Similar to the Joyner Ridge Trail
, this loop mostly descends as you leave the trailhead to a low point somewhere near the half-way point. Given that this is a loop trail, you can choose to hike it in either direction, but it's mapped here in the counterclockwise direction. The trailhead is located at the visitor center parking lot and is shared with the Tower Trail
As you leave the trailhead, you'll wander through thinning ponderosa pine forest with views of the tower to your left. The trail passes through an open area and begins to contour the hillside around to the east. At this point, views to the south of the Black Hills, the Belle Fourche River and its associated floodplain are marvelous. The trail now begins a continuous descent of the south-facing aspect through meadows and occasional stands of ponderosa.
At about the 0.75 mile mark, you'll come to a junction with South Side Trail
. This trail descends the hillside very steeply and leads to the Belle Fourche Campground. Continuing past this junction, you'll soon come to another intersection, this time with Valley View Trail
. The Valley View Trail
descends to the river a little more gradually before also leading to the campground. After passing this junction, it's pretty much all uphill back to the trailhead.
Continuing along the trail, you'll soon come to some beautiful red badlands. This geologic formation is a marvel in and of itself and is this trail's namesake. Geo-curious visitors may find this area as intriguing as the tower itself. Once you've had a chance to take in the sights here, continue past a junction with the Joyner Ridge - Red Beds Connector
at mile 1.6 and begin the steep ascent back into the forest. You'll have good views of the tower as you ascend until you enter the denser forest.
Once in the forest, keep an eye out for all sorts of wildlife - this is one of the best places in the park to encounter some of the park's original inhabitants. The final three-quarters of a mile of the trail meander and undulate through dense forest all the way back to the trailhead.
Wildflowers abound in the meadows during the spring. Mammal species that you're likely to encounter along this trail include white tail deer, cottontail rabbits, chipmunks, and porcupines. As always, be alert as rattlesnakes are native to this ecosystem.