Best hikes at Badlands National Park
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Best Hikes in Badlands National Park

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?

Badlands National Park

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?

Best Hikes in 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 HoursThe Best Hikes at Badlands National Park

Hours

Badlands National Park is open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.

Admission

$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

Best Hikes 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.

Driving Time

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.

Scenic Drive

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

Visitor Center at Badlands National Park

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.

Covid

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.

Park Rangers

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 

Hiking in the Badlands

If you are planning on hiking make sure to have the following items:

  1. Water
  2. Sunscreen
  3. Good Hiking Shoes
  4. Bug Spray
  5. First Aid Kit

Always be prepared before you begin any hike!

Easy Hiking Trails in Badlands National Park

The Best Hikes at 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.

Door Trail

Hiking in the Badlands

Round Trip Length .8 miles

Easy

No Dogs

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.

Notch Trail 

Notch ladder trail at the badlands National Park

Round TripLength 1.5 miles

Easy (unless afraid of heights)

No Dogs

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.

The Ladder

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!

Window Trail

Hikes at Badlands

Round Trip Length .25 miles

Easy

No Dogs

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

Badlands Grassland hike

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.

Castle Trail

Castle Trail at the Badlands

Round Trip Length – 10.8 Miles

Moderate

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

Medicine Root Trail in the Badlands

Round Trip Length 4.4 miles

No Dogs Allowed

Moderate

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

No Dogs

Challenging

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

Scenic Drive of 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.

Pinnacles Overlook

Pinnacle Overview at Badlands

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

Yellow Mound Overlook Badlands National Park

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.

Panorama Point

Panorama Point Overlook 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

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

Badlands wildlife

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? 

Best hikes in Badlands 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.

Facebook Community

If you have any questions join my Facebook Travel Community.  You can ask any questions you have about upcoming trips and everyone is happy to help you plan your trip.  I also try to give exclusive travel deals that companies send me.  It is a great group to join!

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85 Comments

  1. Someday I will venture to Badlands and Mt. Rushmore. It looks like fun! Lots of interesting scenery and some great hikes!

  2. We loved our visit to the Badlands a few years ago. We need to plan another trip. That year, we went in late May, and somehow it rained nearly every day of our trip! When we were at the Badlands, we stayed just ahead of a huge rainstorm that we could see approaching. We didn’t get to do much hiking, and when we got to Wall Drug, it really let loose for a while. I’d like to go back and see if we could explore more without worrying about whether we’d get stuck in a downpour.

    1. We experienced extreme heat! Rain would have been a nice welcome. I have heard that the weather is another reason it was called Badlands!

  3. We didn’t make it to Badlands on our trip to South Dakota and I’m bummed. I guess we’ll just have to make another trip.

  4. This landscape is amazing. I love how you spelled out all of the hikes in mileage and difficulty. Great information and great pictures!

  5. I think that I would love this hiking. Need to do some planning. Good information – thanks for sharing.

  6. You covered so much informative information for hiking this area, it’s amazing. We enjoy hiking as a family and would love to visit here when the kids are older.

  7. The landscape in Badlands National Park looks so unique. We haven’t travelled out there, but its definitely on our list of places to see!

  8. I have to say the scenery is just stunning. I would love to spend some time hiking in this National Park.

  9. We wanted to visit The Badlands a few years ago when we went to Mount Rushmore, but ran out of time. You’ve inspired me to hit the road and do some hiking there…such a beautiful and intriguing place to hike.

  10. I’d love to go here. It looks like
    Such an awesome place to hike and take photos.
    Thanks for the awesome info!

  11. It’s great to know that the Badlands aren’t really that bad after all! 😉 They look absolutely beautiful to me! What a great place to immerse yourself in nature!

  12. Awesome pictures and information! Glad we can keep hiking despite all the craziness going on.

  13. I cannot say enough good things about the Badlands. We loved our visit, even only doing a few minor hikes. I didn’t own great hiking shoes, then, and some of the steep climbs were difficult without them. But now I’m better prepared for our next visit. The wildlife variety was awesome at the Badlands, too.

  14. I may never make it to the Badlands, but I will feel like I have thanks to your outstanding photos! Thank you for sharing!!

  15. I have recently added visiting every National Park to my bucket list, so this post is so helpful for Badlands. I really appreciate you breaking down the hikes into easy and more challenging. I’d like to check out Yellow Mounds Overlook most.

    1. The over looks are so beautiful! I have a National Park pass for the next couple of years so I will be hitting as many as possible!

  16. The Badlands was the first place I vacationed as an adult. I’m from MN so it wasn’t too terribly far. I recall being in awe of the rock formations in that part of SD. And the wildlife — they’re everywhere! Your photos are postcard worthy. Really, really nice! Enjoyed your post a ton. Brought back good memories!

  17. I love how many of the hikes look kid friendly! I’ve been wanting to go to the Badlands, but I’d be bringing my 3 young kids with me, so hikes they can join me on is great!

  18. This looks like such a fun adventure that I’d love to take my kids on. The ladder looks fun to climb. I’m sure I’d get tangled up somehow and be dangling there waiting for help. Lol

  19. How beautiful! I don’t think I have ever heard of the badlands, which is strange because I have been to Mt. Rushmore! I will have to go on my next trip to the area! Thanks for all of the info!

    1. I don’t think I had heard of it the first time I went to Mount Rushmore. I actually learned about it reading other blogs!

  20. Beautiful scenery! We are always looking for the next place to adventure! National Parks are so awesome!!

  21. What a great hiking guide Lisa! I’ve heard of the Badlands before and the landscape is something else – otherwordly. I love the photos as well, so beautiful.

  22. Twice, we have explored this area with our boys! It does not disappoint! What an awesome history lesson this area turns out to be!!

  23. Great options & trails! I wonder why they called the “medicine root trail” that.

    1. I imagine the Native Americans fond herbs or something like that on the trial. But I do not really know!

  24. This is such an informative article and I love the pictures. Perfect for anyone considering visiting or driving through the Badlands!

  25. South Dakota is definitely going to be my next road trip for the fam. I hope we can squeeze this in before the end of summer this year. I might even convince myself to brave that ladder. (Heights are fine, but ladders scare the crap out of me.)

  26. This looks like a great hike, I would love to visit the badlands one day! And the admissions price is awesome. Really good pics!

  27. Gorgeous- I have never been, but your pictures are spectacular. Guess we need to put this on our list. Amazing. Great that there are short hikes so there is something for everyone.

  28. Wow! I need to put this area on my must see list. No hiking for me as I have a bad foot so I’m glad for a driving tour.

  29. So it was over 90 degrees with hot, humid wind, so half my family didn’t even want to leave the AC in the car. No hiking for me that day, but we did the various overlooks and saw some mountain goats up on the rocks and a large bison. I’ll have to go back when it’s better weather to hike!

  30. Pingback: 25 of the Absolute Best Hikes in America's National Parks | Alex on the Map

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