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Rip & Go: Sage Creek Loop – Badlands National Park, SD

Explore off-trail in a wilderness with more bison than boot prints.

See This: American Bison
You’d never guess by the droves of bison that roam Sage Creek that these thousand-pound behemoths disappeared from the area late in the 19th century (they were reintroduced in 1963). Today, roughly 600 bison live in the area’s washes and grasslands. Caution: Bison are unpredictable and can charge at speeds of up to 30 mph. Check for them before heading in and out of the route’s many gullies, and stay back at least 200 feet. A raised tail signals agitation.

Locals Know
Tucked far away from the glow of city lights and major interstates, the Sage Creek Wilderness is the best place in Badlands National Park to gaze at distant galaxies and glimmering constellations. "Light pollution is absolutely nonexistent here," says Badlands ranger Aaron Kaye. "On a clear night, you can see the Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy, and even the color variation of individual stars." Time your visit for periods of high solar activity (and no moon), and you may be treated to a rare showing of the northern lights. "I’ve seen them here about two dozen times in the last 10 years," notes Kaye. "They fill up two-thirds of the sky–sometimes with a vibrant range of colors, sometimes with a greenish glow." Best times to catch aurora borealis: September through November and late January through March.

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