Door Trail

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Trip Date: Saturday, September 22nd, 2018
Last Updated: Thursday, October 11th, 2018
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★★★(5/5)
Overall Difficulty Easy
Navigation Difficulty     Medium
Distance 0.75 miles roundtrip
Time 30 minutes
Terrain Mostly flat
Best Seasons Spring, Fall
Family Friendly Yes
Dog Friendly No
Accessible No

Highlights

Hike Walkthrough

Of the three trails that start from this parking area, the Door Trail is my favorite. Not only is the scenery absolutely fantastic, you'll also have the chance to travel off-trail for a short portion, choosing your own route across the badlands to the final viewpoint. Although the trail is usually pretty crowded, there is so much to look at in every direction that the crowds won't ruin your experience.

From the northernmost end of the parking lot, the trail starts as an accessible boardwalk, leading to a viewpoint with a bench. From here, descend the stairs to the dusty, dry ground and begin your trek across the top of the badlands to the final viewpoint. Unlike other hikes you might have done in the past, there is no clear-cut path to follow beneath your feet since there isn't any vegetation and the highly erodible surface means rain instantly erases any trace of human footsteps. Instead, you must scan across the brown surface for bright yellow poles numbered in succession to proceed in the correct direction. Almost as soon as you start this adventure, you'll be treated to the jagged beauty and layers of the badlands formations extending in all directions, see the picture below.

Layers upon layers of rock compose the cool geology of the badlands

Layers upon layers of rock compose the cool geology of the badlands

While there is no major uphill or downhill on this trail, the ruggedness of the rock means you'll have to take a few steps up and down or perhaps take a longer detour around a large rock. As long as you follow the numbered poles, you'll reach the end. I will admit, I completely missed one number myself, but you can easily tell the general direction of where you're supposed to go if you look for people ahead of you in the distance. As you hike deeper into the badlands, you'll discover the massive scale of these formations once you are able to see down into the canyons, as pictured below.
As you stand on top of a badlands formation, you can see down into the water-carved canyons below

As you stand on top of a badlands formation, you can see down into the water-carved canyons below

Eventually, you'll reach the end (you can't really go much further since there's a drop-off) and can enjoy the spectacular view pictured below. As you stare at the vast desert landscape around you, think about how unique these formations are and how you drove through an environment of lush green grass and farm fields before reaching this barren place. As someone who grew up in the desert of Arizona, I found it interesting that such a place existed this far north and somewhere it actually rains.
The outstanding desert-like badlands formation at the end of the Door Trail

The outstanding desert-like badlands formation at the end of the Door Trail

Simply turn around and follow the poles in reverse order to return to the parking area. On the way back, you'll be treated to the immense wall jutting up from the mostly flat surface extending in front of you, as pictured below. Interestingly, just on the other side of that wall is the parking lot!
Looking back at the fortress-like wall of badlands formation

Looking back at the fortress-like wall of badlands formation

I hope you enjoy this adventure to some of the best and most easily reached scenery in the entire national park! Let me know what you think in the comments section below, and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter and Instagram!

Important Information

Pets are prohibited on all hiking trails in Badlands National Park. This is a really fun trail for families since the rugged, trail-less portion allows for controlled exploration and some adventurous "climbing" (mostly for the smallest children). While you can certainly hike here in all four seasons, the trail is unmaintained in winter and may be icy or covered in snow -- in addition to the brutally cold temperatures you'll have to endure. Summers are hot and dry with average daytime highs in the 90s, exacerbated by the lack of shade anywhere in the park; I wouldn't recommend visiting in the summer. Be prepared with extra water and sun protection, no matter which season you hike. This is one of the most popular areas of the entire park, as evidenced by the amount of parking spaces here, so expect to share the trail with crowds of people.

Directions

From Interstate 90, take exit 131 for South Dakota Highway 240 (you'll see a brown sign for Badlands National Park and the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site Visitor Center). Head south and continue to the park entrance station. Pay your fee, continue straight, then turn left into the parking area, labeled with a brown sign for the Door/Window viewpoints.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

Entrance to the park requires paying the $20 vehicle entrance fee ($25 starting January 2019), except on designated fee free days. Annual passes for Badlands National Park are also available at $40 ($50 starting January 2019). Interagency annual passes are available for $80 with discounts for seniors, military, and those with disabilities. Visit the Badlands National Park webpage about fees for more detailed information. There are pit toilets available in the center of this large parking lot.

External Links

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