|Distance||4.5 miles roundtrip|
|Best Seasons||Spring, Fall|
- The least crowded developed trail in the park
- Awesome badlands rock formations
- Long views from the top of Saddle Pass
The Medicine Root Loop is one of the longest hikes in Badlands National Park using the park's limited network of developed trails. Because I enjoy making things harder for myself, I combined this with the popular yet strenuous climb to Saddle Pass. The length and difficulty means you'll be able to enjoy some less-visited scenery with some opportunity for solitude while on the Medicine Root Loop. This trail is a welcome escape from the hectic crowds found throughout the park, giving you quiet time to enjoy the stark beauty of the badlands.
Starting from the bottom of the Saddle Pass Trail, you'll face a formidable looking wall, pictured below. Despite its looks, the trail climbs at a humanly possible grade over the top of those fantastic badlands rock formations. Long metal poles jabbed into the rock indicate your route the entire way to the top, though in the most difficult areas between poles you'll notice a few well-worn route options to avoid obstacles. Steep is an understatement, and you'll ascend 200 feet over the course of only an eight of a mile.
Next time you're in Badlands National Park, try this less traveled trail. Without so many other tourists, you'll really be able to appreciate the austerity and peace of the towering spikes surrounding you. Let me know what you think in the comments section below and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter and Instagram!
Dogs are prohibited on all trails in Badlands National Park. With a strenuous climb and long loop, this is not a good hike for kids; instead visit the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail or Fossil Exhibit Trail. Spring and fall are the two ideal seasons for this hike. Due to the strenuous nature of the climb and long, shadeless trail, this hike is not recommended on summer days. In addition, trails are not maintained during the winter, so snow and ice can make the climb treacherous. Despite the difficulty of the climb to Saddle Pass, you'll probably see people during that section; later on the Medicine Root Loop you will be able to enjoy solitude, at least for brief stints.
From Interstate 90, take exit 131 for South Dakota Highway 240 (you'll see a brown sign for Badlands National Park and the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site Visitor Center). Head south and continue to the park entrance station. Pay your fee, continue straight past the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, then turn right into the parking area labeled with a brown sign for Saddle Pass.
Google Maps Directions
Parking, Fees, and Facilities
Entrance to the park requires paying the $20 vehicle entrance fee ($25 starting January 2019), except on designated fee free days. Annual passes for Badlands National Park are also available at $40 ($50 starting January 2019). Interagency annual passes are available for $80 with discounts for seniors, military, and those with disabilities. Visit the Badlands National Park webpage about fees for more detailed information. There are no facilities available here, so fill your water and use the restroom at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center nearby before the hike.