Badlands Hiking Trails, Backpacking

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Hiking Trails

Hike 35 million years into history along any of the seven trails in Badlands National Park, each of which penetrates the diverse terrain.

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  • Permits are not required to hike or backpack in the Badlands.
  • All hikers are encouraged to stop by a visitor center to find out current conditions.
  • The longest trail in the park at five miles is the Castle Trail.
  • All trails offer a view of the natural wonder of the terrain.

Overview

Badlands National Park provides a number of trails of all lengths and difficulties, and all are suited for most families – easy loops through wooded prairie land give way to steeper hikes. Permits are not required to hike or backpack, but all hikers are encouraged to stop by a visitor center to find out trail conditions and current weather patterns. Also, be aware that it is illegal to remove any fossils from the park. Download a Park Hiking Map.

Castle Trail 
The longest trail in the Park at five miles, the Castle Trail stretches from the Fossil Exhibit Trail and the Door/Window parking area. Primarily level, this path parallels some precipitous Badlands formations. The Medicine Root Trail makes a loop within the Castle Trail from any connecting trailhead. Not heavily used, the Castle Trail offers a chance for solitude and wildlife viewing. Trailhead: Can be found at the Door/Window Parking area.

  • Distance - five (5) miles
  • Average Time of Hike – 1.5 hours
  • Elevation Gain – relatively level
  • Difficulty – easy to moderate
  • Trail Type – one way trail

Cliff Shelf Nature Trail
One-half-mile loop trail that winds through a wooded prairie oasis surrounded by the parched Badlands. A trail guide is available for purchase at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center or at the trailhead. Hikers will wander in and out of small tree shaded areas and will use boardwalks and a flight of stairs to protected fragile resources. Trailhead: Located 1/2 mile north of the Visitor Center.

  • Distance - .5 miles
  • Average Time of Hike – 20-30 minutes
  • Elevation Gain – The trail climbs approximately 200 feet in elevation
  • Difficulty – moderately strenuous
  • Trail Type - loop
  • Notes: The parking lot is small and cannot accommodate long vehicles towing trailers.

Door Trail
The Door Trail penetrates into wildly eroded badlands through a break called "The Door" in the Badlands Wall. The first 100 yards are paved and accessible to an athletic wheelchair user; however, the path will soon become more rugged. Good walking shoes are required. Trailhead: Located two miles east of Ben Reifel Visitor Center on the Loop road.

  • Distance - .75 miles
  • Average Time of Hike – 30-45 minutes
  • Elevation Gain – The first 100 yards are paved and accessible to an athletic wheelchair user; however, the path will soon become more rugged.
  • Difficulty – moderately strenuous
  • Trail Type – out and back
  • Notes: A trail guide is available for purchase along the trail or at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. It is recommended that you stay on the trail in the Door area. Those venturing into the formations occasionally lose their bearings and become lost.

Fossil Exhibit Trail
One-quarter-mile loop trail that is fully accessible to those with mobility impairments. Examples of some now-extinct creatures that once called the Badlands home are protected under clear domes. Trailhead: Located five miles northwest of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.

  • Distance - .25 mile
  • Average Time of Hike – 30 minutes
  • Elevation Gain – level
  • Difficulty – easy
  • Trail Type - loop
  • Notes: During summer months, park naturalists give presentations about the rich fossil history of the park.

Notch Trail
Meandering through a canyon, this trail presents the hiker with the opportunity to climb a steep ladder, then travel along a ledge to "The Notch" above the Cliff Shelf area. One of the best views of the White River Valley and the Pine Ridge Reservation rewards those who complete the trail. Trailhead: The trail begins at the north end of the Door and Window parking area.

  • Distance - 1.5 miles round trip
  • Average Time of Hike – 2 hours
  • Elevation Gain – moderate gain in elevation
  • Difficulty – moderate to strenuous
  • Trail Type - out and back
  • Notes: For the adventurous, the Notch Trail can be treacherous during and just after heavy rains. and requires hikers to wear sturdy hiking boots. A hat and sunglasses are also recommended.

Saddle Pass Trail
Very short but very steep, the Saddle Pass Trail is impassable after rains. It connects the middle of the Castle Trail and the Medicine Root Loop to the Badlands Loop Road. Trailhead: The trailhead and parking area are located two miles west of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.

  • Distance - .3 miles
  • Average Time of Hike – 30-60 minutes
  • Elevation Gain – extremely steep
  • Difficulty – strenous
  • Trail Type - out and back

Window Trail
Offering a view of an intricately eroded canyon, this trail leads you to a natural "window" in the Badlands Wall. Trailhead: This trail begins at the center of the Door and Window parking area.

  • Distance - .25 miles round trip
  • Average Time of Hike – 30 minutes
  • Elevation Gain – level
  • Difficulty – easy - accessible to athletic wheelchair users
  • Trail Type - loop

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