Castle Trail, Castle Trail - East Trailhead, Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Castle Trail - 10.8 miles

Castle Trail - East Trailhead

Vast prairie meets the Badland Wall on the Castle Trail

Vast prairie meets the Badland Wall on the Castle Trail

Round-Trip Length: 10.8 miles
Start-End Elevation: 2,645' - 2,665' (2,685' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +20' net elevation gain (+520' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Castle Trail - 10.8 Miles Round-Trip

The Castle Trail is the longest maintained trail in Badlands National Park, stretching 5.4 miles along the north edge of the Badland Wall. It weaves through a maze of spires, buttes, sod tables, and fins interspersed with open prairie.

While there are few difficult sections, the trail is fully exposed and hikers should anticipate a range of conditions throughout the day.

Before setting out, note the numbered metal posts marking the trail, which provide valuable guidance in this vast landscape. All established trails in the Badlands are marked by similar posts.

The trail can be accessed from its east or west terminals, both of which connect to Badlands Loop Road. The following description begins at the east trailhead and travels west:

The trail crosses open prairie into rugged gullies carved into badland formations (.4 miles). It reaches open space and crosses Old North Road (1.35 miles) to the Medicine Root Trail split (1.45 miles : 2,635').

Bear left on the Castle Trail, which moves easily along the north edge of the Badland Wall.

Topography intensifies through 2.75 miles leading to the Saddle Pass Trail and second Medicine Root Trail junction (3.35 miles : 2,633').

The trail stays close to the Badland Wall past this junction with terrific views of it and vast mixed-grass prairie to the north.

This last mile levels through intricately carved buttes, sod tables, washes and gullies with useful perspective on the powerful erosive forces that shape the Badlands.

The final .2 miles scale rolling mud hills that are not especially well marked - a little bit of intuition may be necessary to reach the Castle Trail's west terminus (2,665').

Before turning back, consider crossing The Badlands Loop Road and walking the nearby Fossil Exhibit Loop Trail. Interpretive signs discuss the area's prehistoric inhabitants, and a few actual fossils are on display.

On the return, consider using the Medicine Root Trail. Though slightly longer and less scenic, you may enjoy the variation, perspective and open space.

While badland formations appear solid, they are in fact loose compositions of soil, clay and ash. These formations are highly unstable and may crumble and collapse with little or no warning.

A seemingly easy climb may require a perilous descent. Do not climb anything during or after rainstorms. Descend from all high points when threatening clouds appear; storms move quickly and you do not want to be navigating a technical descent under such conditions.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N43 45.678 W101 55.680 — 0.0 Miles: Castle Trailhead - East

Worth Noting

  • The Badland Wall stretches nearly 60 miles east to west. It 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. Stay on designated trails and never place your hands or feet where you can't see them.

Rules and Regulations

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

Directions to Trailhead

The Castle Trail - East Trailhead is located approximately 2 miles northeast of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center on Highway 240 (Badlands Loop Road). Parking spaces are abundant but can fill up quickly during peak times.

The Castle Trailhead is located on the West side of Badlands Loop 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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