13 min read



Hello! It's been a while! 🙃

I've fallen a little behind on the blog, but we've had an awesome month traveling further west. We're currently in Wyoming just outside Grand Teton National Park, but I'm going to back up to the first couple weeks of July, which we spent driving 18 hours west and hanging around the incredible Badlands National Park.

As I play catch up on the blog, stay tuned for more posts coming soon about our time in the Black Hills of South Dakota and driving across Wyoming! We also plan to share a "dark side of RV life" post with some of the boring, challenging, and not-so-fun parts of all this – just so you know it's not amazing all the time. 😉

Anyway, here's the recap of our time in Badlands – enjoy! ☀️

Driving West & Harvest Hosts

We left Michigan a little over four weeks ago, on Sunday, July 2. We had Monday and Tuesday off for 4th of July weekend, so we took advantage of the time off to drive 18 hours and 1,000 miles west over three days.

We stopped at the World's Largest Turkey in Minnesota – kind of underwhelming

Along the way, we camped at Harvest Host locations in Minnesota and South Dakota. Harvest Hosts is an awesome service where you pay an annual membership fee to access thousands of host locations across the country, which let you camp for free for one night. The hosts are farms, breweries, wineries, museums, and other businesses that open their fields or parking lots to campers passing through; you're just expected to buy something to support their business.

We love Harvest Hosts so far because it's been a totally unique and fun experience every time. You get to stay at places you otherwise wouldn't, and it's usually quiet because you're typically the only one camping there.

Our Harvest Hosts spot in North Dakota

I forgot to mention it in the Marquette blog, but our first Harvest Hosts stay was actually just outside Marquette at K.I. Sawyer Heritage Air Museum, which is at an old Air Force base (not in use anymore). We got a tour of the tiny museum by a guy who worked there who used to be in the Air Force, rode our bikes around the base to see their B-52 and other planes on display, and spent the night in their parking lot. It was interesting and slightly creepy since we were surrounded by a bunch of abandoned buildings.

Anyway, on July 2 we left Marquette and drove across the rest of the Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin, through rolling hills and pine forests, until we got to our Harvest Host for the night – Farm LoLa outside Duluth, Minnesota. It was so picturesque out in the country; we parked the Airstream along a row of pine trees in a field.

The farm had a bunch of chickens and rows of strawberries and honeyberries for picking. We got there in the evening and there were still a lot of people visiting to pick berries. We'd never heard of honeyberries before but they were delicious – they're like more flavorful blueberries; some varieties are tart and some are sweeter. The hosts were friendly and picking berries was relaxing. We picked a ton of them to eat and make into smoothies.

The next day, we drove across Minnesota and crossed into North Dakota. A new state for both of us! Our destination was the National Buffalo Museum in Jamestown, which is west of Fargo.

The National Buffalo Museum's claim to fame is its herd of buffalo that lives in the hills behind the museum, and also the World's Largest Buffalo Statue. His name is Dakota Thunder and he's magnificent. There's also a little Frontier Town near the museum with old buildings like a post office, bank, jail, etc set up with displays from the 1800s.

We toured the museum before it closed, grabbed dinner from a place nearby, and then a thunderstorm rolled in. When the worst of the storm was over, a rainbow and the most beautiful sunset we've ever seen were emerging. It was still raining, but Joey and I rode our bikes around the Frontier Town and by the giant buffalo statue, which was on a hill with 360-degree views of Jamestown and the surrounding area. There were fireworks going off in every direction during the sunset. The pictures don't do it justice at all, but it was amazing.

The next morning we left to drive the final stretch from Jamestown to Wall, South Dakota. The Dakotas are surprisingly hilly, green, and beautiful! It was fun watching the landscape change as we left the thick forests of Michigan and Minnesota to the wide open prairies and tall grasses.

As we got close, we could see sand-colored walls in the distance rising in layers above the prairies of Buffalo Gap National Grassland. We were approaching the Badlands.

Badlands National Park

Nomad View Dispersed Camping

The Badlands got its name from the Lakota people, who called this region "mako sica" literally meaning "bad lands" because it was difficult to travel across. The temperatures are extreme here, reaching above 100 degrees in the summer and below zero in the winter. There's not much water or plant life. And the Badlands themselves are made of crumbly, unstable rock that erodes quickly. They can be very tough to navigate and hike over, especially on the steeper hills.

But it was beautiful and probably the most unique place we've seen so far. Our first campsite was somewhere we've had on our list since before we bought the RV: a dispersed camping area just north of Wall and a few miles away from the park entrance. It's called Nomad View on Campendium and simply Badlands Boondocking Area on Google Maps.

It's very popular for good reason. You camp literally on top of a stretch of the Badlands, parked along the side of a cliff. The views are incredible. After driving the rough gravel road up, we passed multiple camper vans, RVs, and even a crazy converted school bus before we found a good spot to park.

We had a great time camping there from Tuesday to Friday. It was our first longer stretch of boondocking (dry camping, no hookups) besides MerleFest, which doesn't really count since we were just at the festival away from the RV most of the time. So we were excited to see how our new batteries held up.

All in all, they did pretty well! They were getting pretty low towards the end, but we were working from there and needed to charge our laptops etc, which takes some power. Luckily, the weather wasn't too hot and we could just leave the windows open and occasionally run our fan to cool down the inside. When you're boondocking, you also need to pay attention to your water use. We have 40-gallon tanks, which can last us a while if we don't shower as often or take super fast showers, since that uses the most water by far.

We didn't do much at Nomad View besides work, walk/ride our bikes around the camping area, cook dinner, and soak in the views. We met and saw some interesting people and tried to hike down into the valley, but didn't get very far – it felt too steep and unstable. There were cows who grazed in the fields around us who walked down the cliffs. I don't know how they did it haha.

It definitely feels exposed up on the cliff. The night we arrived it was SO windy and actually a little cold. I was nervous about storms, but we just got one and it mostly missed us, so we were lucky with weather overall.

Definitely recommend camping here for at least one night if you're ever near Badlands. It's popular, but the area is huge and chances are you'll be able to find a good spot; people come and go every day. The views are worth it and it's free!

Badlands Interior Campground

On Friday, we left Nomad View to drive to an actual campground on the other side of the park in the tiny town of Interior, South Dakota (the sign said its population was like 90 people). We drove through the national park to get there and finally bought our America the Beautiful pass!

Badlands Interior Campground wasn't our favorite – the RVs were packed in pretty tight, so not much privacy or space to relax outside – but the people and camp store were nice and the location was great, just two miles down the road from a park entrance. There was also a walking trail through the prairie behind the campground with a beautiful view of the Badlands, especially at sunset.

We were at the campground for a little over a week. It was hot during the day, but we had hookups so could run our A/C. We were just working during the day anyway, so it was fine – we'd explore in the evenings when it was cooler.

Outside the Park

The town of Interior didn't have much, but shoutout to Katie's Kantina – a food truck with awesome tacos, we went there twice! And in the town of Wall was the famous Wall Drug, which you see a crazy amount of billboards for off the highway into town.

Wall Drug started as a pharmacy & drug store back in the early 1900s, and became famous for giving out free ice water to travelers driving west to Yellowstone. Since then its grown into this huge touristy maze of shops, a cafe, and random stuff like a giant animatronic T-rex that comes to life every 12 minutes. It was entertaining to walk around, shop a little, and get some homemade donuts (which were really good) and 5-cent coffee (which was not good).

Toward the end of our stay, we visited the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. During the Cold War, a thousand nuclear missiles were hidden under the ground across the Great Plains, and you can go see one of them (Delta-09) and a control center (Delta-01). The tours for the control center book out pretty far in advance, so we didn't get to go, but we did see the missile itself, which was pretty cool. Crazy to think that they're just hanging out below.

Random story: while we were at a ranger program setting up our camera for astrophotography in Badlands, we met a photographer doing the same thing and started chatting with him. Turns out he was in the Air Force and worked at the Minuteman Missile sites during the Cold War; now he's a ranger at the visitor center there. His name is Tony Gatlin and his claim to fame was painting one of the missile control room bunker doors with a Domino's pizza box and the words "World-wide delivery in 30 minutes or less or your next one is free." We'd heard about this painting on a podcast about the Badlands, and were pretty excited to meet the guy who actually painted it lol. He signed a postcard for us!

Hiking, Wildlife, and Night Sky Viewing

Okay, onto Badlands National Park itself!

The Badlands Loop Road is the main road through the park, and has a bunch of scenic overlooks and trailheads along the way. Just driving through it is a great way to see Badlands – the road goes above, below, and through the huge formations that change in size, shape, and color with each section.

You're almost guaranteed to see wildlife on the drive, too. We saw buffalo, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, deer, and even a porcupine!

The Roberts Prairie Dog Town is a giant field of prairie dogs that you can walk amongst. They are so cute and will squeak at you and disappear into their holes if you get too close. There's usually some buffalo in this area too.

We saw bighorn sheep a few times – two males walking and grazing right next to the road (on different days), one way up on top of a rock during sunset, and two females climbing the cliffs together.

The porcupine was a total surprise. Luckily, we were high up on a hill in the beautiful Yellow Mounds area, and saw him down in the valley below. He was too far away to get a good picture, but he was so cool to watch through our binoculars.

Blurry porcupine!

There actually aren't a ton of designated hiking trails in Badlands. The park has an open hiking policy – you can go wherever you want off trail, which is pretty cool, not all parks do that. We didn't do anything crazy, but did find some nice vantage points among the rocks off trail.

Our favorite actual trails were the Notch Trail (probably the most popular one in the park), the Door Trail, and the Saddle Pass Trail. The Notch Trail's main feature was a ladder that goes up the side of a steep hill/cliff, which was pretty fun to climb up and down. The Door Trail was short but fun because it was across an open expanse of rocks, and you had to find a series of poles that marked where you were supposed to go next. At the end, you're looking down into a huge canyon.

Saddle Pass was the most exciting trail. It's only a quarter mile long, but straight uphill. I mentioned this earlier, but the Badlands can be hard to hike through. A lot of the terrain is this loose, crumbly rock that slides out under you like tiny pieces of gravel. It's slippery and unstable. And this is especially true on the Saddle Pass Trail, because you're going basically straight up a cliff. Going up wasn't too bad, but as we climbed up and up I knew coming down would be tough. I hoped we didn't fall and slide all the way back down.

At the top, we climbed up to an even higher rock that was nerve-wracking to sit on, but had incredible views of the surrounding prairie and the cliff dropping away below. Then we headed back down, and it went better than expected! We just had to go slow and stay low to the ground to keep our balance on the steep hill.

One of our favorite things we did during our stay was biking into the park at night for the ranger programs. Each night they cover a different topic first, like amphibians or fossils, and then do a night sky program. There's no major towns or cities around Badlands, which makes it perfect for looking at stars. Joey is getting more into astrophotography, and we learned a lot from the rangers about how to identify key stars and constellations. Their program was a lot of fun.

The second weekend there was actually during their annual Astronomy Festival, but unfortunately it was super hazy because of wildfire smoke, so we couldn't see as many stars as we could the weekend before. But it was still cool to go hear their talks about the universe and practice photography.

That's a wrap on Badlands National Park – highly recommend checking this one out. You can see the park pretty easily in a couple days, but it was nice spending a longer time here and having the unique scenery as a backdrop while we worked. And it was our first clue that South Dakota is a beautiful and underrated state!

We'll be back soon to talk about the Black Hills and Wyoming. 😎