Why now is the time to hike the Badlands Hilltops, also known as the Grasslands? Because summer is in full swing but it won’t last. If you’re like us, you’ve got an eye on the calendar so you know there’s not much time left to complete your summer bucket list the things you said you would do this summer. So, a hot weather hike is definitely on the list of things to do.
Summer hot weather hikes are an equal balance of challenge and reward.
Stay on top
On this July day, we got done with our promotional work early in the afternoon. (We’re working on a promotional project called “Brown Signs Tour.” More about that later.)
That left time for a hike in the late afternoon. The temp was about 85 in town and climbing. Out in the North Dakota Badlands and National Grasslands, it is even hotter. In the 90’s. That’s good weather for a cool swimming pool or an air-conditioned building. But what fun is that?
If you’re prepared, even hot temps are good temps for the right kind of hike. A hilltop hike.
We chose a public area that surrounds what used to be Summit Trail. The trail is closed – too many slides, slumps and erosion washed away much of the trail. Some of the trail markers or posts still remain. So, if you know the general direction of the trail, or if you spot another marker post across the way, you can make your own trail across the top of the Badlands, through the Grasslands.
Some of the markers we spotted took us out and around knobs, rises or hills that we could shortcut. Long stretches of the ridge had no markers at all. In some places, we could see where the original trail and its markers had washed down to the bottom. Most of the time, we followed a cow path.
The path eased down a hillside past large areas of mid-summer flowers. We were drawn to stop at each patch of purple bergamot. We weren’t sure what the plant was until we got home and then looked it up. https://gf.nd.gov/sites/default/files/publications/prairie_wildflowers_grasses.pdf
Someday we’ll plant our own and try making a tea from them. Have you tried a tea from purple bergamot? Plains Indians made tea from these plants to treat intestinal ailments and skin eruptions. The leaves are used to scent closets, drawers, pillows, and are used in the popular Earl Gray tea.
Look for shade
The day got hotter. Very hot
We knew up ahead we would find shade. The best shady cooldown areas were not just shady but also on the rim of a steep and wide valley. That allowed a northeast wind to reach and comfort us.
After a cooling drink of water in the shade, we headed deeper into the Grasslands on top of the North Dakota Badlands, staying on the ridge, on the summit. I guess that’s why it used to be called Summit Trail.
Take it easy
It’s important not to overextend yourself. That’s why we took a frequent cool down breaks until we reached our favorite spot on the hike – a narrow pass between two hills. It’s probably no more than 10 feet across, but the steep drop on either side is 80 to 120 feet down. It’s a miniature “Devils Pass” which is in the neighborhood, but a long hike away. We’ll return to Devils Pass another day.
The deep valleys of the Badlands are hotter than anywhere else. The reflective surfaces of the sandstone and mudstone are like a radiant oven, first absorbing the heat and then reflecting it back. Double the heat. Wind does not easily reach the bottom of valleys.
Here on the barren pass, the rock surface the heat made an obvious 5 or 10-degree jump. The breeze made it tolerable. We headed back to the trees where the shade could cool us down.
In all, we stopped at each of the three shaded rest stops, but the best was the one facing the drop off because that’s where the wind scampered across the prairie to reach us.
Leave a cooler with ice where you park as a reward
Once we returned to the jeep, we moved it to hide a bit of it under the tiny sliver of shade offered by the erected shelters at Summit Campground. Next time, we’ll bring a tarp to dangle from the shelter roof to provide a bit more shade.
It took nearly a half hour of “cool down” time to bring us back to normal temps. So, here’s another tip. Bring a cooler full of ice and cold drinks.
What did we learn? Prepare for summertime gratification. It’s worth it. Here are 7 tips:
- Plan your hot weather hike to stay on top
- Sunscreen and insect repellent. Both minimize nature’s impact on our frail human bodies.
- Water. If you’re exploring the Badlands or Grasslands for more than 10 minutes you need more water than you think you need.
- Light clothing – both light in color and weight. The sun is relentless, but you can reflect the rays with light-colored clothing. (One advantage is if a wood tick tries to feed off of you, you’ll see it easily on the light color). Lightweight clothing not only protects you from the sun but allows your skin to breathe and stay cool.
- Frequent shady rest stops – that’s hard to do in the depth of the Badlands canyons and valleys. In the grasslands, the region on top and above the Badlands you’ll find occasional shade.
- Don’t push it. There’s no reason to race. Think of it more as a stroll than a hike. Enjoy the flowers, the trees, the grass and especially the views.
- Have a recovery period after the hike.
If hot weather hiking is not your thing, keep this post bookmarked for fall when it’s cooler. Or you can read about Summit Trail when it’s cool.
In the meantime, stay posted for a story about a much cooler and wetter way to experience the Badlands. Just subscribe to get a notice in your inbox with a new article is posted.
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