Easy Park Hikes: Badlands National Park

Badlands NP during an unusually wet summer. Photo by Jim Burnett.

Sometimes a short, easy hike is just what you need for a nice change of pace during a park visit. Here's a pair of suggestions for a visit to Badlands National Park that offer fine views of the classic scenery that gives the park its name.

If you enter Badlands from the northeast via I-90, you'll pass these trailhead parking lots just a few minutes before you reach the park's Ben Reifel Visitor Center. If you arrive in the park from the western end via I-90, Wall, S.D. and the Badlands Loop Road, these hikes will come near the end of your drive through the park. You can download several maps from the park website to help with navigation, including this one which shows the location of the trails described below.

Both the Door Trail and the Window Trail are short, but they're definitely worth stops for a leg-stretcher. As is true anywhere in the Badlands, the scenery—and photo opportunities—are best in the early morning or late afternoon and evening, when the sun is lower in the sky and shadows add extra interest and color to the landscape. If you visit during the summer, milder temperatures during those hours of the day will also make your walk a lot more pleasant.

The Door Trail cover about three-quarters of a mile round-trip, and much of it follows an accessible boardwalk. The trail's name is taken from a break in the Badlands Wall; the "Door" offers an interesting view of the terrain beyond the Wall.

The Window Trail is even shorter—about a quarter-mile round trip--and the name has a similar history. This natural window in the "Wall" of the Badlands offers a scenic glimpse of an intricately eroded canyon in both the near view and the far horizon.

If these short hikes have whetted your interest in some longer excursions on foot, the Badlands Visitor Guide has information on additional hikes, and the park website has details to help plan a visit.