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What are Badlands?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Badlands are lands which are unusable due to their aridity and barrenness. Some of the most famous badlands can be found in North America, most notably at Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Badlands can also be found in New Zealand at the Putangirua Pinnacles and in Spain at Bardenas Reales, among many other places in the world. Many people find badlands interesting to visit, because they are visually quite unique.

When badlands form naturally, it is usually the result of centuries of erosion which wears away rock formations and topsoil. Badlands tend to be characterized by extreme and very fanciful rock formations, and the rock is often deeply striated, with layers of geologic history being clearly visible. Badlands tend to be a great area for fossil hunting as well, since fossils will be visibly exposed in the eroded landscape.

Small trees and shrubs may be able to survive in the badlands, along with succulents and other hardy plants, but the landscape tends to be rather barren. Film companies often utilize badlands for eerier Martian and lunar landscapes, since they look entirely alien. This type of land also tends to be very difficult to travel across, forcing people to move slowly, and it may be subjected to radical temperature extremes, with high heat in the day and icy temperatures at night.

It is also possible for human activities to result in the formation of badlands. Extensive mining, for example, can erode and damage the landscape, with pollutants destroying available water supplies and contributing to the formation of barren badlands. Overutilization for agriculture can also lead to the development of badlands. Some badlands created by the activities of early civilizations have been turned into World Heritage Sites, as a recognition of their cultural value.

People who want to do some hiking in the badlands should come prepared. Sturdy shoes with good ankle support are critical, as the terrain is tough to cover. It is also a good idea to dress in layers, to be prepared for temperature changes, and to carry plenty of water and snacks to stay hydrated and energized. Since the formations in badlands can also be highly deceptive, carrying a compass or GPS tracker is very strongly advised, as is sticking to mapped trails or using the services of a guide. Traveling in the badlands can yield some amazing visual vistas, along with excellent rock climbing and bouldering opportunities.

All Things Nature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon340269 — On Jul 01, 2013

Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.

By christym — On Nov 19, 2010

@momothree: In Nebraska, Toadstool Geologic Park has some of the greatest examples of badlands rock formations. It is part of the Oglala National Grassland and close to the small town of Crawford.

There is also Badlands National Park in South Dakota. It preserves almost one quarter of a million acres of buttes, spires, and rocky landscape. There is also mixed grass prairie. It is also quite entertaining to see the bighorn sheep, mule deer, buffalo, and coyotes.

By momothree — On Nov 19, 2010

Where are some of the badlands in North America?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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