Technically, Badlands National Park was the first national park I ever visited. My family visited here on a road trip in the late 70’s.
I’ve visited several times since then and it never ceases to amaze me.
What makes Badlands special is its colorful landscape. The erosional features of the park are actually the remains of an ancient volcano explosion from Yellowstone National Park. Multiple eruptions deposited multiple layers of ash which created the colorful features we see today. In addition to the stunning geology, Badlands is also the home to a large mixed grass prairie and population of pronghorned antelope and prairie dogs.
Badlands is about a 1-hour drive from Rapid City, SD, which is the location of the nearest airport. It is also near, but not a part of, the Black Hills which features Mount Rushmore and Wind Cave National Park. You will probably also want to stop at nearby Wall Drug, one of America’s classic roadside attractions.