Pinnacles Overlook

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Trip Date: Saturday, September 22nd, 2018
Last Updated: Monday, February 4th, 2019
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★★★(5/5)
Overall Difficulty Easy
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 0.2 miles roundtrip
Time 15 minutes
Terrain Mostly flat
Best Seasons All
Family Friendly Yes
Dog Friendly No
Accessible No

Highlights

Hike Walkthrough

Without a doubt, Pinnacles Overlook has the best view in the main area of Badlands National Park (though the real best view in the entire park is from Red Shirt Table, quite a drive away -- totally worth it though). If coming from the west, this will be your first stop after entering the park, and it is a worthy introduction to the unique jagged rocks you'll be seeing throughout your visit. If coming from the east, this will be your last stop in the park, a final scenic send-off. Morning is the best time to visit, when the eastern light illuminates the landscape in front of you.

There's not much to this hike, simply walk down the stairs from the parking area and wander the short loop to absorb as much rocky goodness as you can. On the south side of the overlook, you can see these fantastic rock formations up close, as pictured below. Half a million years of rivers and rain washing through the soft clay-filled soils of the region sculpted the striped landforms you see here at the extremely slow pace of 1 inch per year. This process continues today, and torrential rains wash away a tiny portion of the rocks each year, though it will take around half a million years to completely flatten the badlands. If you're interested in learning more about this process, head to the Fossil Exhibit Trail further down the scenic drive through the park.

Badlands formations from up close, directly to the south of Pinnacles Overlook

Badlands formations from up close, directly to the south of Pinnacles Overlook

Though the barren brown environment seems inhospitable to any sort of plant life, the cooling shade in the canyons creates an environment suitable for trees to grow, like the juniper found in the picture below. This scene is much lusher than the vast majority of the park. However, you can find a forest of juniper on the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail, a shaded trail for those hot summer days.
Trees and greenery growing in the shade of the badlands

Trees and greenery growing in the shade of the badlands

At the end of the overlook, you'll find one of the most photographed scenes in the park (and for good reason). The badlands extend in all directions forming a vast canyon in front of you. Formations like this cover a significant portion of the western parts of North Dakota (most famously in Theodore Roosevelt National Park), South Dakota, and Nebraska (where there are some particularly cool formations at Toadstool Geologic Park) as well as the eastern parts of Montana and Wyoming. As you stare across the rugged landscape, imagine the difficulty of crossing this place in a time before roads -- hence the Lakota people naming this place "mako sica" or "land bad".
The jagged pinnacles extend for miles

The jagged pinnacles extend for miles

Pinnacles Overlook is a must stop for any visitor to Badlands National Park, no matter if it's your first or 30th visit. Let me know what you think in the comments section below and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter and Instagram!

Important Information

Dogs are prohibited on all trails in Badlands National Park. This is a good trail for kids since it is short and easy with plenty of good scenery. You can hike this trail in all seasons; however, this trail is unmaintained in winter and snow and ice may be present. This is one of the most popular overlooks in the park, so expect to see plenty of people at any time of the day with fewer the earlier you arrive.

Directions

From Interstate 90, take exit 110 for the Pinnacles Entrance of Badlands National Park on South Dakota Highway 240 in Wall (you'll see a brown sign for Badlands National Park). Head south and continue to the park entrance station. Pay your fee, continue straight, then turn right into the parking area labeled with a brown sign for Pinnacles Overlook.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

Entrance to the park requires paying the $20 vehicle entrance fee ($25 starting January 2019), except on designated fee-free days. Annual passes for Badlands National Park are also available at $40 ($50 starting January 2019). Interagency annual passes are available for $80 with discounts for seniors, military, and those with disabilities. Visit the Badlands National Park webpage about fees for more detailed information. There are pit toilets here, and flush toilets, water, information, and a gift shop are available much further down the road at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.

External Links

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