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10 Best Hiking Trails In Badlands National Park

The best way to experience Badlands National Park’s dramatic and colorful landscape is from a hiking trail. This article will cover the ten best hikes in Badlands National Park which are also the only designated hiking trails in the park.

Badlands National Park

For those of you who don’t enjoy long hikes, or don’t have enough time to commit to longer hikes during your trip to Badlands, the good news is that the majority of hikes in this park are very short and easy.

Nearly all of the hikes here are under two miles round trip and they are all located in the southeast section of the park near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.

That’s not to say you can’t hike in other parts of Badlands National Park though, because unlike other national parks, at Badlands you do not have to stay on designated trails. You are free to roam wherever you like!

So if you see areas of the park you would like to explore further, find somewhere safe to pull over, get out of your car, and feel free to go for a wander. Badlands is all about choosing your own adventure!

In this guide to the official hiking trails in Badlands National Park, the hikes have been listed in order from shortest to longest trails. These trails are suitable for all ages and fitness levels, and have very little elevation gain, if any at all.

Best Hikes In Badlands National Park

Window Trail – 0.25 miles (0.4km)

Hiking The Window Trail In Badlands National Park
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Elevation: None
  • Time: 10 minutes

This is a very short and easy hike that runs along a boardwalk and ends at the “Window”, a natural opening in the Badlands Wall that overlooks an eroded canyon.

Saddle Pass Trail – 0.25 miles (0.4km)

Best Hikes In Badlands National Park
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation: 300 feet
  • Time: 30 minutes

Saddle Pass is a short but steep climb up the Badlands Wall to an overlook of the White River Valley. The trail is somewhat slippery but especially scenic as you wander through the strange rocky formations.

This trail ends where it connects with the Castle Trail. You can continue along the Castle Trail to extend your hike or head back to the parking lot the same way you came.

Fossil Exhibit Trail – 0.25 miles (0.4km)

Fossil Exhibit Hiking Trail In Badlands National Park
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Elevation: Flat
  • Time: 15 minutes

The Fossil Exhibit Trail is a short trail that runs along a boardwalk through rock formations that contain millions of years of earth’s history and an area that contains one of the most concentrated mammal fossil beds in the world.

Along the trail are several information boards that explain the geologic history of this area and tell you about some of the animals that once roamed the Badlands of South Dakota.

Cliff Shelf Trail – 0.5 miles (0.8km)

Cliff Shelf Trail In Badlands National Park
  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
  • Elevation: 200 feet
  • Time: 30 minutes

The Cliff Shelf Nature Trail is an easy to moderate hike (depending on your fitness level) that follows a boardwalk which loops through a small grove of juniper trees.

There is a slight elevation gain because the trail climbs up a set of stairs that travels beside the Badland Wall. This staircase isn’t very steep so you don’t need to worry about the trail becoming strenuous at all.

As you climb higher up the staircase be sure to stop and look out because the views of Badlands National Park and beyond are stunning.

>>Read: How To Hike Cliff Shelf Nature Trail In Badlands National Park

Door Trail – 0.75 miles (1.2km)

Hiking The Door Trail In Badlands National Park
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Elevation: Flat
  • Time: 30 minutes

The Door Trail is another easy hike which runs along a boardwalk leading to a break in the Badland Wall known as “The Door”. Through ‘the door’ you’ll be able to see spectacular views of interesting rock formations that include buttes and colorful spires.

Notch Trail – 1.5 miles (2.4km)

Hiking The Notch Trail In Badlands National Park
  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
  • Elevation: 180 feet
  • Time: 1 hour

The Notch Trail is an easy to moderate hike that begins with strolling through a scenic canyon full of strange rocky formations leading to a long wooden ladder that once climbed, will take you to a notch in the Badlands Wall where there are sweeping views of the surrounding landscape.

This is the most popular hike in Badlands National Park and is a can’t miss! If you only have time for one hike, this should be it!

The entire trail is a lot of fun as you wander through a maze of rock formations and walk along a cliff ledge. Children will especially enjoy this trail because it’s like a natural playground.

>>Read: How To Hike The Notch Trail At Sunset

Medicine Root Trail – 4 miles (6.4km)

Best Hikes In Badlands National Park
  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
  • Elevation: Flat
  • Time: 2 hours

The Medicine Root Trail can only be reached along the Castle Trail. The trail leads through a short portion of Badlands ‘backcountry’ allowing hikers to walk through prairielands. Do note that this hike is not quite as interesting as many of the other hiking trails in Badlands National Park.

Castle Trail – 10 miles (16km)

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation: Flat
  • Time: 3-4 hours

The Castle Trail is the longest hiking trail in Badlands National Park. This hike is ten miles roundtrip and is relatively flat and easy for most of the way. It leads through the backcountry of Badlands taking hikers past towering rock formations and through beautiful grasslands. If you’re lucky, you may spot Bighorn sheep or Pronghorn antelope along the way.

You can begin this hike either at the Fossil Exhibit Trailhead or at the trailhead for the Door, Window, and Notch trails. It is an out and back trail but it can be combined with the Medicine Root Trail once you reach the trail’s junction to complete as a loop.

Tips For Hiking In Badlands National Park

  • If hiking in summer, be sure to take a bottle of water with you. It does get very hot in South Dakota during July and August with temperatures usually in the nineties.
  • All of the hiking trails in Badlands National Park are exposed. If hiking during summer, you may want to wear a hat and sunscreen. Use this sunscreen which is less harmful to you and the environment.
  • Always be sure to check the weather in advance because the weather in Badlands National Park can be unpredictable. This area is prone to violent thunderstorms in summer, and even snow storms are possible as early as September. Check the weather forecast in Badlands National Park here.
  • Please remember dogs are never allowed on hiking trails inside national parks. All dogs inside Badlands National Park must be leashed.
Best Hikes In Badlands National Park

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