FKT: John Haak - Sage Creek Wilderness Area Loop (Badlands National Park, SD) - 2020-11-21

Gender category
Route variation
Standard loop
Start date
Finish date
Total time
4h 2m 59s

Had my race cancelled due to COVID so needed something else to do. Saw Lance Smith’s YouTube video of the course and knew it was something that I wanted to try. 

Left home in Sioux Falls for the 4 hour drive to the trailhead at 3:30 AM on 11/21/20. When I arrived at the trailhead it was clear and 25*. 

Set out around 7:30 AM and quickly discovered that I would be spending a lot of time looking at my phone’s gps screen. I had previously downloaded the gpx file from the FKT site and used the Gaia app to follow the track laid out. 

I followed the gpx track off trail on the climb up to deer haven and then spun myself in a complete circle before getting back on track. This would end up being a theme for the day. 

After coming down from deer haven I followed the trail through the creek bed/washes and into some proper badlands. There was wildlife everywhere. I’m pretty sure I saw most of the park’s 1400 bison and had several short detours as a result. Also saw a bunch of mule deer, a couple coyotes and the prairie dog village. 

The sage creek basin up to the northernmost map point was an adventure in route finding that featured some interesting scrambles up down and around some of the badlands formations. Rounding the corner led into a good stretch of runnable prairie. 

Shortly after reaching the park border fence the gpx file suggested a route that went over unscalable terrain. Don’t try that. Stick to the fence line. It also suggested a detour to the other side of the property boundary. There is a trail along the fence line on the proper side. Stick to that. 

Unsurprisingly I managed to turn myself around again on the last stretch back to where the loop ends and meets up with the trail back to the trailhead. Got back on course and continued back to the car. Finish time just under 4:03. 

A few things I learned:

  • plenty of time to be made up by getting more familiar with the route (I ended up adding in about bonus 2 miles) and getting better at following the gps route
  • November is a great time for this route. Day started at 25* and finished at 45*.  Perfect run/hike weather and no chance for snakes.
  • Do some ankle strengthening. Between running across uneven prairie, muddy creek bed and over animal trails there are plenty of opportunities  to turn an ankle. 
  • The closer bison get to you, the bigger they look. Give them plenty of space and be prepared to take some detours. 
  • Not enough people take advantage of this amazing area. It was absolutely gorgeous and  I didn’t encounter another human. Go check it out, you won’t be disappointed. 


Great job John.  I’m not sure if u used my GPX or not but the one that they put up of the route is not correct.  My loop is right in course.  Would like to meet up sometime and talk.  Reach out if you want.  (605)360-9658