Hiking Trails in the Badlands

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If you’re looking for adventure in the great outdoors, the Badlands offer some of the most breathtaking scenery in the country and the hiking trails are the perfect way to experience it up close. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or just looking for a leisurely stroll, there’s a trail for everyone. So, grab your boots, pack a water bottle and let’s hit the trails! In this blog, we are going to discuss the rules and tips for hiking in the badlands and a variety of trails for every hiker level.

Rules & Tips

When hiking in the Badlands, it's important to take a few precautions to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Always carry water, with a recommended two quarts per person for every two hours of hiking. Wear a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and sturdy boots or shoes to protect yourself from the sun and cactus spines. In case of sudden weather changes, bring rain gear. When encountering wildlife, keep a distance of at least 100 feet to avoid disturbing them. Remember that collecting park resources is illegal, so leave fossils, plants, animals, artifacts, and rocks as you find them. If you need help choosing a trail, the rangers at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center are always happy to provide advice and recommendations based on your fitness and experience levels.

1.    Door Trail:
o    Distance: 0.75 miles/1.2 km (round trip)
o    Difficulty: Easy
o    A conveniently accessible boardwalk spanning a quarter mile guides you along a passage in the Badlands Wall, known as "The Door," providing a panoramic glimpse of the Badlands. The designated path concludes at this point, any traveling beyond this point is at your own risk, please be aware and cautious of the drop-offs.

2.    Window Trail:

o    Distance: 0.25 miles/0.4 km (round trip)
o    Difficulty: Easy
o    This short pathway leads to a natural “Window” within the Badlands, offering a captivating view of the gorge sculpted by erosion. Kindly stay on the assigned trail for your safety and preservation of the area.

3.    Fossil Exhibit Trail:

o    Distance: 0.25 miles/0.4 km (round trip)
o    Difficulty: Easy
o    This fully accessible boardwalk trail features fossil replicas and exhibits of extinct creatures that once inhabited the area. Reminder, to leave everything as you see it, as collecting anything from the Badlands is illegal.

4.    Castle Trail:

o    Distance: 10 miles/16 km (round trip)
o    Difficulty: Moderate
o    As the longest trail within the park, it originates from the Door and Window parking area and extends in a single direction for five miles, leading towards the Fossil Exhibit Trail. The path mostly maintains a level terrain while showcasing a range of formations within the badlands. 

5.    Cliff Shelf Trail:

o    Distance: 0.5 miles/0.8 km (round trip)
o    Difficulty: Moderate
o    This looping trail follows the boardwalks and stairs to climb as it winds through a juniper forest situated at the top the Badlands. Every so often, a serene pond entices wildlife like deer or bighorn sheep. The trail increases roughly 200 feet in elevation, so stay on the designated trail.

6.    Medicine Root Loop:

o    Distance: 4 miles/6.4 km (round trip)
o    Difficulty: Moderate
o    This generally rolling trail connects with the Castle Trail near the Old Northeast Road and the intersection of the Castle and Saddle Pass Trails. Hikers have the opportunity to explore the mixed grass prairie while enjoying distant views of the Badlands. Watch out for cacti along the trail.

7.    Notch Trail:

o    Distance: 1.5 miles/2.4 km (round trip)
o    Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
o    Following a winding path through the canyon, this trail requires climbing a log ladder and coming up near a ledge reaching "The Notch," where a spectacular panorama of the White River Valley unfolds. The trail starts at the south end of the Door and Window parking area. Exercise caution as there are steep edges along the way. It is advised to abstain from this trail if you are afraid of heights, as well as during or after intense rainfall, as it can be slippery and unstable.

8.    Saddle Pass:

o    Distance: 0.25 miles/0.4 km (round trip)
o    Difficulty: Strenuous
o    This short but challenging trail climbs through the Badlands to reach a viewpoint overlooking the White River Valley. It connects with the Castle and Medicine Root Loop Trails.

Open Hike Policy

The Badlands offers an open hike policy, which allows visitors to hike off-trail and explore social trails like Deer Haven or the Sage Creek Wilderness Area. However, exercise caution while hiking, as Badlands formations are often easier to climb up than down. Cell service is not readily available in much of the Badlands, so be prepared. Keep a safe distance of at least 100 feet from wildlife. If wildlife notices you, you are too close.

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