5 Best Hikes You Need to Take at Badlands National Park

First proposed as a national park in 1922, Badlands National Park in South Dakota features archeological evidence of early human activity from as far back as 12,000 years ago. Due to the rugged and unforgiving terrain and weather, it’s no surprise that most of the archaeological findings are temporary shelters used by seasonal hunters rather than permanent dwellings. 

Visitors will find various types of geological formations containing sandstone, siltstone, mudstone, claystone, limestone, volcanic ash, and shale. The park also features tall grasslands and abundant wildlife consisting of bighorn sheep, mule deer, bison, porcupines, coyotes, rattlesnakes, and ticks.

Temperature extremes can vary greatly, ranging from 116° F to -40° F. Summers are hot and dry, and winter months regularly see temperatures well below freezing. Weather events can make the terrain difficult to traverse. 

No wonder they call it the Badlands.

Badlands National Park offers some of the most challenging backcountry hiking in the Midwest as well as traditional and RV camping. Whichever you choose, the remoteness of this national park provides spectacular stargazing.

Here are five of the most popular hikes you should try on your visit to Badlands National Park:

Hike #1: Saddle Pass Trailhead

While this is one of the shortest hikes available in the park, it is also one of the steepest with a 300-foot elevation gain in just over a half a mile of terrain. You are likely to encounter loose gravel and sand on this trail, so be sure to wear sturdy footwear. The view from the top is worth the challenging hike. 

Total Distance: .75 miles one way
Elevation Gain: 300 feet
Difficulty: Strenuous
Route Type: Out & Back
Other Info:

For more information visit All Trails.


Hike #2: Medicine Root Loop Trail

Hikers of all experience levels can take in the expansive prairie views on this popular trail, which features spectacular fields of wildflowers in the springtime.

Total Distance: 4.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 337 feet
Difficulty: Easy - Walking, Hiking
Route Type: Loop
Other Info: Start at NE Road to avoid the steep climb from Saddle Pass Trailhead

For more information visit All Trails.

Hike #3: Sheep Mountain Table Road

The easy terrain makes for a great dog-friendly trail while also offering a lovely scenic view. Park at the Sheep Mountain Table Overlook, and walk along the dirt road for about 2.5 miles where it comes to a stop.

Total Distance: 5 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 593 feet
Difficulty: Moderateo
Route Type:
Out & Back

Other Info: Sheep Mountain Table Road is a dirt road that should not be driven during or after storms. Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended, even in dry conditions. This road begins on the west side of SD Hwy 27, 4.5 miles south of SD Hwy 44 at the town of Scenic.

For more information visit All Trails.

Hike #4: Sage Creek Loop

An adventure for experienced and prepared hikers only. You will encounter a variety of wildlife, scale rugged terrain, and wade through tall grasses. While the entrance to the trail is well marked, the remainder of the hike is not, so carrying a GPS with you and ensuring you have fully charged batteries along with backup power is strongly advised.

Total Distance: 22.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 807 feet
Difficulty: Strenuous
Route Type: Loop
Other Info: Thoroughly research this hike before attempting.

For more information visit All Trails.

Hike #5: Cedar Butte Trail

This trail offers outstanding, sweeping views of the rock formations across the park and beyond. The second half of the hike will treat you to a walk in the woods with the opportunity to encounter some of the local wildlife. 

Total Distance: 2.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 242 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Route Type: Loop

Other Info: You must walk to the trailhead unless you have a high-clearance vehicle.

For more information visit All Trails.

Badlands National Park charges a fee to enter. Park entrances are open 24 hours daily. The park is open to visitors all year with the exception of weather closures. Visitor Center hours vary. 

Cell phone service can be spotty and GPS is not always accurate. Park maps and directions are available. 

Stay updated on weather conditions prior to your visit, as some areas may become inaccessible in certain circumstances. 

Pets are allowed on hiking trails with some restrictions and exceptions.