Fossil Exhibit Trail, Badlands National Park, South Dakota

This fully accessible boardwalk trail features fossil replicas and exhibits of now extinct creatures that once roamed the area.

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National Recreation Trail

Designated in 1980


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in the NRT Database

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A unique way to view this natural history in Badlands National Park is to take the easy, 0.25-mile round-trip Fossil Exhibit Trail. From this fully accessible boardwalk trail, you can view iconic Badlands formations and learn about some of the extinct animals that lived here. Fascinating fossil replicas are housed in display cases along the trail. Though the boardwalk is short, the information you learn here will help you to appreciate the formations you'll see throughout your journey in Badlands National Park

As you look around the arid Badlands National Park, it may seem hard to believe that the region was once an inland sea and then developed into a tropical rainforest. Numerous fossils are mixed with the sediments from this period, known as the Oligocene age. This region has one of the world’s highest concentrations of fossils. Fossil evidence of many species, including saber-tooth cats and elephant-sized mammals, have been found here.

You can start the trail in either direction since the exhibit was designed to be understood no matter where you start. As you step onto the boardwalk, you will see the badlands formations in the distance. The deposition of sediment throughout millions of years was the beginning of the formation of these fantastic rocks. Each visible layer of rock corresponds with a different geologic era, and the signs will explain what fossils have been discovered in each uniquely colored rock layer. Some signs feature replica fossils.

The formations in Badlands National Park and badlands formations around the world are the end-product of two simple processes: deposition and erosion. About half a million years ago, rivers began transforming a previously flat prairie (much like the eastern part of South Dakota) by carving the rock at a rate of one inch per year. The result of this process is the spiky pinnacles that surround this entire boardwalk. Erosion continues to occur today, as torrential thunderstorms slowly wash away tiny bits of rock. The Badlands formations have a lifespan of approximately one million years, eroding at about one inch a year. Find out more on how these geologic formations were created at https://www.nps.gov/articles/0...

Some of the the highlights of this trail are:

  • Features a unique exhibit of fossil replicas and interpretive signs
  • Offers stunning views of the Badlands formations and surrounding landscape
  • Provides opportunities to spot wildlife such as bison, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn
  • Showcases the unique flora of the Badlands, including prairie grasses and wildflowers
  • Offers a relatively easy and accessible hike for visitors of all ages and abilities
  • Provides a glimpse into the ancient history of the Badlands and the creatures that once roamed the area
  • Offers a chance to learn about the geology and paleontology of the region through interactive exhibits and educational materials.

Dogs are prohibited on all trails in Badlands National Park. This fully accessible boardwalk is short and perfect for all ages. You can hike this trail in all seasons, just know that hot summer days are very uncomfortable on this shadeless trail and that this trail is unmaintained in winter. Snow and ice may cover the boardwalk. Expect to see plenty of people at any time of the day, though there will be fewer the earlier you arrive.

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