Hiking is an excellent way to experience the natural treasures of Badlands National Park. The park covers 244,000 acres and is a unique, remote wilderness area with diverse landscapes ranging from flat prairie to rugged canyon walls. Badlands wilderness hikes are accessible to all visitors and lead you down canyons rarely visited by other hikers.
The Badlands is open year-round with activities and attractions in every season. However, the best hiking months are April through September, although the park offers some great winter hikes, too. Don't miss these great short hikes in a unique wilderness area that has changed little since dinosaurs roamed the earth.
This trail is located just west of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center and offers many rewards to those willing to make the hike. The unique geological features in this area give hikers an opportunity to see color variations caused by different mineral formations, water eroding rock into interesting shapes, and deep canyons carved from millions of years of runoff. The trail is not too strenuous for most hikers. It lies directly on top of an old fault line called a "graben" and crosses eroded hills called "coulees."
Depending on how much time you have and the exertion level you're capable of, several trail combinations are possible. This is a moderate hike with multiple destinations along the way, including spectacular overlooks, dinosaur tracks, and petrified wood. The loop portion of this trail can be as little as a half-mile long or made longer by continuing past the refuge boundary. Stretch your lungs and your legs with this trail!
This trail is on the south end of Badlands National Park and offers a great variety of sights and experiences. The trail starts at an elevation of 2500 feet and climbs to 3300 feet in one mile. There are numerous petrified wood outcroppings, ancient first nation's artifacts as well as dinosaur bones from 80 million years ago. On top of the butte, enjoy an overview of the prairie and rock features that make this area unique.
This trail is on the west side of the park. It begins at an elevation of 3100 feet and climbs to 3300 feet with a breathtaking view overlooking Chief's Head Peak, Grapevine Canyon, and the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. The hike is not too strenuous but requires climbing up and down the many rock formations. This short hike is great for beginners.
The Castle Trail is one of the more moderate trails in Badlands National Park. The trail has a 500-foot elevation gain, which can be a challenge for some hikers. It's excellent for those looking for a bit more challenge to view panoramas and old homesteader sites. This trail features the highest point in Badlands National Park and is famous for spectacular views of the Pinnacles Overlook Trail. Check it out for a short day hike or to connect to other park trails.
Walk past three buttes and a stand of native grasses to reach the Window, Badlands National Park's most famous rock formation. The trail is short enough to be manageable in the summer months yet long enough for a full day hike. Follow the interpretive signs at the trailhead for information about the park's geology and natural history. Wear hiking boots for this trail since it's often muddy in the rainy season. The iconic window rock formation is a great place for that winning Instagram shot!
This hike is the most difficult, and it's also the most rewarding. Be prepared to hike 9.5 miles round trip, with a gradual climb of 2,100 feet through rocky terrain. Sometimes it can feel like an uphill marathon instead of just a remote stroll through nature. But the panoramic views of the Badlands formations, White River Valley, and Little Devils Tower are worth it. The latter is just over a mile from the trailhead. This is not a beginner's hike, but it's a great way to test your hiking skills.
This is a mellow hike at the Hunt/Mastodon site. “Hunt” was explorer William Clark's name because it was an Indigenous American tribal hunting ground. The Door Trail is a one-mile hike that leads to a natural stone arch that inspired its name. It's a sweet place to take pictures of the petroglyphs and practice your photography skills. Near the Hunt/Mastodon site, the trailhead is clearly marked.
Deer Haven is for those with more time than money since its open hiking option doesn't require a hiking permit from sunrise to sunset. The scenery in this area of Badlands National Park is stunning and offers lots of opportunities for photography. It's almost difficult to believe you're within 15 minutes of Mt. Rushmore when hiking through this area. Plus, the colors of the soil are more vibrant than anywhere else in the park. The terrain on Deer Haven is fairly flat, with a few areas where you'll need to watch your footing as some of the trail can be very narrow or slick in certain places.
With miles of trails and serene landscapes, the park has something for everyone. Sage Creek features archetypal badland terrain and abundant wildlife, including bighorn sheep, buffalo, and pronghorn antelopes. This area of the park is also home to prairie dog burrows and coyote and fox dens, and many other species of mammals. As with the Deer Haven area, Sage Creek is open hiking and does not require a permit to explore this area. Hiking in this area makes you feel like a true explorer!