Badlands National Park
The existing road system at Badlands provides a variety of opportunities for the cyclist. You can head out on designated paved, gravel, and dirt roads within the park. However, bikes are not allowed on hiking trails, closed roads, or in the backcountry. The park has considerately provided racks at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, Cedar Pass Lodge, and selected trailheadsso think about getting off your bike now and then for some change-of-pace hiking.
Loop Road - Cyclists who prefer paved roads may want to ride on a portion of the park's main loop road. It is amazing how much more spectacular the Badlands are without a windshield between you and the formations. Remember that the loop road can be steep. If you have an automobile shuttle available, you may want to begin your ride at the Pinnacles Overlook, eight miles south of Wall, and end your ride at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. This 22-mile route is mostly downhill, although there are several steep passes that you must climb. During summer, vehicle traffic is generally heavy. In spring and fall, the weather is usually pleasant and vehicle traffic is much lighter. Be a defensive rider at all times!
Sage Creek Rim Road - Riders of all-terrain bikes or touring bikes suitable for gravel roads may want to ride on the Sage Creek Rim Road along the northern boundary of the park. The road will take you from the spectacular Pinnacles Overlook on the edge of the Badlands Wilderness, past the Roberts Prairie Dog Town. The road is gently rolling until you reach its western end where steep hills provide aerobic challenges. Wildlife is often abundant. Watch for bighorn sheep, pronghorn, bison, coyotes, sharp-tailed grouse, and golden eagles.
Sheep Mountain Table - Cyclists with all-terrain bikes may consider the Sheep Mountain Table road. This rough dirt road begins four miles south of the town of Scenic, on the west end of the park. It is relatively flat for about three miles, and then climbs steeply onto the table, where it again levels. Sheep Mountain Table offers spectacular views, but the area is remote and undeveloped. For protection of park resources, do not ride off the dirt roads. Hiking is permitted anywhere on the table.
Riders who are interested in longer day trips may want to try a loop tour, combining roads inside the park with roads outside park boundaries. Here are three possibilities...
Northeast - Big Foot Loop (17 miles) - A long but fairly easy ride after the initial hill climb, this loop takes you through both ranch-lands and Badlands. Starting from the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, ride up the steep Cedar Pass hill on the park loop road. One and a half miles from the visitor center, turn left on the gravel Old Northeast Road. Follow this road for about six miles past the park boundary to a junction. Continue straight (north) at the junction for one mile and then follow the road as it makes a left turn. Stay on county road CH12 through ranch country for six miles until you reach a T-junction at the Big Foot Road. Turn left (south) and continue into the park to the paved loop road. Turn left and return to the visitor center along the park loop. Mileage: 1.1 paved, 16 unpaved.
Northeast Loop (17 miles) - A fairly easy ride after the initial hill climb, this is a good route for observing deer and prairie birds. Starting from the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, ride up the steep Cedar Pass hill on the park loop road. One and a half miles from the visitor center, turn left on the gravel Old Northeast Road. Follow this road for about six miles through rolling prairie, past the park boundary, to a junction. Bear right (east), paralleling Interstate 90 until you reach Cactus Flat (water, snacks, ice cream in summer). Turn south on Highway 240 and continue past the park entrance to return to the visitor center. If you entered the park by car, carry your entrance receipt or park passport for reentry on your bicycle. Mileage: 9.5 paved, 7.5 unpaved.
Sage Creek Loop (23 miles) - A moderate ride through rolling grasslands, this route offers spectacular views of the Badlands Wilderness and good opportunities for wildlife viewing. Starting from the junction of the park loop road and the Sage Creek Rim Road, follow the Rim Road west for seven miles to the junction with County Road 502. Turn right onto 502, following the signs to Wall, until you reach a paved road. Turn right onto the paved road and continue to Highway 240. Take Highway 240 south through the park entrance and back to the Sage Creek Rim Road. If you entered the park by car, carry your entrance receipt or park passport for reentry on your bicycle. Mileage: 12 paved, 11 unpaved.
Opportunities Nearby - Numerous dirt roads and tracks crisscross the Buffalo Gap National Grassland, which borders Badlands National Park. Cross-country cycling is allowed anywhere on the grassland except in the Indian Creek area. Watch out for cactus that can puncture your tires.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication