Badlands National Park's Stronghold District

"My grandfather gazed down at me, and his words burned in my mind. He said back then, as today, the Lakota lived as one with nature. The land, sky, water, and the four-legged still are interconnected with the Lakota who are original members of the buffalo nation (Pte Oyate). Each and everyone is respected for their place in the web of life. Presiding over all is the Great Spirit. Our legacy, these truths that come from our oral tradition of storytelling are taught to the people of the world at this place. These ideas burned in their minds too, my grandfather said." - Introduction to Heritage Center Location Study for Oglala Lakota Heritage Center on South Unit of Badlands National Park (November, 1994)

The Stronghold District, also known as the South Unit, of Badlands National Park is comprised of lands on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation owned by the Oglala Sioux Tribe and managed by the National Park Service under an agreement with the Tribe. The 133,300 acres of the Stronghold District were added to Badlands National Monument in 1976, prior to the monument becoming a park in 1978. Much of the land in the Stronghold Unit was previously used by the United States Air Force as an aerial gunnery range during World War II. Dominated by rugged badlands interspersed with mixed-grass prairie, the Stronghold District is less developed than the North Unit of the Park. There are currently few paved surfaces. Little of the National Park Service managed area is accessible by road. With the exception of Sheep Mountain Table, those hoping to explore the Stronghold District must obtain permission from individual landowners prior to crossing their land to reach the park.

True roads are a rarity in the Stronghold District. There are many “two tracks” worn into the landscape on private land as ranchers tend their cattle. These are not considered public access roads. You must obtain permission from private landowners before crossing their land to reach the National Park Service lands. These landowners can be difficult to identify or locate. Access and information on Stronghold and Cuny Tables can be obtained at the Cuny Table Cafe when open. The National Park Service cannot give you permission to cross private land. Off-road travel is prohibited in the Stronghold District.

As you travel on Pine Ridge Reservation, particularly on the South Unit of Badlands National Park, you may find signs of religious worship. These could take the shape of prayer sticks or small bundles tied to branches. It could be simply a piece of brightly colored fabric tied to a shrub. These are signs of traditional worship by Tribal members. Please respect their beliefs and practices and leave these objects.

Stronghold Table is thought to be the site of the last Ghost Dance of the 19th century. Stronghold and Sheep Mountain Tables are also favorite sites for young Lakota men to go to fast and pray, hoping to have a vision for their future.

Badlands National Park

Last updated: November 10, 2020