Are you looking for the best hikes in Badlands National Park? Want to know what Badland trails are the best? Need to plan a Badlands National Park itinerary?
You are in the right spot! On our most recent trip visiting Badlands National Park, we made hiking the badlands our top priority. We wanted to find the best hikes in Badlands National Park!
I imagine that you are searching for the same topic of “Best hikes in Badlands National Park” before your trip as I did. We learned a lot on our last visit and I am excited to share with you some of the best hikes in Badlands National Park that we were able to do. (We had kids with us, so we focused on the easy Badlands hikes.)
In this post, we will give you a complete Badlands National Park guide. Beginning with directions to Badlands National Park, admission cost and hour, the weather in the Badlands, and of course the best easy hikes in Badlands National Park.
Let's explore some of the best hikes Badlands National Park has to offer, so you can decide which ones are right for you!
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Why Are the Badlands Called Bad?
This is a great question! The Lakota people were the first people to call this place bad because of its extreme temperatures and lack of water. French explorers thought it was bad because it was tough to travel through. Nowadays we use it as an expression of soft sedimentary rock eroding in dry climate.
But don’t worry, we had a good experience, and you can too!
Where Is Badlands National Park?
Image Courtesy of Wall Drug
Badlands National Park is located in South Dakota on HWY 240 and loops around to hit Interstate 90. If you are planning a trip to Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, or Crazy Horse then consider going to Badlands National Park as it is located nearby.
Mileage and Time to Get to Nearby Attractions
Badlands to Mount Rushmore – 1 hour and 25 minutes (75 miles)
Badlands to Custer State Park – 1 hour and 12 minutes (69 miles)
Wall Drug Store
It is also only 8 miles from Wall Drug Store, so if you need to buy some supplies before you hit the best hikes in Badlands National Park this is the spot!
Badlands National Park Operating Hours
Badlands National Park is open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.
$30 for 7 days of admission
The National Park Pass is a great option if you plan to visit more parks throughout the year and is even free if you have a 4th grader in your household.
The National Park Service offers the following Entrance Fee Free Days this year:
- April 22, 2023 (National Park Week)
- August 4, 2023 (Great American Outdoors Act)
- September 23, 2023 (National Public Lands Day)
- November 11, 2023 (Veterans Day)
How Much Time Should I Spend at Badlands National Park
Park Rangers suggest spending two full days at the Badlands National Park. We only spent one day at Badlands National Park and it was perfect.
Consider the Weather at Badlands National Park
When creating your Badlands itinerary consider the weather. If the weather is agreeable you could enjoy all the Badlands hikes and see almost everything in one day.
Unfortunately, if you are going in the Summer the temperatures are so hot you will need to rest while the sun is beating down. Plan accordingly when hiking in the Badlands because you will probably want to spread your hikes out over two days.
In Spring and Fall, you will probably be able to hike the Badlands trails you plan to do within one day.
Badlands Scenic Loop Driving Time
If you are entering the Badlands National Park Pinnacles entrance be aware that to get to the main visitor center it can take over an hour.
Most of the good hikes are beyond that point. I would suggest taking Interstate 90 to the Northeast Entrance. This is a faster route to the Badlands hikes. Make sure to give yourself enough time to reach the Badlands trailhead early.
Badlands Loop Scenic Byway
If you are planning on just doing a scenic drive of the Badlands plan for 1.5 – 2.5 hours. Entering at the Pinnacle entrance is the best way to explore. You can drive on the Badlands loop scenic byway road and start your journey.
If you are going to hike the best hikes at the Badlands then plan on spending much more of your day at the park.
Ben Reifel Visitor Center
Depending on which entrance you arrive the visitor center is a great starting point for hiking in the Badlands. Ben Reifel Visitor Center is open and the summer operating hours are from 7:00 am – 7:00 pm. During other seasons the times, the times change slightly.
The park ranger can direct you where the best hikes in Badlands National Park are as well as inform you if there are any dangers you should be aware of. There are also exhibits and bathrooms available to use at this location.
Within five miles of the visitor's center, there are many trails to explore. This is where you will find the best hikes at Badlands National Park.
Prepare for Hiking in the Badlands
If you are planning on a Badlands hiking trip, there are a few things you will want to have! There is extreme heat and rough terrain when hiking in the Badlands National Park. It is good to be prepared.
Badlands National Park Hiking Essentials
Always be prepared before you begin any hiking in Badlands National Park!
Easy Hiking Trails in Badlands National Park
As you leave the visitor center you will head to a Badlands Loop parking lot. This parking lot is the starting point for the Badlands hiking trails.
Easy Badlands Hiking Trails
As you park and exit your car you are directly in front of the starting point of three easy Badlands National Park hikes. The Door Trail, Window Trail, and Notch Trail are all located at this point. You will probably have time to do all of these hikes if you start early in the morning.
These Badlands hikes are so easy that even your kids will enjoy them and be able to keep up without complaining. Let's explore them below.
1. Door Trail
Round Trip Length: .8 miles
This may be the best Badlands hiking trail in the entire park. If you are planning on a short and sweet Badlands hike that will give you a good feel of the landscape at the park this Badlands trail is it!
The path starts on a boardwalk but then continues on a rough uneven surface marked with yellow flags to direct you which way to go.
This is one of the best hikes in Badlands National Park! It is easy enough for kids and is a great option if you want to experience a beautiful Badlands trail. It is an out-and-back Badlands trail.
2. Notch Trail
Round Trip Length:1.5 miles
Difficulty: Easy (unless afraid of heights)
We were most excited for this Badlands trial. We had heard about this ladder and had to see what it was all about. As you hike you will approach a ladder that you can actually climb up and get a great view.
My kids really liked the ladder part. It wasn't scary or too steep. With that said, don’t do this if you’re afraid of heights (or for that matter falling off of ladders!). We saw one person coming down very slowly, and getting a healthy dose of encouragement.
If you are more adventurous than I am, the Badlands hike continues along a ridge once you climb the ladder. I would not consider this portion of the hike kid-friendly, as you are dealing with a ledge to one side as you walk.
Regardless of whether you climb the ladder, continue along the path after the ladder, or just decide to stay on solid ground, this is a great Badlands National Park hike.
We were also really glad for all of the water we brought as we did this hike in the heat of the day. There is not much shade in the Badlands so be prepared for that. Overall, it was a great hike at Badlands National Park!
3. Window Trail
Round Trip Length: .25 miles
This Badlands trail gives you an entirely different view than the door trail. I kind of think it is an outlook area because it is almost too short to be called a hike in my book! But the views are incredible and a little different than the Door Trail.
These 3 hikes listed above are the best hikes in Badlands National Park for beginner hikers, kids, and really anyone just looking for easy hikes in Badlands National Park!
Best Hikes in Badlands National Park for More Experienced Hikers
There are a few Badlands trails that more experienced hikers may want to try. The Castle Trail, Medicine Root Trail, and the Saddle Pass Trail.
Honestly, I think the easier trails are the best hikes in Badlands National Park but if you want to explore a little more and get some extra exercise then these hikes in Badlands National Park are for you.
4. Castle Trail
Round Trip Length: 10.8 Miles
No Dogs Allowed
The Castle Trail is the longest-maintained trail at Badlands National Park. This trail also begins at the same parking lot (badlands loop) where the easier hikes at Badlands are located, but you will cross the street.
You will need to fill out a backcountry register located at the trailhead to proceed.
Hiking in Badlands
This Badling hiking trail is mostly grasslands. It is a flat long hike! Because the Badlands consist of both rock formations and grasslands you may see some rock formations on this hike but mostly grassy areas.
Wildlife is usually spotted on this hike, which is a great treat. But you also need to be aware that rattlesnakes are fans of the grasslands and to watch your step.
This Badlands trail is 5.4 miles in, and 5.4 miles out. If 10.8 miles is too long for you and you go with a group that has multiple vehicles, park one where the trail ends to cut your hike in half.
The grasslands are a different experience when hiking Badlands National Park.
5. Medicine Root Trail
Round Trip Length: 4.4 miles
No Dogs Allowed
This Badlands Hiking trail is an extension of the Castle Trail. So it is in the grasslands as well. You can access this trail from a side road called the Old North East Road.
Hiking in the Badlands
The views will be pretty similar to those accessible from the Castle Trail. This hike is 2.2 miles in, and 2.2 miles outs. For a total of 4.4 miles.
This trail is nice for hiking in the Badlands National Park.
6. Saddle Pass Trail
Round Trip Length: .7 Miles
There is also an option to connect to Saddle Pass Trail from both the Castle Trail and the Medicine Root Trail.
The Castle Trail intersects the Medicine Root Trail as you hit the intersection you will jump on the Medicine Root trail which becomes the Saddle Pass Trail.
It is only .25 miles in one direction and it leads to a very strenuous, steep climb. This hike takes an extra 20-40 minutes, on top of the Medicine Root Trail.
It would also shorten your hike if you were on the Castle Trail and decided to follow the Saddle Pass Trail.
If you are up for a challenge while hiking in the Badlands, this is it.
Badlands Scenic Loop Drive
Once you are done hiking in the Badlands you might still have some time to explore the park by car. The Badlands scenic loop drive has a few overlooks that are worth stopping at.
Badlands Scenic Loop Overlooks
- Yellow Mounds Overlook
- Burns Basin Overlook
- Panorama Point Overlook
- Big Badlands Overlook
- Prairie Wind Overlook
- White River Valley Overlook
- Homestead Overlook
- Conata Basin Overlook
- Ancient Hunters Overlook
- Hay Butte Overlook
- Badlands Wilderness Overlook
- Sage Creek Basin Overlook
- Sheep Mountain Table Overlook
- Red Shirt Table Overlook
You probably won't have time to do the entire Badlands scenic loop but hitting a few of these overlook options will be worth it.
This is a great way to spend the summer afternoon in the air conditioning of your car and only occasionally stepping out for a great view.
I am going to highlight of the Badlands scenic loop overlooks that we were able to stop at.
This was the first stop we made as we entered the park. There is a parking lot available at the overlook.
Paths from the parking lot down to the overlook will give you some amazing views. So this is one stop where you will want to get out of your car for a much better view.
The Pinnacles Overlook is the most popular place to stop on the Badlands scenic loop drive.
Most likely when you look out at this overlook you will see bison. It is also a very popular place for the Bighorn sheep to gather. We were able to see both when we stopped.
Yellow Mounds Overlook
The yellow mounds are probably the prettiest rock formations on the Badlands scenic loop drive. The colors were formed as the seafloor was exposed to air and dried out. It is the oldest and most colorful area in Badlands National Park.
It is a beautiful overlook stop on your Badlands scenic loop drive.
This was another overlook where we jumped out of the car to get a better look. It is a classic area where you can see the Badlands landscape.
You can actually go out on some of the rock formations to get an amazing view of the badlands. It is a great stop on the Badlands scenic loop.
Big Badlands Overlook
This was one of the last overlooks we decided to stop at. It offers more reddish and grey colors. It is a vast overlook of rock formations that have been around for millions of years.
The Badlands are pretty amazing and I highly recommend doing the Badlands scenic loop drive. There are so many amazing Badlands overlook areas to enjoy.
Wildlife in Badlands National Park
As you are hiking in the Badlands or enjoying the Badlands scenic loop drive, be sure to look for some of the Badlands wildlife that calls this area home.
You may see prairie dogs, mule deer, pronghorn, bison, coyote, and bighorn sheep.
When we stopped at our first overlook we saw a lot of longhorn sheep hanging out on the rocks. It was pretty awesome! But look with sharp eyes; they blend in with the rock.
Are You Ready for the Best Hikes in Badland National Park?
Hopefully, this is a great overview of what you can expect when planning your Badlands hikes. We loved all the easy hikes at Badlands National Park and really enjoyed the Badlands Scenic Loop. There are a lot of options that will help you create at Badlands National Park itinerary.
I hope you have a fantastic adventure at the Badlands National Park.
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