The Badlands refers to the geological deposits found in South Dakota. A national park named Badlands was created to protect and preserve this gorgeous and different landscape for future generations. Rich fossil beds are strewn throughout the Badlands National Park. And the variations of colors and shapes make no deposit look the same. As the sun rises or sets, the light makes the reds, oranges, and yellows, of the Badlands shimmer, and draws interest from people all over the world, especially photographers. It was formerly called badlands by the Lakota people. The severe temperatures, lack of water, rugged and rough terrain, and challenging navigation through the area earned the land this name. The national park has a list of hikes to take through and around the badlands for the best views and experience. Grab some water, sunscreen, and a map and head out to see these natural wonders.
Hiking the Badlands National Park
Hiking and backpacking in a national park are one of the best ways to experience the land, wildlife, and all there is to offer. Hiking in the badlands requires some preparation, though. Always bring water. Two quarts of water per person per two hours is recommended. A hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses are also encouraged, and wear good hiking shoes or boots to protect your feet from rocks and cactus spines. If you stumble upon fossils, animals, artifacts, or impressive rocks, please leave them in the park. Removing them can result in a fine. The hikes range from long, flat hikes to uphill climbs among the rock formations. There are easy and arduous trails to choose from and different landscapes as well. You can venture off the designated trails and do some backcountry camping and hike too for a more remote and off-the-beaten-path experience.
Window Trail is a nice, easy trail that most anyone can do. It is only a quarter of a mile long round trip. It is a short trail that takes visitors to a natural window in one of the walls of the badlands. The view through the eroded window is one of a beautiful orange colored canyon spread out below that is nothing but the best of the Badlands National Park. The trail only takes 10 minutes or so, and no permit is required. All ages can participate in this trail and look through the window to see some fantastic views of the badlands.
The Door Trail is another easy trail to do in the park. The trail is about three-quarters of a mile long round trip, and there is a boardwalk available for part of the trail that travels through a break in one of the walls to a great view of the formations. The break is known as “the Door,” and is why the trail is named so. After reaching “the door” the maintained portion of the trail ends, and after that visitors can continue at their risk. Visitors must return the way they came on this trail. The end of the boardwalk has a fantastic viewing deck that is elevated to capture those perfect views of the Badlands National Park.
Notch Trail is a moderately steep trail offered in the park. The trail is approximately a mile and a half roundtrip in length with a few drop-offs along the way. Hike through a canyon and then climb a long ladder that leads to a ledge where “the notch” is waiting for you. The view from the top is that of White River Valley and is scenic and impressive. If you have a fear of heights, then this trail is not for you! The trail is dirt, and part of it is near a cliff’s edge, so use caution as you hike this trail.
Cliff Shelf Nature Trail is also a moderately strenuous trail that is approximately half of a mile roundtrip. This is a loop trail that travels down a boardwalk and upstairs through a juniper forest. The trail does climb in elevation about 200 feet, so be prepared for some uphill climbing. This trail provides great views across the plains with the badlands also in the scope of view. Views from the bottom of the trail that look up to “the notch” where it appears as if someone has taken a scoop or notch out of one of the ridgelines. Enjoy the prairie views of South Dakota from this trail.
Are you ready to try the longest trail in the park? Castle trail has a total of 10 miles round trip and is classified as a moderate to challenging trails. The trail starts at “the Door,” parking lot and travels 5 miles into the Fossil Exhibit Trail. Along the way see the rock formation above and below you as you go through some grassy areas along a boardwalk and some magnificent scenery! Take lots of water and enjoy this long walk through the Badlands National Park.
The strenuous Saddle Pass trail is only a quarter of a mile roundtrip, but it is a steep hike up a badlands wall. Good hiking boots are a must as you walk through some shortgrass prairie areas and see the soaring eroded pinnacles of the rugged landscape before you. The climb results in a scenic overlook of the White River Valley and some prime badland observation areas that you won’t want to miss.
Medicine Root Loop
This trail is also a bit challenging, and it is about four and a half miles in length for about 9 miles’ total for the whole hike. The first part of the trail climbs a steep, sandy hill to the top of the rock formations. Walk through rolling hills to the prairie lands, and, watch for wildlife such as badgers, snakes, prairie dogs, and other rodents at dusk. The top area is known as Saddle Pass and the scenery around you and below you are amazing!
Fossil Exhibit Trail
The Fossil Exhibit Trail is a quarter of a mile long and has a beautiful boardwalk that has been constructed that is fully accessible. The trail features displays of fossil replicas and interesting exhibits of extinct animals that once lived and roamed in the area. Both kids and adults love looking at the fossil replicas making this one of the most educational and easy trails available to take.
Do one trail or try a few to get different landscape scenes and see all the good there is in the Badlands National Park.