Plan a hike — but first, how’s the weather?
Is it a warm day?
- Take extra water. The dry humidity, the hot temps and the physical exertion require more water than you usually drink. Fanny packs (Wait! What? Are fanny packs still a thing? That’s so 80s!) and waist packs are good for carrying extra water. So are hiking vest pockets.
(A good “investment?” Will they hike up the price?)
- Cover your skin, but dress lightly. You will work up a sweat, so wear light clothes and a broad-brimmed hat. Beautiful Badlands caps do the job!
- You will not find a lot of shade trees, so be mindful of shady hillsides, or rock shadows where you can rest often. (No, that shady character at the bus station will not be suitable.)
- Drink water. Nibble on a snack bar.
Is it a cool day?
- Take extra water. You may not feel thirsty, but your muscles need the hydration, even if you think you are staying cool.
- Dress in layers. Starting out, you may feel cool, but as you work at climbing, and descending slopes, you will warm up quickly. (Even if your mom says you’re the coolest kid in the Badlands.)
- Take a break every 20 minutes. Stop and see what is around you. The more you rest, the longer you can hike with no ill effects. Drink water. Nibble on a snack bar. (Wait a minute. Is that the same snack bar I nibbled on above?)
Weather watch when you plan a hike
The National Weather Service or NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has two excellent tools beyond the daily forecast. They are the Hourly Weather Forecast and the National Digital Forecast. Both are clickable for more precise information. (Who do you think I am? The hippy dippy weatherman?)
To get to them, go to your local National Weather Service website, navigate the map to the area of the Badlands where you will hike. Click on that approximate point and in the lower left, you will find both tools.
Personally, I don’t like hiking when it’s windy. Sure on the level ground, prairie, a 10mph wind isn’t much, but channeled through the wind tunnels of the badlands, wind gets a lot faster and makes it difficult to pass over, around or through some areas. (No sailor would want to get blown down.)
Besides, it just plain wears me out when I’m fighting the wind in addition to maintaining my footing on the path. Some ridges and narrow points can be an opportunity to get blown off the trail.
You might think a layer of clouds protects you from the sun, but you aren’t. The heavy doses of sun rays filters through and you can still be burned.
Look for building puffy clouds (cumulus) because they can tell you if rain or a storm is headed your way (and that means it’s time to stop horsing around.)
Yeah, I know. You think you are tougher, stronger, more fit than the average Yogi Bear.
You are better off to underestimate your fitness than to find out later that you aren’t in as good of shape as you think. Pay attention to your heart rate, your breathing and your legs.
Lungs and heart
Don’t be afraid to slow down. (You’re not running the Maah Daah Hey are you?) It’s good to absorb the moment, and rest your heart and lungs.
Primarily, how is your breathing? Do you run out of breath easily? Pace yourself on the trails to prevent running short of breath. You are on this hike in the Badlands for the scenery, so stop and look around when you feel like you are breathing more heavily. Is your heart beating fast? If it is, make sure it’s love and not over-activity.
You may be overworking yourself. So, slow down.
Of course there’s such a thing as too slow, especially if your hiking partner leaves you behind. You are hiking with a partner, aren’t you?
Your legs are going to get a work out, especially your thighs and your ankles.
Your thigh muscles, (quadriceps) are among the largest muscles in your body, and will require a fair amount of fuel (carbohydrates) to hike uneven terrain. It can be a good idea to stretch that muscle before you hike, and along the way. Lift and grab your ankle behind your butt while standing. Do not pull because you could rip a tendon. But by folding your leg back, you will allow that muscle to stretch for the workout it’s getting. Caution: Do not try folding your leg forward.
Ankles. Hiking in the Badlands is much different than walking around town or on maintained paths. Every step you take will require stabilization. Your ankles will do most of the work of keeping your footing. Good ankle high boot like these (not sandals, not tennis shoes) will help your ankles do their job.
Items to take with when you plan a hike
A day pack or waist pack are essential. A good substitute is a hiking vest with big deep pockets to carry things like this:
- snack bars
- first aid kit (to pull cactus thorns, cover scrapes, treat bee stings)
- fully charged cell phone for possible emergency use (don’t rely on your phone….very little coverage, mostly on hilltops)
Time to allow
Sure. You can do 3 or 4 mph walking around town. But out here, plan a hike speed to be about 1 or 1.5 mph. So, a 3-mile destination turns in to a 6-hour round trip. You will want to allow more than 6 hours to play it safe.
Back time from when you want to return to your starting point. If you want to be back 4 hours from now, limit your hike to two miles out and two miles back.
Before you go
Take time to plan a hike. That’s part of the fun, but it’s easy to get so excited you forget basics such as these.
Hiking alone is the kind of thing that movies and books are about. They’re tense, scary and a tad bit unpleasant for the solo hiker. If you want to be the subject of a movie, find another way to do it.
Every year people think they are okay going of by themselves. That’s not always true. If you’re dying to go hiking in the badlands, don’t do it literally..
Going with someone is not just a social exercise, but safety, also. By July 2021, at least a half dozen solo hikers were in the news for dying on the trail.
- Burning Coal Vein
- Buck Hill (South Unit)
- Wind Canyon (South Unit)
- East Entrance (South Unit)
- Paved Boicourt Trail (South Unit) Just the first quarter mile. After that it’s tough.
- Elkhorn Ranch
- Summit Overlook (not summit trail)
- Nature Trail (North Unit)
- Ridgeline Trail (South Unit)
- Paddock Trail (South Unit)
- Badlands Spur (South Unit)
- Bennett Creek
- Long X
- Cannonball Concretion (North Unit)
- Maah Daah Hey (140 miles from Amidon to Watford City)
- Boicourt Trail Extension Beyond Paved Trail (South Unit)
- Peck Hill (South Unit)
- Scoria Point (South Unit)
- Summit Trail (not Summit Overlook)
- Caprock Coulee (North Unit)
- Achenbach (North Unit)
- Little Missouri State Park
Frequently Ask Questions
Where can I find a map of trails to plan a hike in the Badlands?
The US Forest Service map is the most complete map, listing public and private land, roads and trails. You can get it at the visitor centers at the north and south units of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Western Edge Bookstore in Medora, the Long X Visitor Center in Watford City or the Forest Service offices in Dickinson, Watford City or Bismarck
Where is an easy-to-find hiking trail?
The Long X Trail runs along the southside of the Little Missouri River across from the Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit. Turn west at the north end of the Long X Trail Bridge on Highway 85.
Can you plan a hike in North Dakota in the winter?
Some days, yes. But if the temperature is above zero, or above freezing and it is not windy, hiking is still possible. The key word to stay warm is “LAYERS.” You must layer up with at least undergarments, warm heavy thick shirt, a hooded sweatshirt and coat. Two layers of socks will help keep your feet warm. Mittens are better than gloves