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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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Hiking the Notch Trail the Travel Lexx Way
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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