When you imagine badlands, the mind goes to alien looking formations, minimal vegetations, fascinating colors and other geological forms. Badlands are actually a type of dry terrain where softer sedimentary rocks and clay-rich soils have been extensively eroded by wind and water. These badlands can be found all over the world, from Canada to the United States and all the way to New Zealand. What fascinates people most about these landscapes are the incredible formations that look as they have come from another planet. They may be designated as parks, hidden along deserted roads or turned into tourist destinations but one thing remains the same; these badlands are “badass.”
10. Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
When Theodore Roosevelt came to Dakota Territory to hunt bison in 1883, he was just a young guy from New York. The rugged landscape and strenuous life that he experienced here would help shape a conservation policy that we still benefit from today. During his administration his conservation efforts led to the founding of the National Park Service, established to protect and preserve unspoiled places, just like his beloved North Dakota Badlands. Visiting this park can be done year round and visitors have their choice of seeing the North and/or South Unit of the park. In the north visitors will be treated to an abundance of wildlife, along with deep gorges, and colorful badlands; making this sweeping vista absolutely incredible. The South Unit offers the chance for visitors to see the badlands that have been shaped from millions of years of wind, rain, erosion and fire. The Painted Canyon Visitor Center is also a stop along the way, giving you a first glimpse of the badlands from above.
9. Hell’s Half-Acre – Natrona County, Wyoming
Years ago this badland was a tourist stop, famous for its place in the 1997 Starship Troopers movie. At one point the canyon rim held a restaurant, campground and small motel but for years the landscape has been deserted. Although not as big as other badlands on this list, the sheer remoteness and desolation of Hell’s Half-Acre makes it unique. The history behind this canyon can be found on an interpretative sign stating that Native American tribes used the ravines to drive bison to their death during their hunts. Today it stands as a geological wonder, deep ravines and caves, colorful rock formations and alien looking columns that rise above the clay. Bands of yellow, pink, white and orange stripe the canyon walls. For now, this abandoned badland sits deserted, in the middle of nowhere but perhaps that’s just what makes it so intriguing.
8. Caoshan, Taiwan
Taiwan’s badlands are unique, and unlike any other in the world, seeing as they are the only badland formation on the face of this earth in a tropical area with good rainfall. The Taiwanese refer to these badlands as “moon world” and although these areas are slowly being turned into tourist destinations, complete with walkways and buildings, there are still a few places to go that remain untouched. Head to Caoshan, where some the of largest and most expansive of badlands are found. Start at 308 Viewpoint where you can get birds eye views of the surrounding landscape and then head to the “Grand Canyon”. As you walk photogenic pinnacles of earth start to loom above the road on either side like miniature mountain ranges. A little further along the ground suddenly falls away and the ‘Grand Canyon’ is revealed, the countless formations of the rain- and wind-carved ravine walls. It is impressive, exquisite, delicate, and appears to defy gravity.
7. Cheltenham Badlands, Ontario
It is one of the most striking geological features in the province of Ontario and these badlands are a brilliant red in color. At one point this area was actually occupied by a river and the hills at this site signify the riverbed. Thousands of years ago the lake dried out and the badlands were created. The red color is due to iron oxide deposits and features faint green streaks. Visitors come from all over the province to walk among the badlands here but unfortunately all the visiting is causing accelerated soil erosion. In 2015 the site was closed to visitors, although they can still be seen from the viewpoint at the top of the badlands slope. Conservationists will be spending the next few years trying to come up with a plan for these colorful and unique badlands.
6. Putangirua Pinnacles, New Zealand
This geological formation is best known for its appearances in the Lord of the Rings movies and is one of New Zealand’s best examples of badland erosion. These amazing rock formations, called Hoodoos are essentially hundreds of eroded pillars that form a quiet and eerie atmosphere, transforming you into what feels like a different world. Here you will find a total of two walking trails to choose from and allow yourself 2-4 hours for a round trip. The Walking tracks into the Putangirua Pinnacles generally follow the river bed into the valley and do change with river flows. This makes the tracks rough but easy enough to get deep into the rock formations. Pack plenty of water, snacks and don’t forget your camera as you travel into this incredible landscape.
5. Toadstool Geologic Park, Nebraska
It’s a known fact that the badlands in South Dakota are incredible but what about the ones that start in the northwestern corner of Nebraska. This geological park provides excellent sneak previews of what you may be in for if you are traveling onwards to South Dakota. Park in the lot at the entrance of the park and make sure to pick up a guide pamphlet at the start of the trail. A one-mile loop will take you around the park and past all the incredible formations. The trail starts off slow at first taking you past a few eroded hills, quite beautiful and striking. The flat part of the trail takes you through angled rocks of varying height and size but the real adventure begins when the trail starts to climb. This is where you will get to see many of the formations that resemble toadstools; hence the name of the park. You get an impressive view over the site at the top of the loop and it’s easy to imagine why large prehistoric animals used to wander these grounds.
4. Makoshika State Park, Montana
At over 11,000 acres this state park is the largest in Montana and protects 20% of Montana’s continuous badlands topography. Not only will you get to experience some incredible badland formations but also found here are the fossil remains of Tyrannosaurus Rex, Triceratops and more. There are several trails throughout the park, introducing visitors to different kinds of topography as well as a campground if you plan on staying for a few nights. Cap Rock Trail is a one-mile loop that allows hikers to get up close and personal with the smaller, delicate features such as pinnacles and caprocks. The Diane Gabriel Trail on the other hand shows visitors the bigger features such as sinkhole caves and sod tabletops. The highlight of the trail is a climb up to a series of Hadrosaur vertebrae left partially exposed in the hillside so visitors can see what it is like to find and excavate fossils.
3. Red Deer River, Alberta
The badlands here cut a swatch through southeastern Alberta, and is a fossil hotbed since the 19th century with no signs of slowing down. There are multiple ways to experience these badlands, whether you want to join one of many guided tours or take a self-guided road trip. Start in the town of Drumheller smack in the middle of the Badlands, and well known for its rich fossil beds and mining industry. Want to see the town from a different vantage point? Climb into the mouth of the world’s largest Tyrannosaurus Rex. Other stops along the way include Horsethief Canyon and Midland Provincial Park. Cross the Red Deer River on the Bleriot Ferry and reach the Hoodoo Trail which takes you to the Hoodoos site and the Rosedale Suspension Bridge. Make sure to visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum and Dinosaur Provincial Park.
2. Big Muddy Badlands, Saskatchewan
The Big Muddy Badlands have one of the best names in our opinion and offer up amazing architecture that transports your mind back to the times of the “Wild West.” These remote badlands have a fascinating history and once were a hideout for famed bandits such as Sam Kelly, Dutch Henry, and the Sundance Kid. The valley also is dotted with strange ancient aboriginal stone effigies with names such as Minton Turtle and the Big Beaver Buffalo, which add to the mystery and magic of the landscape. From early May to September is the best time to head here as guided tours operate on a daily basis. Because much of these badlands are on private property, it is imperative you use a guide. Tours range from four hours to eight hours and cover sites such as Castle Butte, the Sam Kelly Caves and the Ceremonials Circles. Come play where the bandits played and you will understand why they were drawn to this particular landscape.
1. Badlands National Park, South Dakota
This unique region has been ravaged by water and wind, resulting in a scenic wonderland, begging to be explored. The badlands region sprawls over thousands of square miles and includes vast prairies, grasslands with sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires. Visitors here can expect some of the most spectacular sunsets in the world, along with viewing millions of stars at night. In order to get the best views of the badlands head to Badlands Loop Road where you can hike along scenic nature trails among spectacular formations. The national park has two campgrounds for overnight stays and we highly suggest spending at least a few days in the park as the opportunities for exploration are endless.