DestinationsHiking the Notch Trail in Badlands National Park, South Dakota

This article describes the Notch Trail hike we did in Badlands National Park.

The Notch Trail in Badlands National Park, South Dakota is not very long at 1 ½ miles (2.4 km) round trip and typically takes about 2 hours to hike, but is rated moderate to strenuous because the the rocky terrain, rock scrambling and ladder climbing required. There is also a section with an exposed ledge and cliff so if you have a fear of heights this may not be the hike for you. With that said, we found it to be a great little hike that ends with some fantastic views of the park. We did this hike in September of 2019 with our two kids aged and 11 and 15.

The sign at the Notch Trailhead.

We parked at the south end of the Door, Window and Notch parking area, directly off of Route 240, and found the trailhead all the way in the southern corner of the parking lot. There are a number of paths leading away from the parking lot so look for the signs marking the Notch Trail. Having packed enough water for half a day in the warm sun, snacks and lunch, we headed south from the parking lot winding our way through the moon-like landscape.

The Notch Trail near the trailhead and parking lot.

There were lots of fun rock formations for the kids to climb around on in this section of the hike. The landscape and rock formations in the Badlands are unlike any other we’ve seen and this hike was an amazing way to get into and explore this unique landscape.

Having fun climbing on the rock formations.

Eventually we took a hard right and found a cable ladder attached to a cliff wall. We climbed the ladder and proceeded along a trail that had a cliff on one side and rock face on the other. It wasn’t too bad, but I can see why the park warns hikers not to do this in wet conditions as this section could become very dangerous.

Cable ladder attached to a cliff on the Notch Trail.

The cliff section stated out fairly wide, but got narrower as we went further into the canyon.

Initial wider part of the cliff section of the Notch Trail.

When we came across a narrow more dangerous section, of which there were a few, one of us would position ourselves between the cliff and our son, although this section did feel fairly safe overall.

Navigating one of the more tricky parts of the cliff section of the Notch Trail.

Once we were beyond the ledge / cliff section the trail widened out again. We found a shady spot to stop and have lunch and explore a bit. There were lots of interesting little holes and short passage ways carved into the rocks that were fun to explore here.

The trail really opened up after the narrower cliff section.

We made our way to a couple of the scenic overlooks and the views were fantastic. The main overlook is fairly easy to get to, but there was at least one other overlook that required some scrambling to get to.

The author and his kids at the end of the Notch Trail.
The author’s family at the end of the Notch Trail.

The people walking in the background actually came from the opposite direction on the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail. However, because of the cliffs the two trails do not connect.

Once we finished exploring we headed back the way we came, negotiating the cliff and ledge section, going back down the ladder and back to the parking lot. This was a fun trail that the kids really enjoyed as well and only took half a day at a very leisurely pace and doing lots of extra exploring along the way.

View of the cliff section of the Notch Trail looking south into the canyon. The trail is on the right side and, if you look closely, you can see someone with a black shirt on the trail.