Best Backpacking Adventures, Blog, South Dakota Trails

EXPLORING THE BADLANDS

Exploring the Badlands National Park is like visiting another planet. It’s vast, remote, and wild. But what makes it really amazing is the pinnacle like mounds that do NOT look like anything you will ever see.  The Badlands National Park is over 200,000 acres and has a ton of wildlife.  Bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets all roam the prairie.

When we first got there, it was really windy. In fact winds were gusting to about 60 mph, so they had closed the campground. YIKES! After talking to one of the Rangers, he agreed to give us a discount on one of the little cabins in the campground so we could wait out the winds. The cabins were cozy and super comfortable. We were really grateful for the hospitality the Ranger showed us. 

The next day we were out to explore the Badlands. We had downloaded a GPS route and were eager to see if we could keep up with the route.

The Route started at the Conata Picnic Area. There is a sign at the very end of the picnic area. The Trail starts out like a normal trail for about 200 yards and then disappears. You are on your own after that. You follow Southwest for about 2 miles then turn Northwest towards a large open grassy field. Deer Haven is way in the background. We headed right towards Deer Haven. You can’t miss it. We ducked under a Cattle Fence and I was off to climb up and over Deer Haven. If you want to really see the park, climb up to to Deer Haven and camp under the Full Moon. It’s amazing.

Climbing Deer Haven is pretty simple. Follow Deer Trails. They almost look like a regular trail, and they won’t let you down. They will take you right up to the top exactly where you need to start your decent. From there, it’s all creek bed. Followed some amazing Buffalo hoof prints and saw some spectacular scenery.

The park’s main visitor center, the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, is open daily all year, except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. During the summer months, ranger-led programs are offered throughout the day. Check at the visitor center for more information on these programs.

This is a spectacular place if you want to Boondock with your RV also. In fact, probably one of the more peaceful and beautiful places we’ve seen for an ultimate place to park your RV and just gaze out into the Badlands. It’s  located about 5 miles south of Wall, just before the entrance to Badlands National Park.

The Ben Reifel Visitor Center is located at Cedar Pass on the Badlands Loop Road (Hwy 240), 9 miles South of I-90, exit 131 Phone (605) 455-2878

BEST TIME TO HIKE

May and September. It can be quite warm in the Summer, and with little to no water, cool weather is a better alternative. Summer months can see temps in the 100’s.

DISTANCE

11 Miles Loop Hike

DIFFICULTY: The badlands can get quite confusing in the backcountry. Often the Butte’s look all the same and in some cases you may find yourself in a creek (or wash) that run’s deep enough where you are below the horizon. There are NO trail markers or even Carin’s.

PERMITS: Are NOT required to camp in the backcountry. However it is wise to fill out the trail registry before you camp in the backcountry. Bison don’t play.

WATER: There is little to no water in the Badlands backcountry. Spring can bring in some pretty big storms and heavy rains. Put your pot out and collect some rain water because that will be about all the water you will see.

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In 2003 I completed a Thru-Hike on the Appalachian Trail. Since then I have over 12,000 miles underfoot and 20 years of backpacking, and camping experience. Certifications include WFA, WFR, LNT Trainer, and belong to AORE. Have been guiding backpacking trips for over 10 years. The outdoors has taught me one thing. Trusting the Trail! really does provide everything a person needs.

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