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Badlands National Park is a great park to drive through with plenty of pull offs for viewpoints. However, if you really want to get to know the Badlands, you will want to get out of your car and hike the trails. We breakdown the best hikes in Badlands National Park for you, so you can find the hike that best suits you!
If hiking isn’t your thing, don’t worry. The Badlands does not have many super long hikes. In fact, most of the hikes are relatively short and easy to do.
Before diving into the Badlands best hikes, make sure you are prepared for your day hike with our Day Hike Packing List. It has everything you need to be prepared for whatever mother nature might throw at you on your hike.
These hikes start with some easier ones and ending with what we would consider the best hike in the Badlands. Now, let’s get into the best hikes in the Badlands National Park!
1. Door Trail
If you enter Badlands National Park from the east and I-90, Door Trail is the first hike you will encounter.
While this trail is very easy and very short, it gives you a beautiful view of the Badlands and a glimpse at what the rest of the park has in store for you!
The first 1/4 mile of this hike is on a boardwalk and is wheel-chair accessible. From there you can hike out a little bit on a trail marked with yellow posts. After that, hiking is all at your own risk, like much of the hiking is in the Badlands.
2. Window Trail
The Window Trail is located just south of the Door Trail and is another short, easy hike in the Badlands and gives you a fantastic view of the incredible geological features that the Badlands offers.
3. Notch Trail
Notch Trail is right next to Window Trail and is also a short hike that gets you off the Badlands Loop Road and into the park a little bit.
The Notch Trail is the most popular hike in the Badlands National Park, and while a little longer than the hikes above, it offers a stunning view of the White River Valley.
It’s only 1.5 miles round-trip, but it is not the easiest. To reach “the Notch” you have to climb a ladder. There are also steep drop-offs, and it can be dangerous when it rains or snows.
If you are adventurous and not afraid of heights, the Notch Trail might be a great day hike in the Badlands for you!
4. Castle Trail
The Castle Trail hike in the badlands is the longest in the park at 10 miles round-trip. While the trail itself is an out and back—5 miles each way—it connects to the next two trails as well, which allows you to see more diverse terrain and more of the Badlands.
When hiking the Badlands’ Castle Trail you will have to register at a backcountry camping kiosk with your name and time you are entering. The hike itself is relatively easy, but it is long and gets very hot in summer.
There is no water on the trail, so you will want to make sure you have enough with you for the full hike—a Camelbak works perfect for this.
When you begin the Castle Trail hike, you hike over a desolate area with some sign you follow. After getting out of sight of the road and parking lot, the trail becomes more well-defined. Through the hike, the Castle Trail takes you in and out of different parts of the Badlands, and the trail goes from being well-defined to less defined, like at the beginning of the hike.
For a long day hike in Badlands National Park, we recommend doing the Castle Trail and combining it with the next two trails to see the most of what Badlands has to offer in one day hike!
5. Medicine Root Trail
The Medicine Root Trail is a unique hike in Badlands because most people don’t do it by itself, but rather connect it with Castle Trail.
The two trails connect to form a loop in the the middle of the park. This area does not see a lot of foot traffic as most people stick to the shorter hikes in Badlands or the viewpoints on the Loop Road.
If you choose this hike, you will really feel like you are out in the middle of the Badlands!
While the Medicine Root Trail doesn’t take you onto the rock formations of the Badlands, you get to hike in the grassland section of the park and see the beautiful Badlands from a different vantage point. Plus, you might get to see some different wildlife living in that part of the part.
6. Saddle Pass Trail
Saddle Pass Trail is another hike that connects to the Castle and Medicine Root Trails. It’s a lot shorter than those two, but it is very steep!
Saddle Pass Trail climbs 300 feet over a short distance, so be prepared to climb up.
This is the perfect hike in the Badlands if you don’t want to do the full Castle Trail hike. You can park at the Saddle Pass Trail parking lot and hike up the trail and explore part of the Castle Trail before hiking back down to your car.
You could even do the Saddle Pass Trail and then the Castle Trail and Medicine Root Trail loop before connecting back to the Saddle Pass Trail and finishing your Badlands hike. This route would give you a little shorter hike, but one of the most diverse in the Badlands.
While these are some of the best hikes in Badlands National Park, the park is actually an open-hike park, so you can hike and go where you want. That means that while there are trails and designated hikes, you are allowed to hike off trail and explore the Badlands.
Please be careful though! While the Badlands can look like an open playground to hikers, it can be dangerous with snakes, loose rocks, challenging terrain, and weather changes.
Again, you will want to be prepared for whichever Badlands hike you choose.
If you are visiting the Badlands to hike, camp, or just see the landscapes, make sure to check out our Badlands National Park Guide to help you with everything you need to get ready for visiting one of South Dakota’s gems.