Editor October 6, 2009 1

Backpacking the Badlands

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I decided to backpack in the Badlands National Park. There are no trails in the Wilderness Areas, and there’s no water. But my hike in and around the Sage Creek Wilderness Area was well worth it.

I started my research by downloading this GPS Trail Route from Trimble Outdoors. Since I didn’t have a GPS unit, I printed out the way points, packed my map, and got my compass out. The route seemed easy enough. What I didn’t expect was the 50 mph wind gust. It was windy.

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. I headed right towards Deer Haven. You can’t miss it. I ducked under a Cattle Fence and I was off to climb up and over Deer Haven.


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. After a few miles into the creek bed, I noticed I had lost my GPS guide. I had no idea where to get out of the creek bed. Followed some amazing Buffalo hoof prints and saw some spectacular scenery. My hike was cut short. But I did manage to get some awesome backpacking in. I camped at Deer Haven for the night, and it was the best decision I made. What a wonderful place to camp. NO FIRES ALLOWED.

You can see my photos of my Badlands Hike on “Our Gallery“.

After battling the winds for most of the day, the night became calm. Full Moon and not a cloud in the sky. You can download this route from Trimble and follow it on a GPS.

The Badlands climate is variable and unpredictable with temperatures ranging from -40 F to 116 F. The summers are hot and dry with occasional violent thunderstorms. Winters are typically cold with 12 to 24 inches of total snowfall. Extremely high winds are common year-round. Sudden and dramatic weather changes are common. Dress in layers. Hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, and adequate water are recommended for hiking.

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.

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