Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Wood ladder, Notch overlook
About 3 miles round trip
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
Bring 1 liter of water
Spring, Summer, Fall
Open year round
Very little shade on this hike
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
Yes. The Ben Reifel Visitor center is located south of here
Only allowed in designated areas.
Good hiking shoes or boots. You will need a hat and sunglasses too.
Trailhead: 43.75979, -101.92836
The Notch: 43.75298, -101.92957
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
Head back the same way you came up.
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!