Finding the best hikes in Badlands National Park is exactly what we wanted to do when we visited the park.
I imagine that you are searching the same topic I did before we went. We learned a lot on our last visit and want to share with you some of the best hikes in Badlands National Park that we were able to do.
Let’s explore some of these hikes 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 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.
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 16, 2022 (National Park Week)
- August 4, 2022 (Great American Outdoors Act)
- September 24, 2022 (National Public Lands Day)
- November 11, 2022 (Veterans Day)
How Much Time Should I Spend at Badlands National Park
Park Rangers suggest spending two full days at the Badlands National Park.
Consider the Weather
If the weather is agreeable you could hike all day long 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 trails you plan to do within one day.
If you are entering in on the 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 hikes. Make sure to give yourself enough time to reach the trailhead early.
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 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. 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.
As you can see in the picture tents are set up outside, this is because of Covid. You can not access the building but the park rangers are outside and available to answer questions.
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.
Prepare for Hiking in the Badlands
If you are planning on hiking make sure to have the following items:
- Good Hiking Shoes
- Bug Spray
- First Aid Kit
Always be prepared before you begin any hike!
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 hiking trails available at the Badlands.
Easy Hiking Trails
As you park and exit your car you are directly in front of the starting point of three easy 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 hikes are so easy that even your kids will enjoy them and be able to keep up without complaining. Let’s explore them below.
Round Trip Length .8 miles
This may be the best hiking trail in the badlands if you are planning on a short and sweet hike that will give you a good feel of the landscape at the park. 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 path is easy enough for kids and is a great option if you want something easy and beautiful. It is an out and back trail.
Round TripLength 1.5 miles
Easy (unless afraid of heights)
We were most excited for this 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, the 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 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!
Round Trip Length .25 miles
This 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.
Best Hikes in Badlands National Park for More Experienced Hikers
There are a few 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 trails are for you.
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 are located, but you will cross the street. You will need to fill out a backcountry register located at the trailhead to proceed.
This hike 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.
The trail is 5.4 miles in, and 5.4 miles out. 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.
Medicine Root Trail
Round Trip Length 4.4 miles
No Dogs Allowed
This 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. The views will be pretty similar to those accessible from the Castle Trail. This hike is a 2.2 miles in, and 2.2 miles outs. For a total of 4.4 miles.
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.
Science Drive at Badlands National Park
Once you are done hiking you might still have some time to explore the park by car. There are a few overlooks that are worth stopping at. The Yellow Mounds Overlook, Burns Basin Overlook, Panorama Point, and the Big Badlands Overlook.
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.
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.
Yellow Mounds Overlook
The yellow mounds are probably the prettiest rock formations in the park. The colors were formed as the Seafloor was exposed to air and dried out. It is a beautiful overlook stop on your drive through Badlands National Park.
This was another overlook where we jumped out of the car to get a better look. You can actually go out on some of the rock formations to get an amazing view of the badlands.
Big Badlands Overlook
This was one of the last overlooks we decided to stop at. The Badlands are pretty amazing and I highly recommend doing the scenic drive at Badlands National Park.
Wildlife in Badlands National Park
As you are hiking or driving be sure to look for some of the wildlife that calls Badlands National Park 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 hikes. I hope you have a fantastic adventure at the Badlands National Park.
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