THING TO DO

Hiking the Badlands

a brown sign with white writing points to door, window, notch, and castle trails.

There are a variety of options when it comes to hiking in the Badlands. Whether you're looking for a short, easy boardwalk trail or a more challenging 10-mile trail through Badlands terrain, there is a hike in the park for everyone. All designated trails are within a few miles of the visitor center.

Rules & Tips

  • Always carry water! Two quarts per person per two hour hike is recommended.
  • Hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen are strongly encouraged. Rain gear is also recommended, since weather conditions can change rapidly.
  • Wear sturdy boots or shoes to protect your feet from cactus spines and snake bites.
  • Keep a distance of at least 100 feet from all wildlife encountered during your hike. If wildlife reacts to your presence at all, you are too close.
  • Remember that all park resources -- fossils, plants, animals, artifacts, and rocks -- are to remain as you find them. All visitors are entitled to the same sense of discovery you experience when traveling the park trails, and collecting these items is illegal.
  • If you are unsure where to hike, consult with rangers at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. They can provide advice about trails, as well as recommendations for different fitness and experience levels. 

Official Park Trails

Door Trail

0.75 miles/1.2 km (round trip)
Easy. An accessible ¼ mile boardwalk leads through a break in the Badlands Wall known as "the Door" and to a view of the Badlands. From there, the maintained trail ends. Travel beyond this point is at your own risk. Watch for drop-offs.

Window Trail

0.25 miles/0.4 km (round trip)
Easy. This short trail leads to a natural window in the Badlands Wall with a view of an intricately eroded canyon. Please stay on the trail.

Notch Trail

1.5 miles/2.4 km (round trip)
Moderate to strenuous. After meandering through a canyon, this trail climbs a log ladder and follows a ledge to "the Notch" for a dramatic view of the White River Valley. Trail begins at the south end of the Door and Window parking area. Watch for drop-offs. Not recommended for anyone with a fear of heights. Treacherous during or after heavy rains.

Castle Trail

10 miles/16 km (round trip)
Moderate. The longest trail in the park begins at the Door and Window parking area and travels five miles one way to the Fossil Exhibit Trail. Relatively level, the path passes along some badlands formations.

Cliff Shelf

0.5 miles/0.8 km (round trip)
Moderate. This loop trail follows boardwalks and climbs stairs through a juniperforest perched along the Badlands Wall. A small pond occasionally exists in the area and draws wildlife, such as deer or bighorn sheep. Climbs approximately 200 feet in elevation. Please stay on the trail.

Saddle Pass

.25 miles/.40 km (round trip)
Strenuous. This short trail climbs up the Badlands Wall to a view over the White River Valley. The trail ends where it connects with the Castle and Medicine Root Loop Trails.

Medicine Root Loop

4 miles/6.4 km (round trip)
Moderate. This generally rolling trail connects with the Castle Trail near the Old Northeast Road and at the intersection of the Castle and Saddle Pass Trails. Trail users are provided the opportunity to explore the mixed grass prairie while enjoying views of the Badlands in the distance. Watch for cactus.

Fossil Exhibit Trail

0.25 miles/0.4 km (round trip)
Easy. Fully accessible boardwalk trail features fossil replicas and exhibits of now extinct creatures that once roamed the area.

Open Hike Policy

Badlands National Park has an Open Hike Policy, meaning that you are allowed to hike off-trail. As a visitor to the Badlands, you are free to explore social trails like Deer Haven, the Sage Creek Wilderness Area, or any other part of the park you can visit safely.

Please exercise caution while exploring the park in an Open Hike situation. Badlands formations are often easier to climb up than climb down and cell service is not readily available in the backcountry. If you encounter wildlife, maintain a distance of at least 100 feet. If wildlife notices you, you are too close.
 

Details
Trails in the park have wide ranges in difficulty. While most are primarily flat terrain, some have steep inclines and hikers should be prepared for that.
  • Pets are allowed only on paved or gravel roads and in developed areas such as campgrounds.
  • Pets must be kept on a leash no longer than six feet at all times.
  • Pets are not allowed on trails or in public buildings. Leaving an animal unattended and/or tied to a fixed object is prohibited, as well as a danger to your pet.
  • Pet etiquette dictates always cleaning up animal waste and disposing of it in trash receptacles.
  • Service animals are an exception to most pet restrictions and are allowed on trails and in public buildings. Service animals must be kept on a leash at all times and, due to potentially infectious wildlife diseases, are not allowed in areas with prairie dog colonies.
  • Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.
Entrance fees may apply, see Fees & Passes information.
Weather in the Badlands is often at extremes throughout the year, please plan accordingly and check the weather reports and climate data before heading onto one of the trails.
Accessibility Information

For visitors using wheelchairs, Badlands National Park has accessible trail options:

  • The first portion of Door Trail is a boardwalk with a spacious viewpoint at the end.
  • Window Trail is a full boardwalk leading out to a viewpoint with railings.
  • The first portion of Cliff Shelf Nature Trail is a boardwalk.
  • Fossil Exhibit Trail is a full boardwalk with wayside exhibits accessible to those at wheelchair heights.

Last updated: December 30, 2020