Wall, South Dakota

Backpack to Deer Haven in Badlands NP

7 Miles Total - Out-and-Back Trail

Originally added by Ashley Stimpson

Take a lonely, safari-like walk through the park to a secluded juniper stand. Marvel at the impossibly beautiful landscape from your sage-scented campsite. Wake to coyotes singing and red rocks gleaming.

The Badlands defy description. The alien landscape, the unfamiliar silence, the insistence of wildlife, the brilliant night sky--these things inspire a profundity almost impossible to convey. Seeing the Badlands is a visceral experience, being in them is something else entirely. 

Yes, you can get a good sense of the park, it's geography and animal denizens, by driving the scenic rim road. But if you're interested in more than just a passing glimpse, there's no better way to get to know this iconic wonderland than to get out in it. 

First, some advice: 

You will find few resources online when it comes to planning a Badlands backpacking trip. That's because, while camping is allowed just about anywhere in the park, you will need to carry in your own water. One person needs about a gallon a day, and more in the summer. Water is heavy. Water is important. Take these things into careful consideration.

Beyond a handful of short walking trails, there are no designated hiking or backpacking trails in the park. If you choose to set out into the Badlands, you will need to follow game trails and other, um, evidence, of animals.  

There are rattlesnakes here. They are the least aggressive and least poisonous species of rattlesnake, but they are a factor. 

The earth in the Badlands is uneven, loose, crumbling, and unreliable. You must wear supportive boots and watch where you step. The best piece of advice I heard was "don't climb up anything you wouldn't be willing to fall back down." 

Study a topographical map and consult it often. Speak with a ranger before you set out. It is easy to get lost or disoriented in the Badlands.  

Now for the good stuff:

Backpacking through Badlands National Park will afford you the opportunity to interact with the park's wildlife (bighorn sheep, antelope, bison, coyotes, badgers, prairie dogs, etc. etc.) and experience other-worldly landscapes in a highly secluded setting. 

Leave from the Conata Picnic Area and follow the (well-trod) game trail heading west. You will stay south of multiple buttes for about 2.5-3 miles. Approximately 3 miles into the hike, you will go around a butte and the landscape will open up to your north. You will see a large stand of juniper trees (you will not miss all the green amongst all the brown) set high up on the side of a hill; this is Deer Haven. 

Another easily-found game trail will carry you up into Deer Haven, or you can choose your own scramble. Once mid-way into the area, you'll begin to see flat, grassy ground, perfect for pitching a tent. Keep in mind that Fires Are Prohibited. 

Deer Haven is the perfect basecamp from which to explore the park for a few days, or a one-night destination to check the Badlands off your bucket list. Either way, you will not forget, regret, or mind repeating this one. 

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