Hell with the Fires Put Out

Kimmer and I couldn’t wait to explore the South Dakota Badlands together. We both enjoy a good hike and love the outdoors (though few would know this due to our aversion to “roughing it!)

Our first day in the Badlands we did two hikes (a quick one and one a bit longer). The first, the Cliff Shelf hike is designed specifically for tourists seeking the best views. It was a moderate ½ mile trail up to a viewing platform and over many formations. It’s a mix of stairs, boardwalks and primitive trails. It was and is a great introduction to the Badlands for any visitor.

Click for pictures from the Cliff Shelf Loop.

After that, we hiked the Notch Trail which at 1.5 miles was slightly longer, but much more challenging than the first. The trail was entirely primitive and featured a rung ladder near the middle that is not for the faint of heart, as it starts as stairs and slowly becomes a ladder. Much like those State Fair ladders where if you are successful at climbing can win you a prize, but different in that it was just mountain below you. Check out the pictures of it – going up it was pretty easy, but coming back down proved a bit more frightening.

Click for pictures from the Notch Trail.

The start of QUITE a hike.

On our second day, we planned for a longer hike and had heard great things about the Castle Trail. The Castle Trail is kinda like a “choose your own adventure” through the badlands, as many spur trails head off in other directions taking you to other terrain and other parking spots. In fact, our plan was to head half way down Castle Trail to a trail intersect called the Medicine Root Trail to loop back to our car. All in all, we figured our casual hike would last about two hours and take us about 4 miles.

So we started our hiking through the beautiful trail (keeping an eye out for rattle snakes that are known to be slithering throughout park) and taking tons of pictures along the way (many are below). We came to the meet-up trailhead, laid down our blanket and ate lunch in the sun. The views were spectacular, the weather perfect and the only sounds we could hear were the wind rustling and crickets rattling.

After a about a half hour, we headed down the Medicine Root Trail for another leisurely hour and a half hike. This trail was to take us through a more arid environment, much more desert-like. A couple of hours later we were expecting to see our car again, instead we saw cars roaring down a road that definitely was not the seldom-used dirt road where we had left our vehicle.

To say we were confused would be an understatement. As we hiked over to the trail sign and pulled out our map to help us determine exactly where we were, Kimmer finished off the last of our water. Dumfounded, we realized that we had not turned on the Medicine Root Trail as we had expected, but instead continued all the way to the OTHER end of the Castle Trail the furthest point from our vehicle instead of back towards our vehicle.

So, we had hiked more than our planned four miles (approximately five and a half) already and now had to hike that same route all the way back to our car – without water, at 1:00 in the afternoon.

How could we make that mistake?

As we made our way back the way we came, we finally came upon our lunch spot and realized what we had done. The trail was well marked, but in our haste, we had misread the sign. We didn’t notice the small, thin Medicine Root Trail that went off to our right and back to our car. Ugh! Well, at least we knew we were now halfway back. By the time we finished, we had hiked almost 10 miles in about 4 hours (almost a half marathon) and we were both exhausted.

Click for pictures from the Castle Trail.

Luckily we had already captured great photos and this wonderful video of dung beetles doing their thing. Because we were NOT focused on photos as we neared our car; we were thirsting for the ice cold water in the cooler… ahhhhhh! Refreshing.

The Badlands definitely has something for everyone and should be on everyone’s bucket list. For more information, visit here.