“An out-and-back trail that provides a variety of settings - rugged badlands, sagebrush flats, and rolling grasslands.”
— Karen Ryberg
Birding · Fall Colors · Spring · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife
The visitor center is not open all year round; however, in the off season, runners can take exit 32 and park near the entrance and pass through a walk-in gate to access the views and this trail, as well as the Painted Canyon Nature Trail
This trail starts at the Theodore Roosevelt National Painted Canyon
Visitor Center parking lot. This is a small facility off exit 32 of Interstate 94. It is a dual visitor center and highway rest area. It is a popular place for travelers to take a quick break and look over the rim into Painted Canyon
At the east end of the parking lot, there is a trailhead sign with a map. It pays to examine the map and note how far the trail traverses along the rim before starting its descent (about 0.5 mile) because there are numerous well-traveled bison trails in the area that could easily divert a runner.
From the trailhead, follow a gravel road east. It turns into a two-track dirt trail as you pass two fenced air-quality and weather monitoring stations, that also have a webcam
. Continue east/southeast past the fenced septic lagoon for the rest area - at this point the two-track road turns into a running trail. There should be a marker ahead where the trail turns down off the rim; however, markers are difficult to maintain in the park because bison use them as scratching posts.
Shortly after starting the descent, there is a box for visitors to register. The descent continues from this point and levels out as it passes through some gullies create by intermittent streams. At about the halfway point, runners pass through a sagebrush flats area. Then the trail dips into a deep gully and back up to rolling grasslands.
At the north end, it meets the Upper Paddock Creek Trail
and one could continue northwest or southeast on that trail. If this is your turnaround point, the stretch back up the rim in the last mile is challenging, but the steepest part is relatively short, and it provides fantastic views of the badlands stretching to the north.
Flora & Fauna
Bison are frequently seen on this trail and in the visitor center area. Other flora and fauna include feral horses, Rocky Mountain Juniper, wildflowers, and garter snakes.