Hiking The Saddle Pass Trail In Badlands National Park
Saddle Pass trail is a 0.7 mile round trip (or 1/4 mile I’ve seen both listed) trail located in Badlands National Park in South Dakota. This trail may be one of the shortest hikes in the park, but it’s also the steepest.
The trail is approximately 2 miles West of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center off Badlands Loop Road. No pets are allowed on this trail.
After climbing more than 200 feet straight up you will reach a scenic bluff atop the Badland Wall. From the top of this butte, you will get a good view into Saddle Pass and the White River Valley. You will also be surrounded by spectacular views of classic Badlands scenery in almost every direction you look.
The trail ends where it connects with the Castle and Medicine Root Loop trails.
From the parking lot, cross the bridge and follow the path toward the Badland Wall.
DO NOT make the mistake we made.
What you are looking for is a blue post marking the trail to Saddle Pass. It is going to be on the path farther off to your right. I knew this was a steep trail and we saw this path in front of us going straight up and thought that was the trail.
Apparently this happens quite often.
I posted a pic of Jamey above climbing up the wrong trail. He made it 3/4 of the way up before figuring out this wasn’t Saddle Pass trail.
I only made it a quarter of the way up, because I chickened out. I don’t do well with heights and this hill was extremely steep and scary. I scooted down on my rear most of the way back. I was not a fan of this hill.
If heights don’t scare you you’ll love this path.
Badlands National Park has an open hike policy which means you do not have to only hike on established trails. You are free to explore and hike off-trail as much as you want.
Now let’s discuss the actual trail.
This rugged trail is still steep and follows an uneven gully of dirt and loose gravel. I can only imagine the muddy, hazardous disaster it must be during or after a rainstorm. Once you get on the actually trail it’s easy to follow. Loose gravel and slippery rocks make the climb more difficult though so watch your footing.
Once you reach the top you will enter Saddle Pass. From here you are surrounded by incredible views of the classic landscape Badlands National Park is known for. The views from here go on for miles.
There are also many rocks to climb up in this area for better views and a little more adventure. We scrambled to the top of one of the shorter ones, had some snacks and just relaxed soaking in everything around us.
Once you are done taking in the views just head back the way you came to return to the trailhead.
Be careful on your descent though. It’s very easy to slip on all that loose gravel and some parts are straight down. I’ll admit I slid down on my butt multiple times to avoid falling. I’m a bit of a klutz.
You may also chose to continue your hike by taking the Medicine Root Loop or Castle trails. You could also just spend a lot of time climbing rocks and exploring the area right where Saddle Pass trail ends. There’s a lot of real estate out there to discover. We probably spent twenty minutes playing in the area.
This hike didn’t quite start out like we planned, but it was a fun little adventure.
Saddle Pass Trail requires a bit more physical effort to complete, but it’s completely worth it. The climb is challenging, but the reward once you reach the top is worth it. Take your time, be careful and you’ll have a grand time.