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blue Badlands: Medicine Root/Castle/Saddle Pass Loop

  4.4 ( 19 )

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7.0 mile 11.2 kilometer loop


Ascent: 189' 58 m
Descent: -189' -58 m
High: 2,648' 807 m
Low: 2,588' 789 m


Avg Grade: 1% (1°)
Max Grade: 4% (2°)


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A scenic loop to see magnificent badlands formations, prairie and huge vistas.

ktboundary Thompson

Features Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife

National Park rules apply.


The route crosses a large portion of the park allowing views of the White River Valley, badlands formations, bison and solitude. The trail is fairly level and not to difficult to navigate.

Need to Know

Some portions of the trail cross badlands formations which make the trail hard to follow. Stop and take the time to make sure of your path. An entry fee to the National Park is required.


Begin at the Door and Window parking area and cross the street to start the trail. You immediately head into a wash and to the right do some small climbs up and down washes. Pass some badlands and marvel in their sculpting. Hike along dry stream beds and over open prairie. The trail heads south across the Old Northeast Road where you meet the Medicine Root Trail.

The Medicine Root Trail is a generally rolling trail connects with the Castle Trail near the Old Northeast Road and again at the intersection of the Castle and Saddle Pass Trail. Trail users are provided the opportunity to explore the mixed grass prairie while enjoying views of the Badlands in the distance. Watch for cactus and rattlesnakes. Continue on into the prairie and possible sightings of bison. This trail also turns to the south and passes along beds of rocks that were deposited by glacial stream.

A junction of the Medicine Root, Castle and Saddle Pass is encountered where you continue straight south on the Saddle Pass trail to the edge Badlands Wall and to an expansive view over the White River Valley. The park ground is visible from the overlook.

Loop backwards on the Saddle Pass Trail and turn right (east) down the Castle Trail. This portion of the trail has great views of close up badlands formations with draw and steep ravines. Parts of this section are difficult to follow as the trail disappears in the hard badlands dirt, so make sure to take the time to look ahead to find the right path through. Also, this section is rocky and uneven. The trail eventually head back to the Door and Window parking area backtracking on the initial section of the Castle Trail.

Flora & Fauna

Flowers in the spring, bison, rattlesnakes, prairie dogs, antelope and bighorn sheep.

History & Background

To the Lakota, this harsh and desolate landscape was known as "mako sica," meaning land bad." Early French trappers similarly described the area as bad lands to travel across." Today, geologists consider all the places in the world with similar topography and formation badlands.


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Feb 2, 2019
Emily Zych
Oct 20, 2018
Brady Schaner
7.8mi — 2h 35m
Oct 11, 2018
Greer Vogl
Sep 5, 2018
Sarah S
Fun trail that takes you across some of the plains in the Badlands and up close to some of the smaller formations.
Aug 4, 2018
Emily Jajcay
Aug 3, 2018
RJ Hahn
90 degrees, partly cloudy
Aug 3, 2018
Matt Teschke
Stopped for pics of bighorn sheep herd and mule deer or pronghorn doe 7mi
Jul 29, 2018
Marla Haas

Trail Ratings

  4.4 from 19 votes


  4.4 from 19 votes
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in South Dakota


61 Views Last Month
2,934 Since May 7, 2015
Intermediate Intermediate

A beautiful hike. Only took a half day to do it and the weather held up. The Medicine Root section is a little easier, as it is more prairie/grassland, whereas the Castle Trail section of the loop is more difficult and takes you over more rugged terrain. Keep an eye out for the colored posts to show you the way. There is an intersection where the Medicine Root Trail, Castle Trail, and Saddle Pass Trail all meet up; it is a great spot to stop and take a breather and enjoy the spectacular view. Oct 1, 2018

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