Castle Trail and Medicine Root Trail loop at Badlands National Park: hiking through fantastic rock formations.
About 50 miles away, East Bison Flats Trail at Wind Cave National Park: open prairie and hiking through a prairie dog town.
One thing in common: although it was pretty hot, like mid 90’s with no shade, these were a couple really nice hikes.
The rocks are fantastic! Castle Trail starts at the parking lot for the Door and Window trails. Both of those trails are short boardwalks, but at the end of the boardwalk on the Door trail, you can just wander around among the rock formations. There are posts to guide the wandering or direct you back to the trail if you wander too far. Nice area for sunrise photos.
There were a couple other hikers starting the Castle Trail at about the same time I was starting. It’s not clear to me who was the first to go astray, but we wander around separately for about 10 minutes looking for the trail. Then, we wandered around together for about another five minutes before deciding to go back to the trailhead and start over. All together, about a half hour of wandering in the wrong direction. Well, when we started over, we saw the stake marking the trail. Much easier. After finding the first stake, the trail was well marked.
And, it goes through some nice Badland formations. Up close to the rocks. There are some open areas, too, with views of rock formations from a little different perspective. I chose to do the Medicine Root Trail, which loops back with Castle. The other option would have been to do an out-and-back on Castle. It was kind of warm, so lopping off a few miles seemed like a fine idea.
There’s not a lot of elevation change, so both Castle and Medicine Root are fairly easy. It’s just a matter of distance and bringing enough water. There were a few other hikers out, but the trail was certainly not crowded.
Badland photos (not all from the Castle-Medicine Root loop hike):
Have to admit that before I started planning a trip to the Badlands, I didn’t know there was another national park a few miles away. Of course, going to Wind Cave was necessary. I like cave tours. The Park Service website says Wind Cave has about 30 miles of hiking trails. The Ranger at the visitor center recommended East Bison Flats trail.
Good recommendation. It starts with a bit of an incline, but it’s a prairie incline, not a mountain. A trail crew from AmeriCorps was working on the trail and doing a fine job. One of the workers said the trail had gotten quite overgrown. They also said the trail goes through a prairie dog town — watch out for holes. Turned out to be very good advice.
The trail crew had rehabilitated the trail up to the prairie dog town but not through the town. There were stakes marking the direction through the prairie dog holes, but that section of the trail did really feel like walking through open, undeveloped prairie. Visiting the prairie dogs was great fun. Hard to get decent photos, though. I didn’t have a long lens, and the prairie dogs allowed an approach of just a certain distance before disappearing into their burrows. That distance was a bit beyond the reach of my lens. It was amazing that all the prairie dogs seemed to allow the same distance before going into their burrows.
The trail crew had rehabilitated the trail on the far side of the prairie dog town. On the way back, I asked if the plan was to leave the town undisturbed. Might be, but the crew had to consult with the Park Service. My vote was to leave the trail undeveloped, guiding hikers with some well placed but not obtrusive stakes. The parts of the trail that the crew had worked on are excellent, but it was nice to imagine just walking across the prairie, through a prairie dog village, rather than following a trail. No idea at this point what was done.
(Of course, I did the cave tour — more about that in the post about underground hiking. And, in planning this trip, I saw that there is another Park Service property nearby: Jewel Cave National Monument. Another nice cave tour. There are hiking trails at Jewel Cave, but I didn’t do any. Needed to go to Mount Rushmore since I was so close.)
Wind Cave photos: