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Badlands National Park Day Hikes

Castle Trail

The longest trail in the park at 10 miles round trip (16km), the Castle Trail stretches from the Fossil Exhibit Trail and the Door/Window parking area. Primarily level, this path parallels some precipitous badlands formations. The Medicine Root Trail makes a loop within the Castle Trail from any connecting trailhead. Not heavily used, the Castle Trail offers a chance for solitude and wildlife viewing.

Cliff Shelf Nature Trail

1/2 mile (0.8km) loop trail that winds through a wooded prairie oasis surrounded by the parched Badlands. Walkers will wander in and out of small tree shaded areas and take advantage of boardwalks and a flight of stairs in place to protected fragile resources. Located 1/2 mile north of the Visitor Center, the trail does climb approximately 200 feet in elevation. Views of the White River Valley are incomparable. The parking lot is small and cannot accommodate long vehicles towing trailers.

Door Trail

3/4 mile (1.2km) round trip trail focusing on the park's geologic history. Beginning at the northern end of the large Door and Window parking area two miles northeast of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, the Door Trail penetrates into wildly eroded badlands through a break called The Door in the Badlands Wall. The first 150 yards of the trail includes an accessible boardwalk; however, the path will soon become more rugged as visitors can then follow the yellow markers an additional 300 meters across rough badlands terrain. Good walking shoes are recommended. Additionally, visitors should stay on the trail or within sight of the markers in the Door area. Those venturing into the formations beyond the yellow markers occasionally lose their bearings and become lost.

Fossil Exhibit Trail

1/4 mile (0.4) loop trail that is fully accessible to those with mobility impairments. Examples of some of now extinct creatures that once called the Badlands home are protect under clear domes. Located five miles northwest of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, the trail is a very easy walk. During summer months, park naturalists give presentations about the rich fossil history of the park.

Notch Trail

1 1/2 mile (2.4km) round trip trail that is not recommended for those with a fear of heights. Meandering through a canyon, this trail presents the hiker with the opportunity to climb a steep ladder, then travel along a ledge to The Notch above the Cliff Shelf area. One of the best views of the White River Valley and the Pine Ridge Reservation rewards those who do complete the trail. For the adventurous, the Notch Trail can be treacherous during and just after heavy rains. The trail begins at the north end of the Door and Window parking area and requires hikers to wear sturdy hiking boots. A hat and sunglasses are also recommended.

Saddle Pass Trail

Very short 0.2 miles (0.4km) but very steep, the Saddle Pass Trail is impassable after rains. It connects the middle of the Castle Trail and the Medicine Root Loop to the Badlands Loop Road. The trailhead and parking area are located two miles west of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.

Window Trail

1/4 mile (0.4km) round trip trail that is accessible to athletic wheelchair users. Offering a view of an intricately eroded canyon, this trail leads you to a natural window in the Badlands Wall. This trail begins at the center of the Door and Window parking area.


Always carry water. Two quarts per person per two hour hike is recommended. A hat and sunglasses are strongly recommended, as well as rain gear since weather conditions can change rapidly. Keep your distance from all wildlife encountered during your hike. Any wildlife can be unpredictable. Keep a distance of at least 100 yards. Remember that all park resources - fossils, plants, animals, artifacts, and rocks - are to remain as you find them. Each person is entitled to the same sense of discovery you experience when traveling the park trails.

If you find any artifacts or large or unusual fossils, please stop by the Cedar Pass Contact Station and ask to complete a report. Be prepared to accurately describe the location and positioning of the find. Do not move or remove any resources. Thousands of fossils are scattered throughout the park. Your reports will be investigated as the park paleontology staff is available to see if another significant fossil bed has been discovered.

Dogs and other pets are allowed only in developed areas such as campgrounds, parking areas and along roads and must be kept on a leash no longer than 6 feet in length at all times. They are not allowed in public buildings, or on any hiking trails. This policy has been instituted to provide a greater degree of protection to park resources.

Warning! Digging and/or moving fossils or artifacts from their locations in the ground is prohibited by Federal law. The matter is taken very seriously in the park. Offenders are prosecuted. Fines range from $50.00 to $250,000, and, in severe cases, offenders have been jailed.

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