Hiking the Notch Trail in Badlands National Park

Badlands NP was the first national park I visited in the United States so I was pretty excited about an opportunity to do a mini hike there. Our group had a choice of a few different routes but I went with the short Notch Trail. It turned out to be a great way to experience some of the park’s rock formations and stunning views of the badlands and the surrounding prairie.

Hiking the Notch Trail in Badlands National Park

We started leisurely along the dirt trail which snaked its way through a canyon. This was a good opportunity to see the effects of erosion that shaped Badlands National Park over millennia. Speaking of snakes, we were barely a few metres out of the car park when we saw signs warning of rattlesnakes in the area. The brush and grasses of the area apparently make for a perfect habitat for them and we were encouraged not to wander off the trail – I definitely didn’t need to be told twice.

Start of the Notch Trail
Start of the Notch Trail
Snake warning sigh - Notch Trail
Not an encouraging sign right at the beginning of the hike!

The weather was perfect for a hike – there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky yet the May sun wasn’t punishing and the walking was comfortable. The trail weaved through the canyon and we got the chance to have a closer look at the rock formations in the area.

Notch Trail snaking through canyon
The path snakes through the canyon giving a glimpse into the geology of Badlands National Park
Rock formations along Notch Trail
Impressive formations along the Notch Trail

Climbing up

We continued along the canyon before coming to a dry waterfall. Here came the fun part! A 50-rung wooden ladder has been set up to help visitors scramble up to the ledge above the canyon floor. We headed up, using both hands and feet for balance and make our way to the top. Those with a fear of heights might want to look away!

Wooden ladder - Notch Trail
The only way is up!
Climbing up the wooden ladder - Notch Trail
Action shot!

Once safely at the top, we walked around the cliff to rejoin the canyon trail above the dry waterfall. The path now made its way along the cliff edge with signs warning of steep drop-offs and uneven ground. There are plenty of markers to point hikers in the right direction so getting lost isn’t an issue!

View along the Notch Trail hike
View of the canyon towards the start of the hike
Scenery along the Notch Trail
The scenery along the Notch Trail is striking!

Soon after the hike came to an abrupt end as we reached an overlook on top of a cliff. The big drop afforded some amazing views of White River Valley with the Badlands National Park’s incredible landscape stretching for miles.

White River Valley view - Notch Trail
Looking out towards White River Valley and the badlands

Just standing on the ledge clearly wasn’t enough for me and I managed to find some huge rocks to climb for even better views of the area. After spending some time enjoying the scenery, we made our way back through the canyon and down the ladder. Soon we were back at the car park without, thankfully, any rattlesnake encounters!

View of the badlands - Notch Trail
I climbed up to get a better vantage point for a panoramic shot

The Verdict

I definitely recommend hiking the Notch Trail if you find yourself in Badlands National Park. It’s short and not too challenging while being fun and allowing for some great views! You can combine it with Door and Window Trails for a great way to spend a few hours in this part of the park.

Notch Trail

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Where: The Notch Trail is located in Badlands National Park, South Dakota. The park was established in 1939 and is famous for its stunning rock formations.

Length: 1.5 miles/2.4 kms round trip

Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous

Location: The Notch Trail starts just next to the Door/Window Trail Parking Area. It’s possible to hike three different trails from the car park (Door Trail and Window Trail being the other two). It’s pretty close to the Ben Reifel Visitor Centre which also acts as the park’s headquarters.

How to get there: You need a car to explore Badlands National Park properly. The nearest major city is Rapid City, South Dakota which has an airport and car rental locations. It’s about 75 miles away from the park.

Notes: The Notch Trail isn’t ideal for those with a fear of heights. There is a wooden ladder and some big drop offs in places. The trail also becomes dangerous after heavy rains as cliffs can be unstable and the path slippery. There are no boardwalks or railings so avoid hiking the Notch Trail after rain.

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28 thoughts on “Hiking the Notch Trail in Badlands National Park

  1. Obligatory Traveler says:

    Nice post with great Pictures. Very brave to climb up that ladder. Think I’d be okay scrambling up, but might get nervous climbing back down. I think people often overlook The Badlands as a destination, but the views look like something that are worth the visit.

    • Travel Lexx says:

      I agree – I’ve never even really heard of Badlands until I started my trip but I was glad we got to stop and explore it a bit! The ladder was definitely less fun going down!

  2. California Globetrotter says:

    See, this is why I thought you were an American! What European does to South Dakota for hiking! 🙂 haha I have myself never even heard of this place! It certainly looks beautiful and I wouldn’t mind the hike! #FeetDoTravel

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Haha to be fair I wasn’t even entirely sure I would be going to South Dakota! We didn’t spend a lot of time in the park but I was really glad that we got to do the hike! It’s turned out to be one of my favourite states too – there is so much to see!

  3. Yvette Benhamou says:

    Bandalier National Monument also has a wooden ladder – but it’s not quite as intense as the one you climbed. The trail sends like a lot of fun, the perfect amount of difficulty, and those views are incredible.

    • Travel Lexx says:

      I really want to visit as many National Parks and National Monuments in the States so will definitely keep an eye out on that one!

  4. David says:

    The Notch Trail really does look to have some striking scenery! Ive heard of Badlands before but don’t think I’ve seen photos before. I imagine there’s quite a lot of options for hiking there, but there being rattlesnakes would have me cautious. Great guide Lex!

  5. Anda says:

    Very beautiful trail. For the most part it seems moderate, but climbing up that stair looks pretty scary. I’ve never been in South Dakota and didn’t know anything about Badlands National Park so far. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Yeah the stair is actually steeper than it looks in the photos but it wasn’t too bad. I also knew little about Badlands but I am glad I got to visit! Thanks!

  6. Jenn | By Land and Sea says:

    Wow, this isn’t too far from us and yet we have never been here. The next time we go to South Dakota, we will have to make it a point to spend some time here. Thanks for sharing – saved this for later!

  7. Stephanie (1AdventureTraveler) says:

    Great views and hike in the Badlands National Park. Shorter hike but I like that you were able to climb boulders at the top. Sure glad you did not get any rattlesnake bikes. Not sure what to do to keep them away. I know for bears you wear bells on your shoes. lol, not sure if that works for rattlers Stunning photos and great information. I have yet to hike there but will put this on my list when I’m driving around the states. Pinned for later. #feetdotravel

  8. Shona says:

    Going up the ladder wouldn’t be too bad, but coming down – not so much. There are some stunning views though. Glad you didn’t see any rattlesnakes. I wonder if you can hear them coming, must google that. 😉

  9. Ruth | Tanama Tales says:

    I find it a bit funny that your first park in the US is one of the least visited parks. Not a lot of people get to visit this particular part. I hope to go one day. I am amazed at how beautiful are the formations in there. Yes, the snake signs are not very encouraging. We have tons of those close to where I live. #feetdotravel

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Yeah it was down to the route we took but it was definitely worth a visit! It wasn’t very busy which suited me fine too!

  10. Sharon says:

    This looks like such a great place to hike! I’ve hiked notch trails in the Anza Borrego Desert with similar landscape. As long as you take plenty of water, it’s quite an adventure!

  11. Angie (FeetDoTravel) says:

    Not challenging?? Beware of the rattlesnakes and oh, by the way, you have to climb a 50 rung ladder?? Haha. Actually, I would have been disappointed if I wouldn’t have seen a snake, that would have been cool… but not the ladder lol #feetdotravel

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Haha, it’s really not as bad as it looks! I almost did go snake hunting! Gotta embrace the wildlife and all that!

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