and RV sites available. All sites have shaded picnic tables. RV sites are power-only, with no water or sewer. Two ADA Accessible sites are available. A paid dump station is located nearby with a $1 fee. Pay showers are also available. There is a restaurant and store onsite.
Sage Creek Campground is a free campground featuring 22 campsites. It’s first-come first-served, however no RVs over 18 feet are permitted.
Back-country camping is permitted anywhere in the park but it must be at least 0.5 miles from a road or trail and can’t be visible from a trail or roadway.
Have you decided which Badlands you think is the ‘Baddest’? While similar in geography, there are many differences between the Canadian Badlands and Badlands National Park, offering distinct, unique experiences to their visitors. Since both parks are pretty ‘bad’, we’ll leave the final decision up to you!
Have you been to the Badlands? What was your favorite experience? Let us know in the comments. If you’re looking for your next new or used RV to join you in your travels, check out all the available listings at RVT.com.
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