Castle Trail - Medicine Root Lollipop Loop, Castle Trail - West Trailhead, Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Castle Trail - Medicine Root Lollipop Loop - 8.0 miles

Castle Trail - West Trailhead

Open prairie and badland formations on the Medicine Root Trail

Open prairie and badland formations on the Medicine Root Trail

Round-Trip Length: 8.0 miles
Start-End Elevation: 2,665' - 2,665' (2,685' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +20' net elevation gain (+350' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Castle Trail - Medicine Root Lollipop Loop - 8.0 Miles Round-Trip

The Castle Trail joins the Medicine Root Trail to form an 8 mile lollipop loop through vast prairie and spectacular formations along the Badland Wall.

Visitors will enjoy weaving through spires, sod tables and fins on the Castle Trail before heading north into open grasslands dotted with buttes, box elder, cottonwood and cactus on The Medicine Root Trail.

While the trail itself not especially challenging, it's fully exposed and hikers should plan for variable conditions throughout the day. Before setting out, note the numbered metal posts marking the trail, which provide invaluable guidance in this complex landscape.

Hikers will have the option of beginning this route from the Castle Trail's east or west terminus. The following description begins from the west trailhead, as this is a slightly longer and more interesting route:

The trail sets out over rolling mud hills for .2 miles, then passes through a small notch leading to open prairie against the north edge of the Badland Wall.

The next mile is highlighted by elaborately carved buttes, sod tables, washes and gullies between the trail and Badland Wall. This particularly scenic area offers good perspective on the Park's powerful erosive forces, and resulting topographic variations. Sod Tables are especially well-illustrated here.

The Castle Trail bends southeast and edges into the Badland Wall to the Medicine Root Trail - Saddle Pass Trail junction (2.0 miles :2,635'). Bear left on the Medicine Root Trail to begin the loop.

The Medicine Root Trail veers northeast through what is now markedly different terrain. Rolling hills, short buttes, sod tables and shallow gullies shape this more subtle landscape.

Dawn and dusk hikers may come across some of the area's diverse wildlife, including skunk, prairie dogs, badgers, snakes and various rodents. Deer and antelope are occasionally seen in these rich grasslands.

The trail moves easily to its second junction with the Castle Trail (4.1 miles : 2,635'), which you'll follow to continue the loop and return to the trailhead.

The next 1.9 miles skirt the north edge of the Badland Wall amid striated spires, pinnacles and fins. After nearly 6 miles you'll return to the Medicine Root - Saddle Pass Trail junction.

Keep straight and retrace your steps on the Castle Trail two miles back to the trailhead. Before doing so, consider a quick diversion on the Saddle Pass Trail to the top of the pass itself.

Excellent views of the lower plains can be had from this high vantage, and bighorn sheep are sometimes seen in this area.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N43 46.378 W102 00.174 — 0.0 Miles: Castle Trailhead West

Worth Noting

  • Badland formations are loosely-melded compositions of soil, clay and ash. These soft sediments are highly unstable and susceptible to erosion, especially when wet. Avoid climbing anything during or after rainstorms. Descend from all high points when threatening clouds.

  • Stretching nearly 60 miles east to west, The Badland Wall we see today was carved over the past 500,000 years by three river systems and millennia of rain, wind and exposure.

  • Predating and setting the stage for such a rapid occurrence, The White River eroded a scarp - a long steep slope or cliff at the edge of a plateau or ridge - in the lower plains south of the Park. Subsequent storms over the next 5 million years eroded away at this 'Wall-in-the-making', causing its crest to recede northward away from the river and toward the upper plains.

  • Erosion of the Badland Wall (and other Park formations) occurs at a rate of almost one inch per year, light-speed in geologic terms.

  • The Badlands were once home to Audubon Bighorn Sheep. This sub-specie of Bighorn Sheep disappeared from the area in the early 1900s. 22 Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep were introduced to the park in 1964, and have faired reasonably well since. Subsequent re-introduction efforts have taken root to bolster the original re-introduction project.

  • Rattlesnakes inhabit the area. Be aware of your hand and foot placements at all times.

  • It is illegal to disturb or remove any fossils or artifacts from the Park.

Directions to Trailhead

The Castle Trail - West Trailhead is located approximately 5 miles west of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center on Highway 240 (Badlands Loop Road). The trailhead is located on the east side of the road.

Contact Information

Badlands National Park
25216 Ben Reifel Road
P.O. Box 6
Interior, SD 57750

Park Headquarters

By Fax

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