The Best hikes in Badlands National Park, South Dakota

by ilive4travel

Published on Jan 30, 2024

When I was planning to visit Badlands I didn’t realise until I did my research that there are actually many hikes in the park and here you will find the 10 Best Hikes in Badlands National Park. Visiting South Dakota and Badlands was a great experience and a place you should definitely stop and get out of the car and see some of the sights.

Most of the hikes you will find are close to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center which is located at exit 131 of the I-90. Though if you are starting from Rapid City, it is better to enter the park at exit 110 of the I-90 and then drive Badlands Loop Road. Along this road you will also find some great hikes to do.

The closest airport to Badlands National Park is Rapid City, so if you are flying in, then it is best to rent a car from there.

Badlands National Park Entrance Fee

It costs $30 per vehicle to enter the park, though if you are planning to visit a few of the parks it might be worth buying the annual national park pass for $80 which is what I did.  Visiting 10 parks on this trip I certainly saved a lot of money!!

It is also possible to buy an annual pass just for Badlands National Park which costs $55. It is also possible to enter the park for free on 6 days of the year, though you can expect those days to be very busy in the park.

Badlands National Park Hours

Badlands SD is open 24 hours a day all year.  The Ben Reifel Visitor Center is open 8am – 4pm in winter, 8am – 5pm April, May, early September to late October and 8am – 7pm in summer. In the visitors center the National park service guides can show you all the hiking trails there are from simple ones to long multi day hikes.

Though with this article you are going to find all the top hikes and where to start them.

The Best Badlands National Park Hikes

If you are coming from Rapid City and enter the park through exit 110 on the I-90 then you will be driving along the Badlands Loop Road towards the Ben Reifel Visitors Center, it is 22 miles long and winds through the park and takes you to the Northeast entrance.  It would take around 30 minutes to drive this part of the loop road if you didn’t stop but there are some amazing viewpoints that you will want to stop at.

Along this road you will also find many hikes, though most are located close to the Ben Reifel visitors trail. You will find many viewpoints all this road so make sure to stop and enjoy the views.

If you want to do want a longer hike than list below it is possible to hike in Badlands National Park as it has an open hike policy, meaning that you can hike anywhere in the park. You can also camp and permits are not required.  Please note though in many areas there are no water sources and you will need to carry any water you need into the park with you.

The views along this road are amazing and there are quite a few overlooks and viewpoints to stop at to admire the views through the valley.

The colouring of the different layers of rock is stunning to see as you drive through the valley.

Notch Trail Badlands National Park

The most popular hike in Badlands National Park has to be the Notch Trail, it is a 1.5 mile roundtrip and it is hard work. It starts by you walking through a canyon then up a log ladder and you follow the ledge to see a view of the White River Valley.  There is a large parking lot for the Notch, Window, Door and Castle Trails.

During this hike you can see the prairie stretching for miles and if you are lucky then you may be able to see Bison moving across it, though you will need to be a little closer if you want to see the prairie dogs.

Along the trail you will also need to climb up a wooden ladder and you will be walking along the side of a cliff for a period of time.

It is a favorite with everyone who does the hike, though if you do not like heights it may not be the hike for you.

Window Trail Badlands

The Window Trail at Badlands starts from the same carpark as Notch Trail and Door Trail. It is a short 0.25 miles loop and an easy trail as you walk along a boardwalk, where you will walk to a natural window in the Badlands wall where you have a great view of the canyon.

The Badlands Wall is a 100 mile long ridge that goes through the area and even out of the park. This trail takes you to an opening that looks like a window in the wall and you can see an amazing view of the canyon and how it has been worn away over time.

If you are planning on doing the Notch Trail or the Door Trail then you might as well do the Window Trail as it will only take you 5-10 minutes to complete depending on the time you spend at the window.

Door Trail Badlands

The Door Trail starts in the same carpark as the Window Trail and Notch Trail. It is 0.75 miles roundtrip and a easy hike. The first half of it is on a boardwalk where you can walk to a viewpoint, the second half of it off the boardwalk.

The difference between the door trail and the window trail is that the window lets you see through the Badlands Wall, whereas the door trail, lets you actually walk through the wall.

The boardwalk takes you through a natural passage through the wall to a viewing platform of the canyon on the other side.

Once you are past the boardwalk you can see more viewpoints of the canyon that has been steeply eroded over millions of years.

Saddle Pass Trail Badlands

a path going through some grass towards some mountains of worn rock, showing different layers of colours of grey and pink through them

The Saddle Pass Trail Badlands, is a short but strenuous hike as you climb the Badlands wall to get a view of the White River valley.  It is only 0.25 miles roundtrip but it is straight up. At the end of the trail you can connect to the Castle Trail and Medicine Root Trail.

This is one of the steepest hikes in the park, where you are scrambling straight up the Badlands wall that goes through the park, it is hard and scary but worth it to see the views at the top.

For me it can be scarier coming down as it is slippery with a lot of loose rocks, but if you are struggling, just go down on your bum!! If it is wet or raining it might be one to miss.

Fossil Exhibit Trail Badlands

The Fossil Exhibit Trail, is a 0.25 miles roundtrip and is a boardwalk, so nice and easy to walk around and has fossil replicas and exhibits of the creatures that used to roam this area.

It is a very easy short hike on a boardwalk around the area, they are places where you can see moulds of fossils that were found in the area and boards with the history of the area and what was living in the area and when.

It is more a history of the area in a museum but outdoors, rather than a hike, but still it is good to get out the car, stretch your legs and learn how the area looked millions of years ago, when other animals were roaming this same area.

Cliff Shelf Trail Badlands

Not far from the visitors center, you will find the Cliff Shelf Trail, there is a large car park for this short it is 0.5 miles loop hike. There is a boardwalk around a lot of the hike and you will walk through a juniper forest as you walk along the Badlands wall, you can also see down to the whole prairie and along the walk can see small ponds depending on the time of year. Occasionally you see deer or bighorn sheep.

A great time to do this hike is at sunset as it is a gorgeous place to watch sunset from. The hike is a little strenuous as you will find 80-100 stairs at one point, as you are walking the loop to get to the highest point, but the views from the top make it worthwhile.

No matter which way you do the loop you will find stairs, but there are seats to rest if you start on the path to the left. This is a must do hike while you are visiting Badlands and a good one to finish off the day if you are there for sunset.

Castle Trail Badlands

a path going through short grass on a flat plain with a rock wall in the distance on a sunny day

From the same car park as the Notch, Door and Window trails you will find the Castle Trail, it is a 10 mile roundtrip and the longest trail in the park. The route joins up with the Medicine Trail and finishes at one end at the Fossil Exhibit Trail, you can either walk back along the path or get picked up at Highway 240 at the Fossil Exhibit. 

If you do decide to hike then on the return you could combine with the Medicine Root Trail so that you are not hiking back along the same path all the time. 

The trail is mostly flat, though there is no shade and you will find yourself walking through the prairie grasses at times and then a barren landscape with just rocks carved over millions of years by water.

If you want a long hike then this is certainly one to do, though you are not getting up high at any point and are not going to see the beautiful views looking down over the Badlands prairie.

Medicine Root Trail Badlands

The Medicine Root Trail is a 4 mile trail that joins the Castle Trail. It is a 4 mile loop trail and is fairly flat all the way as you way through the grasses of the prairie. It should take you around 1.5 hours to complete, but remember that there is no shade at the part of the park and no water stations.

You need to watch out for snakes on the hike, but you should also see lots of birds and butterflies along this hike. You can also join the hike from the Saddle Pass Trail, though it is a steep climb back down to the prairie. Make sure to follow the green markers for the Medicine Root Trail.

If you are looking for a longer hike, but not as long as the Castle Trail through the fields of the prairie then this is a great option.

* This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase after clicking on the link, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. *

Badlands National Park Tour

If you don’t have access to a car, then there are a couple of private tours that you can do to Badlands National Park or if you do have a car then try the Badlands National park self guided driving audio tour, which will tell you all about the places you are stopping at and the history of the park at your own pace.

To read more on visiting Badlands, check out the Moon’s guide to USA’s 63 National Parks.  Paperback here.

To read more about travelling the USA, then check out the Lonely Planet’s USA Travel Guide. Kindle Guide and  Paperback here.

What to Pack for Badlands National Park

  • Daypack  – A good day pack is needed to carry everything you need with you
  • Water – Make sure you have plenty of water with you.  It’s always a good idea too to carry a filtered water bottle in case you need to fill up in a river or stream.
  • Hiking Poles – You never know when you may come across snakes while you are travelling and it helps to alert animals there is someone there so you don’t sneak up on them.
  • Sun Hat – The sun is very strong especially in summer and you can easily get burnt and dehydrated in the summer sun.

Where to stay near Badlands National Park

If you decide not to stay in Badlands National Park, then the closest place to stay is in Wall, which is around 7 miles from the Pinnacles entrance.

The options you have here are:

Best Western Plains Motel – This motel has seasonal indoor and outdoor pools, with free wifi and cable tv and includes breakfast. – Click here for more information and prices.

Americas Best Value Inn Wall – This hotel has an outdoor pool, free wifi and cable tv and includes breakfast. – Click here for more information and prices.

Days Inn by Wyndham Wall – This motel has free wifi, cable tv and a continental breakfast for guests. – Click here for more information and prices.

Travelodge by Wyndham Wall – This motel has a seasonal outdoor swimming pool, childrens playground, cable tv, free wifi and an american breakfast. – Click here for more information and prices.

If you are planning to travel around South Dakota then check out my other guides:

If you enjoyed this post, then don’t forget to pin it.

a pin created by ilive4travel about what to do in Badlands National Park showing a picture of a valley of rocks that has been eroded and have pink stripes through them.

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——-  About me ——-

girl sat on some wooden stairs wearing a black jumper

Clare from Ilive4travel

Hi my name is Clare and welcome to ilive4travel.  I am originally from the UK but spend most of my time in Peru, the country that caught my heart.

I have visited 73 countries and love to share with you everything I have learnt about these countries in my guides.

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19 Comments

  1. Janet Earling-Bencivenni

    Such a beautiful place! It’s been way too long since I was there last.

    Reply
  2. Wendy

    It looks like a beautiful place. I have visited a couple of National Parks in the US and so far, I really love them! Especially since each has a very different vibe. I will put this one on my list, your photos look great!

    Reply
  3. Punita

    I had read about Badlands National Park, but this post and the pictures really gives me an accurate idea of what to expect from the place. Mini Grand Canyon experience, then.

    Reply
  4. Nancy

    This park looks like a great place to visit! I don’t visit enough parks around North America and definitely need to change that up!

    Reply
  5. Lisa

    Hoping to visit a few national parks next year so I will keep this post book marked! Great post

    Reply
  6. Jamie

    What fascinating formations. I have this National Park on my list to explore. Thank you for sharing your trip details as it helps when planning a future trip for myself.

    Reply
  7. Only By Land

    I passed through Badlands on my road trip too, it was like being on a different planet and you captured that in your images. I too bought the annual National Park pass, I don’t think I managed to fit in 10 parks though, that’s an impressive stat. The price to pick up the hire car in Sioux Falls and drop it off in Rapid City is crazy, they mustn’t want people to do that for some reason.

    Reply
  8. Juliette @ Snorkels to Snow

    I love looking at these photos! The mountains/rocks with all the layers are spectacular and so unique. Must have been crazy seeing them right in front of your eyes! I’ve never been to any national parks in the US, I’ve only visited LA. How amazing is this area for fossils though?! 77 species is a lot – I can see the attraction for fossil hunters! Very cool, must feel a bit like going back in time there.

    Reply
  9. Shelly

    I would love to see as many National Parks as you have! I like the tip on purchasing the annual pass if you are going to several parks. That will really save money. I hope to see Badlands National Park on a park tour around the country one day.

    Reply
  10. Clive Andrades

    Ever since I started traveling, I haven’t really had that attraction with US when it comes to visiting places. However, in recent times I have come across various articles just like this one. And as i keep reading your article, you have no idea how badly I want to be there. The place looks amazing from the pictures.

    Reply
  11. Natalie

    Your photos are beautiful! My husband is a geologist and he loves this area. We visited several times when the kids were little and we were living nearby. I had forgotten how pretty it is! We need to take the kids back now that they are older so they can get a better appreciation for it!

    Reply
  12. Marlies - Crazy Dutch Abroad

    Every time I read a story about one of the national USA parks I want to go back and explore them. The Badlands National Park seems like a scene from a movie, the rocks have amazing colored layers. It must get so hot on a day without clouds.

    Reply
  13. jo

    Spectacular views. Pinned in case I ever get the chance to go. You’ve managed to fit in 10 National Parks on your trip that’s some achievement!

    Reply
    • ilive4travel

      This was a 2 month trip so I had plenty of time for 10 parks!!

      Reply
  14. Iza Abao

    The landscape is amazing! It is like a mini Grand Canyon. The natural formations are grand. I am sure that the sunset there is breathtaking.

    Reply
  15. Nina

    Gosh it’s such a beautiful area! It must have been rough terrain years ago to earn itself the name.

    Reply
  16. Miranda

    Gorgeous pictures! Sometimes all you need is a day trip to see beauty like this.

    Reply
  17. EDITH & Juan

    It looks beautiful! I should add it to my bucketlist. It kind of reminds me of Utah.

    Reply
  18. melody pitman

    Definitely trying to plan a road trip to hit the Badlands (as well as the earlier parks you wrote about a few weeks ago) this fall. I will save your info as reference. The Badlands are absolutely gorgeous.

    Reply

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