Badlands National Park vs Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

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Badlands National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve are two unique and vastly different national parks located in the United States. While Badlands is known for its rugged and otherworldly terrain filled with towering spires and deep canyons, Great Sand Dunes offers a completely different experience with its vast expanses of rolling sand dunes that stretch as far as the eye can see. Imagine standing at the edge of a desert oasis and looking out at the seemingly endless sea of sand, then contrast that with exploring the winding canyons and dramatic rock formations of Badlands. Each park offers its own unique adventure, and together they showcase the incredible diversity of the American landscape. Whether you’re a nature lover, a photographer, or just someone looking for a new and exciting vacation destination, these two national parks are sure to impress.

Hiking Trails in Badlands National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Badlands National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve are both popular destinations for hikers, but they offer very different hiking experiences. Badlands National Park is known for its rugged terrain and diverse landscape, featuring layered rock formations, canyons, and prairies. The park offers a variety of hiking trails, ranging from easy nature walks to strenuous backcountry treks. Some of the easiest hikes in the park include the quarter-mile boardwalk at the Badlands Loop Road and the half-mile trail to the Pinnacles Overlook. The Badlands also offer a number of longer and more challenging hikes, such as the Castle Trail, which covers nine miles and takes hikers to the summit of the park’s highest peak.

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, on the other hand, is known for its towering sand dunes, which are the tallest in North America. The park offers several hiking trails that take visitors to the top of the dunes, such as the High Dune Trail and the Medano Pass Primitive Road. These hikes can be strenuous, as the sand is loose and the incline is steep. However, the park also offers a number of easy hikes, such as the Mosca Pass Trail, which is a two-mile round trip hike through the forest and wetlands. Another easy hike is the Dunes Overlook Trail, a 0.5-mile hike to an overlook that provides a panoramic view of the dunes.

In summary, Badlands National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve both offer a variety of hiking trails, but the type of terrain and the difficulty level of the trails are quite different. The Badlands offer a mix of easy nature walks and challenging backcountry hikes, while the Great Sand Dunes offer a mix of strenuous dune hikes and easy hikes through the forest and wetlands.

Most Popular Hiking Trails in Badlands National Park

Name Length Elevation Type Difficulty Visitor Ratings
Notch Trail 1.30 mi 131.20 ft out and back Moderate 4.5/5
Castle Trail 10.48 mi 314.88 ft loop Moderate 4.5/5
The Door Trail 0.80 mi 36.08 ft out and back Moderate 4.5/5
Saddle Pass Trail 0.70 mi 216.48 ft out and back Moderate 4.5/5
Medicine Root Loop Trail 4.49 mi 337.84 ft loop Easy 4/5
The Window Trail 0.20 mi 6.56 ft out and back Easy 4/5
Cliff Shelf Nature Trail 0.50 mi 65.60 ft loop Easy 4/5
Fossil Exhibit Trail 0.40 mi 13.12 ft out and back Easy 3.5/5
Sage Creek Loop 22.75 mi 806.88 ft loop Hard 4/5
Sheep Mountain Table Road 14.57 mi 593.68 ft out and back Moderate 4.5/5

Most Popular Hiking Trails in Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Name Length Elevation Type Difficulty Visitor Ratings
High Dune Trail 2.99 mi 629.76 ft out and back Hard 5/5
Mosca Pass Trail 6.39 mi 1,459.60 ft out and back Moderate 4.5/5
Dunes Trail from Pinyon Flats 4.49 mi 954.48 ft loop Hard 4.5/5
Sand Dunes Loop Trail 4.99 mi 741.28 ft loop Moderate 4.5/5
Upper Sand Creek Lake Trail 7.38 mi 1,964.72 ft out and back Very Hard 4.5/5
Medano Lake Trail 7.88 mi 2,289.44 ft out and back Moderate 4/5
Montville Nature Trail 0.50 mi 88.56 ft loop Easy 4/5
Dunes Overlook Sand Ramp Trail 1.50 mi 265.68 ft out and back Moderate 3.5/5
Little Medano Creek Trail to Medano Lake 25.04 mi 3,542.40 ft out and back Moderate 4/5
Wellington Ditch Trail 1.80 mi 157.44 ft out and back Easy 4/5

Wildlife in Badlands National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Badlands National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve are both home to a diverse array of wildlife. Each park has its own unique set of animals, birds, and plants that are commonly seen.

Badlands National Park is known for its large herds of bison and pronghorn, as well as bighorn sheep and bison. Visitors to the park may also spot coyotes, black-footed ferrets, and swift foxes. The park is also home to a wide variety of bird species, including the golden eagle, ferruginous hawk, and the swift fox.

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, on the other hand, is home to a different set of wildlife. The most common animals you’ll see in the park are mule deer, elk, and bighorn sheep. Visitors may also spot coyotes, black bears, and mountain lions. The park is also home to a variety of bird species, such as the mountain plover, the horned lark, and the mountain bluebird.

Both parks also have a variety of plants species. Badlands National Park is home to a number of cacti, sagebrush, and yucca plants. Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is home to a variety of grasses, shrubs and wildflowers. The park is also home to the Pinon Pine and Juniper.

In summary, Badlands National Park is known for its large herd of bison and pronghorn, as well as bighorn sheep and bison. Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is home to a different set of wildlife like mule deer, elk, and bighorn sheep. Both parks also have a variety of plants species.

Below are lists of the most commonly spotted wildlife at Badlands National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve. However, you can see a full list of wildlife at each national park here.

Birds

Badlands National Park Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Peregrine Falcon Peregrine Falcon
Northern Harrier Northern Harrier
Sharp-Shinned Hawk Sharp-Shinned Hawk
Osprey Osprey
Tree Swallow Tree Swallow
Mallard Mallard
Canada Goose Canada Goose
Lincoln’s Sparrow Lincoln’s Sparrow
Ruby-Crowned Kinglet Ruby-Crowned Kinglet
American Robin American Robin
Great Horned Owl Great Horned Owl
Red-Tailed Hawk Red-Tailed Hawk
Northern Flicker Northern Flicker
Merlin Merlin
Barn Swallow Barn Swallow
Savannah Sparrow Savannah Sparrow
Great Blue Heron Great Blue Heron
Hermit Thrush Hermit Thrush
American Kestrel American Kestrel
Bald Eagle Bald Eagle
Song Sparrow Song Sparrow
European Starling European Starling
Northern Pintail Northern Pintail
American Wigeon American Wigeon
Green-Winged Teal Green-Winged Teal

Mammals

Badlands National Park Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Coyote Coyote
American Beaver American Beaver
Muskrat Muskrat
Big Brown Bat Big Brown Bat
Bobcat Bobcat
Striped Skunk Striped Skunk
Little Brown Bat Little Brown Bat
Deer Mouse Deer Mouse
Raccoon Raccoon
Porcupine Black Bear
Silver-Haired Bat Porcupine
Hoary Bat Silver-Haired Bat
Red Fox Hoary Bat
Long-Tailed Weasel Red Fox
House Long-Tailed Weasel
Mountain Lion Mule Deer
Mule Deer Gray Fox
Gray Fox Long-Legged Myotis
Long-Legged Myotis Long-Eared Bat
Northern Myotis Badger
Badger Ermine
Weasel Snowshoe Hare
North American River Otter Masked Shrew
Common Shrew Water Shrew
Pacific Townsend’s Big-Eared Bat Brazilian Free-Tailed Bat

Reptiles

Badlands National Park Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Gopher Snake Bull Snake
Racer Western Terrestrial Garter Snake
Western Rattlesnake Western Prairie Rattlesnake
Common Garter Snake Greater Short-Horned Lizards
Hernandez’s Short-Horned Lizard Milksnake
Milksnake Eastern Fence Lizard
Eastern Fence Lizard

Amphibians

Badlands National Park Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Northern Leopard Frog Northern Leopard Frog
Tiger Salamander Tiger Salamander
Bullfrog Woodhouse’s Toad
Woodhouse’s Toad Plains Spadefoot
Plains Spadefoot

Fish

Badlands National Park Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Fathead Minnow Brook Trout
Golden Shiner German Brown Trout
European Carp Cutthroat Trout
Longnose Dace
Yellow Bullhead
Channel Catfish
Black Bullhead
Creek Chub

Beautiful Landscapes in Badlands National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Badlands National Park is known for its unique and colorful landscape, which includes layered rock formations, deep canyons, and towering spires. The park’s most famous landscape is the Badlands Loop Road, which takes visitors through some of the most dramatic scenery in the park, including the Pinnacles Overlook, which offers panoramic views of the park’s rugged terrain. Other popular landmarks include the Badlands Wilderness Area, which is home to bison, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn, and the Fossil Exhibit Trail, where visitors can see fossils of ancient animals that once roamed the area.

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is known for its large sand dunes, which are the tallest in North America. The most famous landscape at Great Sand Dunes National Park is the dune field, which covers over 30 square miles and includes the tallest dune, Star Dune, which rises 750 feet above the valley floor. The park also features Medano Creek, which runs through the dunes and provides visitors with the opportunity to splash and swim in the shallow water, and the Medano Pass Primitive Road, which offers scenic views of the dunes and the Sangre de Cristo mountain range.

Things To-Do and Activities in Badlands National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Badlands National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve are both popular tourist destinations, each offering a unique set of activities for visitors to enjoy.

At Badlands National Park, popular activities include hiking, camping, wildlife viewing, and sightseeing. The park features over 244,000 acres of rugged terrain, with many trails that offer visitors the chance to explore the park’s unique landscapes. Hiking trails range in difficulty, with options for both experienced hikers and those looking for a more leisurely experience. Camping is also a popular activity, with a number of designated campgrounds available, as well as backcountry camping opportunities. Wildlife viewing is also a popular activity, with bison, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn among the many species that can be seen in the park. Additionally, the park’s scenic drives, such as the Badlands Loop Road, offer visitors the chance to take in the park’s breathtaking views.

At Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, the most popular activities include sandboarding and sand sledding, hiking, and camping. The park features the tallest dunes in North America, and visitors can rent sandboarding and sand sledding equipment to enjoy the dunes. Hiking is also a popular activity, with trails that range from easy to strenuous, offering visitors the chance to explore the dunes and the surrounding area. Camping is also a popular activity, with a number of designated campgrounds available, as well as backcountry camping opportunities.

In summary, Badlands National Park offers visitors the opportunity to explore rugged terrain, wildlife viewing, and scenic drives, while Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve offers visitors the chance to enjoy sandboarding, sand sledding, hiking, and camping. Both parks offer great outdoor experiences and natural beauty.

Best Time to Visit Badlands National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Badlands National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve both have distinct seasonal weather patterns that can greatly affect when is the best time of year to visit each park.

Badlands National Park is located in South Dakota and has a semi-arid climate. Summers are hot and dry, with temperatures often reaching above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Winters are cold and snowy, with temperatures dropping below freezing. Spring and fall are generally mild, with temperatures averaging in the 60s and 70s. If you are planning a trip to Badlands National Park, the best time of year to visit is during spring and fall, when the weather is mild and the park is less crowded.

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is located in Colorado and has a high desert climate. The park is known for its hot summers, with temperatures often reaching above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and cold winters with temperatures dropping below freezing. The park also receives significant snowfall during the winter months. Spring and fall offer milder temperatures and less crowded. If you’re planning a trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, the best time of year to visit is during the spring and fall, when the weather is mild and the park is less crowded.

In summary, both Badlands National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve have distinct seasonal weather patterns. Badlands National Park is semi-arid and has hot, dry summers and cold, snowy winters. Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve has a high desert climate with hot summers and cold winters with significant snowfall. The best time of year to visit both parks is during spring and fall when the weather is mild and the park is less crowded.

Family Friendliness of Badlands National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Both Badlands National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve are great options for families, but they offer very different experiences.

Badlands National Park is located in South Dakota and is known for its unique geological formations, including layered rock formations and deep canyons. There are several hiking trails that are suitable for families, including the short, easy Boardwalk Trail and the longer, more challenging Castle Trail. The park also offers ranger-led programs and educational activities that are geared towards children.

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, located in Colorado, is known for its massive sand dunes that can reach heights of over 750 feet. The park offers a variety of outdoor activities for families, including hiking and sand sledding on the dunes, as well as ranger-led programs and educational activities.

Ultimately, the choice between the two parks depends on what your family is interested in. If your children are interested in geology and unique rock formations, then Badlands National Park may be the better option. If your children enjoy outdoor activities and playing in the sand, then Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve may be the more appealing choice.

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