Outta This World: Trail Running in Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA
Distance: Castle Trail, the longest established trail in the park, is a 16 km out-and-back from the east trailhead (near Windows and Notch Trails) to the west trailhead (at Fossil Exhibit Trail) and back. Medicine Root Loop (6.4 km) branches off from Castle Trail near Old Northeast Road and again at the junction of Castle and Saddle Pass Trails. Trails of any distance and direction can be blazed anywhere in the 244,300 acres of the park. Gullies and washes weaving in, out, and around towering rock formations make natural paths prime for running.
Terrain: Castle Trail is fairly level single-track through mixed-grass prairie, with sections crossing over gullies and washes where the terrain is a mixture of clay, silt, and consolidated ash. Both Castle and Medicine Root are marked with stakes, which comes in handy when the single-track gives way to expansive washes.
Highlights: Feeling not only off the grid, but out of this world, as soaring spires, pinnacles, and pyramids burst through endless prairie—with crevasse-like gullies as deep as the formations are high. Castle Trail features the iconic Badlands Wall, a formidable display of deposition and erosion which stretches 100 miles to the Nebraska panhandle.
Directions to Trailhead: From Interstate 90 (I-90), take Exit 131 to Hwy 240 Badlands Loop Road. Follow Hwy 240 to the first parking lot for trailheads to Door, Window, Notch, and Castle. Trailheads are well-marked; Castle will proceed West, while Windows and Notch will head East.
Contributor Ladia Albertson-Junkans, a professional road-racer, is happiest when she’s on the trails and in the mountains.