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The Great American Road Trip: The Badlands – Castle Trail

Castle Trail

 

Badlands 38

 

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.

xo Alina

 

Castle Trail

 

Castle Trail

 

Castle Trail

 

Castle Trail

Related posts
The Great American Road Trip: The Badlands – Notch Trail
March 28, 2016
The Great American Road Trip: Guide to The Badlands National Park
March 24, 2016
Travel

The Great American Road Trip: The Badlands – Notch Trail

Notch Trail

 

Notch Trail

 

Notch Trail

 

This hike is short and sweet, up a canyon to an overlook with expansive views over the White River Valley and The Great Plains. The hike is 1.5 miles round trip with 125 feet of elevation gain and the dirt path is marked by reflective poles. Albeit short, this trail offers plenty of adventure with a steep wooden ladder and a portion of the trail tracing a cliff’s edge.

This was a great mini hike and we took our time exploring off the trail nooks and crannies. I must say that I hated the ladder part. I get very nervous about heights when it’s up to me to hold myself to the ledge. Yikes! The ladder is also made of steel wires and wooden logs which get very very hot in the midday sun. But you suck it up, go one rung at a time and the view at the top is always worth it!

*Avoid hiking this trail during or after heavy rainfall. The Badlands has extremely dry and dusty soil which turns into slippery mud during storms.

To get to the trailhead: 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 Notch Trail begins from the south end of the lot.

Trailhead address: Badlands Loop Road (SD 240), Badlands National Park, Interior, SD57750

Trailhead coordinates: 43.760119, -101.928251 (43° 45′ 36.42″N 101° 55′ 41.70″W)

xo Alina

 

Notch Trail

 

Notch Trail

 

Notch Trail

 

Notch Trail

 

Notch Trail

 

Notch Trail

 

Notch Trail

 

Related posts
The Great American Road Trip: The Badlands – Castle Trail
April 1, 2016
The Great American Road Trip: Guide to The Badlands National Park
March 24, 2016
Travel

The Great American Road Trip: Guide to The Badlands National Park

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

 

The Badlands stole my heart. It did then and it does now. The only way to describe it is otherworldy. It is a mesmerizing mix of vast grasslands, peppered with playful prairie dogs (But don’t touch! They carry the plague. Oddly enough you can feed them here) and harsh terracotta colored buttes, spires, sod tables and canyons. And don’t get me started on the night sky. It quite literally stopped me in my tracks on the way to the bathroom at 2 am and took my breath away. Never have I seen a sky so blanketed with stars and the milky way so big and bright. It feels like you could reach out and touch it.

It is important to note that this is a harsh habitat, with the relentless sun baking you from the time you wake up in your tent at 6 am to the time the sun goes down at night. There are no trees for shade. It will exhaust you and fry you. I recommend getting an early start (though not hard since the sun wakes you up very early) and heading off for your morning hike. Seek shelter from the midday sun in the visitor center or grab lunch in the teensy town of Wall. Wall Drug Store is an attraction in it’s own with a rather sweet entrepreneurial history. We even drove into Rapid City, SD one day for a couple hours to avoid sunburn and heat exhaustion. When the midday sun breaks, you can head out for an afternoon hike!

Words of caution: Beware of Rattle Snakes. Keep a safe distance with all wildlife, but take extra precaution with these guys. They hide out in the tall grasses, under rocks, and in shaded crevices. Watch your footing and handholds.  In addition to wildlife, the Badlands are known for unpredictable weather and afternoon thunderstorms and hail. The terrain is made of extremely parched dirt, clay and ash that will turn to thick muddy sludge in the rain, making footing and trails hazerdous. The open plains also leave you vulnerable to lightening.

We got caught in a supercell storm one evening with 70 mph winds, torrential rain and seemingly endless lightening. It snapped our tent poles and ripped a giant hole in the tent, flooding our gear. Rookie mistake!

Home base: We stayed at Sage Creek Primitive Campground within the park. There’s no need for reservations and there are no designated camp spots. It’s essentially a giant circular plot with pit toilets. First come, first serve, but there is plenty of space and rarely fills up. And it’s free! I loved this little slice of heaven. We laid out on our blanket every evening, listening to the crickets and prairie dogs and watching the land transform before us in the penultimate light. The warm breeze, the smell of sweet grass, the rosy sky, the howling wolves. The whole land breathes a sigh of relief.

Getting there: Located along Interstate 90, you could easily miss this natural beauty tucked into the grasslands of The Great Plains.

Park Headquarters: 25216 Ben Reifel Road, Interior, SD 57750.
Northeast Entrance (I-90, Exit 131): 21020 SD Hwy 240, Interior, SD 57750.
Pinnacles Entrance (I-90, Exit 110): 24240 Hwy 240, Wall, SD 57790.
Interior Entrance: 20640 SD Hwy 377, Interior, SD 57750.

You can find the official Badlands Visitor Guide here.

Keep a look out for two Badlands hike reviews next week. Keep adventuring!

xo Alina

 

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

 

Related posts
The Great American Road Trip: The Badlands – Castle Trail
April 1, 2016
The Great American Road Trip: The Badlands – Notch Trail
March 28, 2016