Day hiking in Badlands National Park is a joy. The vistas are grand in all directions and the sharp edged spires and rounded mounds of the Badlands formations are fun to explore. There are several marked trails within the park boundaries, most of which are easy to moderately strenuous. Start with three hiking trails that are located about two miles northeast of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center off of route 240. Park at the door and window parking area.
The Door Trail is a 0.75-mile round-trip trek into eroded formations located on the eastern edge of the Badlands Wall. The trail begins at the north end of the parking lot. The first 150 yards are a boardwalk that is wheelchair accessible. Once the boardwalk ends, the trail slopes upward and travels though a “door” in the Badlands Wall to give great views of the grasslands and the outer wall of the Badlands.
The Window Trail begins in the center of the parking area. It is 0.25-mile round-trip wheelchair-accessible boardwalk trail that leads to a window in the Badlands Wall where views of the grasslands and spires of the Badlands Wall are visible.
The Notch Trail is rated moderate to strenuous and is about 1.5 miles long. It should take around two hours to enjoy. The trail starts in a canyon, climbs a ladder, and follows a narrow ledge to the “notch” through which a sweeping view of the White River Valley is revealed. Parts of this trail can be very steep. Do not attempt if there has been recent rainfall.
All three trails can be done in a morning. Longer hiking routes include the Castle Trail, which starts at the same parking lot as the Window and Door Trails and is the longest hike in the park, at 10 miles round-trip. It is fairly level, however, and the trail is only moderately strenuous. The trail winds five miles through prairie grasses out to the Fossil Exhibit Trail, and returns along the same path, five miles back. The Fossil Exhibit Trail is an easy and fully accessible trail with interpretive signs and fossils displayed under protective domes. It is no more than a 20-minute loop.
© Laural A. Bidwell from Moon Mount Rushmore & the Black Hills, 1st Edition