The Badlands national park backcountry is like no other hiking experience on earth. The rugged peaks, colorful, clay mounds and green prairie grass combine to stimulate the senses of any hiker able to get off the beaten path. There are many trails just off the scenic byway, but getting into the interior is where the secrets of the badlands come alive.
Like any other backcountry trip the most important thing is preparation and planning. The best place to start planning is the Ben Reifel visitor center. Here you can purchase topographical maps of the area and consult with a ranger. There are no designated trails in the Badlands backcountry so a GPS is highly recommended.
Water is the main concern for anyone planning to overnight in the Badlands. The desert-like landscape is almost completely void of the resource. If, however, water is found, it is likely non-potable and filled with much sediment. Filtering and boiling is possible if you have the right equipment. It is recommended to carry all of the water you will need for your trip.
Entering and exiting the backcountry is easiest from one of the many parking areas in the Badlands. It is important to ask a ranger which parking areas are designated for leaving a car overnight. This will eliminate the chance of a ticket or towing while hiking. There are a couple of places to register for a backcountry permit but it is not required. Registration can be found at the Ben Reifel visitor center and at the Sage Creek wilderness area.
While in the backcountry, the same rules and regulations of many national parks apply. You may not build a fire and you must camp out of site of any road or path. There are no designated camping areas, but it is recommended to camp on grass, as it will recover quickly. “Leave no trace” is the best rule to follow while hiking and camping in the Badlands.
If properly planned, a backpacking trip into the Badlands of South Dakota will be an unforgettable experience.
For more information including fees, maps, contact numbers, and season dates visit www.nps.gov/badl/index.htm.