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Notch Trail – Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park, South Dakota


Wood ladder, Notch overlook


About 3 miles round trip

Parking Lot Elevation

2631 ft

Summit Elevation

2800 ft

Elevation Gain/Loss

169 ft

Time Required

Less than 1.5 hours. The handout says 1.5 to 2 hours.


Not allowed on any hiking trail in Badlands National Park


There are entrance fees into the national park

Water Info

Bring 1 liter of water

Best Season

Spring, Summer, Fall


Open year round

Sun Exposure

Very little shade on this hike

Trail Condition

The trail is dirt and rock mix. Easy to follow. There are metal poles which guide you to the Notch.


Yes. Pit-style. Located in the parking area

Visitor Center

Yes. The Ben Reifel Visitor center is located south of here


Only allowed in designated areas.


Bring snacks


Good hiking shoes or boots. You will need a hat and sunglasses too.

GPS Coordinates:

Trailhead: 43.75979, -101.92836
The Notch: 43.75298, -101.92957

Trail Map

Driving Directions

The Trail:

When I stopped at the Visitor Center to get a map and information about Badlands National Park, I spoke with a ranger at the desk about the hikes around the area.  I explained that I only had one day to see Badlands and I wanted to do the most popular things before I went home for the night.  The ranger gave me a handout with 8 hikes on it and said that the most popular hike in the park is the Notch Trail.  I didn’t realize at the time but come to find out, I had more than plenty of time to do 5 of the 8 hikes within a few hours (they were all really short except for the Castle Trail and the Medicine Root Loop which are 10 miles and 4 miles respectively).

Anyway, I took the ranger’s advice and went off to the Notch Trail, which is also located in the same parking area as the Window and Door trails.  All of these trails really don’t take too much time and even though the handout the ranger gave me said that the Notch trail takes 1.5 to 2 hours, you could easily do it in less than 45 minutes.  There are lots of little short side canyons to explore as well so if you have kids, let them go explore for a little bit.  They will love climbing on the rock formations and seeing something new after each turn.

Notch Trail

Just like I mentioned above, the Notch Trail begins at the southern most end of the same parking area as Door and Window Trails.  You will see a sign that says, well, “Notch Trail”.  The sign also says “Rough Terrain. Wear sturdy boots.”  At first, I laughed at this because how hard could it be right?  After hiking a little ways on the hardened mud formations I got to see for myself just how easy it is to slip and slide.  At one point during the hike I took a detour to a side canyon that looked really cool.  I started climbing up the slope and realized that my grippy shoes weren’t as grippy as they would have been on some sandstone rock in Southern Utah.  The hardened mud comes apart easily and it doesn’t provide for much traction.  Just be careful if you try to climb anything too steep!

Notch Trail Notch Trail

There are metal poles pounded in the ground so you can find your way to the end without any problem.  You will pass by lots of sharp and jagged rock formations.  Some people might not find this pretty but I think the desert is a beautiful place!

Notch Trail Notch Trail Notch Trail

You will soon come to a wood ladder system which goes up a steep area.  I noticed there were other trails going up which bypassed the ladder but who could resist such a fun thing to climb on!

Notch Trail Notch Trail

Once at the top of this part, follow the metal poles which hug the edge of a cliff (it was only about a 20-50 foot drop).  This part may be hard for people who are afraid of heights.  I am actually afraid of heights too but I found that this wasn’t too scary of a place.   If you have younger kids make sure to keep an eye on them during this part.

Notch Trail Notch Trail Notch Trail Notch Trail Notch Trail

Once you are passed this steep area you will walk again between lots of very short side canyons.  Just stay in the center of this main canyon with the metal pole markers.

Notch Trail Notch Trail Notch Trail

You will finally make it to the area known as the Notch.  It is called the Notch because the trail comes to an abrupt cliff edge at the top of the hills which looks like a Notch.  The cliff edge is probably 70 feet straight down so you will again need to watch your youngest of children.

The Notch overlooks the entire valley below and you can even almost see into the nearby town of Interior.  Immediately below you is a trail called the Cliff Shelf trail which is also a nice and short hike if you are interested.

Notch Trail Notch Trail Notch Trail Notch Trail

The Return:

Head back the same way you came up.

Personal Thoughts:

I can see why this is the most popular hike in Badlands.  It was relatively short, easily accessible and provides incredible vistas of the Badlands.  Plus, climbing up the ladder was really fun!

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Difficulty is basically the length, duration and stress of the Trek. If the Trek is really long then it will receive a higher rating. If the Trek is short then it won't receive that high of a rating. However, difficulty rating also includes how tired we were at the end of the Trek.

Technicality is how strenuous the Trek is. If there is lots of bouldering or if there is bushwhacking involved then the rating will be higher. Technicality also includes if there are steep inclines or the need for ropes and other equipment.

Enjoyment is strictly how much fun we had doing the Trek. Regardless of how tired and exhausted we were, if we had a ton of fun doing the Trek then it will receive a higher rating.

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About The Author
Jeff Johnson
Questions or comments? I'd love to hear from you! JeffTJohnson@ymail.com

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