The Great American Road Trip: The Badlands – Castle Trail
The Castle Trail is the longest trail in the Badlands National Park, following a 10 mile round trip flat path that weaves through prairie grasslands, spires, buttes, and sod tables. This was my favorite trail in the Badlands. I loved finding myself in the middle of the grassy plains, with the wind whipping our clothes and rustling through the tall grass. Note of caution: listen for and respect rattlesnakes! This is their domain. We nervously joked about who was going to have to be carried out and sang the weirdest mix of songs. Mainly 90s and early 2000s throwbacks and Christmas songs. Pretty much whichever songs we knew all the words to.
A little while later, the grass would disappear and we found ourselves meandering through sod canyons, jumping across deep cracks in the soil and scrambling up and down spires and buttes. This land feels alien-like and also very much like a dinosaur could come around a corner at any point and you wouldn’t be the least surprised.
To get to the trailhead: The trail can be accessed from its east or west end points, both of which connect to Badlands Loop Road. One start point is across the street from the Notch Trail parking lot. Take Badlands Loop Road (Route 240) two miles east of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to a large pullout on the east side of the road for Door, Window, and Notch Trails. The Castle Trail begins from across the street of the south end of the lot.
Consider tacking on the Fossil Exhibit Loop Trail to your hike. Interpretive signs discuss the area’s prehistoric inhabitants, and a few actual fossils are on display.