The Badlands of North Dakota are a unique part of the state's geographic makeup and have played a significant role in its intriguing history. A barren landscape carved by intense weather patterns, the North Dakota Badlands are one of the state's most famous attributes. The name evolved into a permanent title from phrases used by different ethnic groups to describe the barren environment. Initially the Lakota Native American tribe called the weather-chiseled land the "bad land." The Spanish named the area the tierra baldia, or the waste land, while the French trappers called the Badlands les mauvaises terres à traverser, literally meaning "the bad lands to cross."
Though they were called something different in each language, there was one consensus about the Badlands in North Dakota: They were a major trial to cross and were avoided as much as possible during travel. Deep sinking sand, steep slopes, dry loose soil, and slippery clay created a landscape difficult to farm or develop, but that is staggeringly beautiful. There are badlands all over the world, many in Canada and the United States, all sharing the same qualities of severe dryness, relatively little vegetation, and rare but strong rain storms. The Badlands, which comprise a major portion of what is now Theodore Roosevelt National Park, experience significant erosion each year, exposing layers of sediment and revealing fossil beds.
The North Dakota Badlands cover a large section of the state's western half. Throughout the area, Badlands attractions draw visitors from all over who are seeking a look into this mysterious region. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is the biggest and one of the best of the Badlands attractions. The park has both North and South units, and there are an incredible number of things to do, both indoors and out, but the outdoor activities are most popular. Camping, cycling, hiking, canoeing, and kayaking only start the list of available activities. Bird-watching, photography, history tours, and exploring for fossils are a few more top activities to enjoy.
Close to the North Unit border, Williston is another site found near the Badlands and makes for a nice day trip or overnight stay. There are great annual events almost every month, a variety of Williston hotels, and plenty of interesting attractions. Williston sights include Blacktail Dam, Fort Buford State Historic Site, the Frontier Museum, and the Links of North Dakota, which has excellent golfing. Within the Badlands of North Dakota is the Pioneer Trails Regional Museum, where visitors can see an extensive collection of antique photographs, along with other intriguing artifacts.
The Badlands of North Dakota offer much more to see and do than many tourists realize. Though the landscape appears barren and isolated, there are numerous interesting tourist attractions to check out throughout the region. Near Williston is legendary and beautiful Lake Sakakawea State Park. Excellent fishing and scores of water-based recreational activities are its main attraction. Countless interesting attractions are found near this state park, including Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, Lewis & Clark Visitor Center, and Audubon National Wildlife Refuge, one of the top wildlife refuges and parks.
Other choice Badlands attractions are the more than 60 ghost towns found throughout the region. Exploring these once-thriving communities, where in some places only a few remnants of the past still stand, is an awe-inspiring experience that gives insight into early settlement days. On tours of the North Dakota Badlands, be sure to cover as much ground as possible. The numerous Badlands attractions illustrate significant aspects of North Dakota in an area whose stunning sights may be belied by its name.