You’ve just left the Ben Reifel Visitor Center behind, along with the intersection with the road that leads to the park’s southeast exit. For the next mile or two, you’re driving along the foothills of the Badlands. The road stays flat, and the hills are just off to your right.
But instead of just driving along and looking at them, it would be fun to hike up through them, right? You have the chance, at Saddle Pass Trail.
Saddle Pass Trail is a very short, very steep 1/4 mile trail, that takes you directly up the side of the hill. For most of the way, this trail must have an incline of at least 25%, and maybe more. It’s just as intense as climbing a very long flight of stairs.
Despite the effort, the rewards are great. About halfway up, an incredible view of the surrounding lowlands begins to appear. You just have to remember to turn around and look at it, which won’t be a problem, because you’ll be needing an excuse to stop and catch your breath.
The view ahead of you is great, too. Keep an eye on this high point: Saddle Pass Trail ends just below it.
At the top of the trail, you realize that the mountain that had looked so jagged and sharp, is actually just a cliff, and beyond it…
… is a lot of flat, boring prairie land.
It is here that Saddle Pass Trail meets up with Castle Trail, which runs east/west from the Door/Window/Notch parking area to Norbeck Pass (our next stop). I didn’t hike Castle Trail, but from what I saw of it, it doesn’t look very exciting.
Since there isn’t much to do at the top of Saddle Pass Trail, you have just one option: go back down. The view is nice on the descent, since you’re looking out on the wide expanse of the lower badlands. But, the steep trail is tough on your legs and ankles.
Note: This trip was first published in 2008.