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Castle Trail Professional Review and Guide
"A prairie hike flanking the beautiful formations along the Badlands Wall."
--Bert & Jane Gildart, Hiking South Dakota's Black Hills Country (Falcon Guides).
Great hike!! The badlands are so unique and beautiful that it is hard to imagine a bad hike. I have never been on a hike with such unique landscapes, wild flowers, and interminent streams. It was great! However, the Badlands are pretty much God's mud sculptures... so be prepared to get muddy if it is close to any type of precipitation event, or get really dusty in the heart of the dry season. Regardless... be prepared to get dirtier on this easy hike than you would on a typical hike.
An obvious loop hike could be made by starting at the Saddle Pass trail and then following Castle trail to the Old Northeast Road then Medicine Root back to Saddle Pass. But be forewarned -- coming back down Saddle Pass is not for novices, and with my bad knees and touch of vertigo I knew I could get up it but would never be able to get down. So I made effectively the same loop but with the added stretch of the Castle trail from its eastern start point as the lollipop stick. Then rather than doubling back on that stretch, I made it into a figure-eight loop instead by coming back on the Old Northeast Road and finishing up on a brief stretch of highway 240 to the parking area. This is an ideal six or so miles -- you feel like you travel deep into and back out of this amazing other-worldly landscape in just a few hour's time. With very little in the way of steepness I'd rate it easy to moderate.
This trail is readily marked with brown signs. The July day I traveled the trail was a rare cool day. I would recommend starting early in the morning and taking extra water. We scampered up some of the buttes and took in some very beautiful panoramic views. After descending down from the summit of one of the buttes we saw a bighorn sheep just thirty feet from where we were standing five minutes earlier. This is the must do trail of the park.
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