Of all the hikes in Badlands National Park, the best, coolest, and most interactive is undoubtedly the Notch Trail. If you can only do one hike in all of Badlands, it should be the Notch Trail.
Dramatic badlands formations, winding pathways through golden meadows, sweeping views, and an epic log ladder – what more can you ask for?
In this brief article I’ve included everything you need to know about the Notch Trail including:
- Trail Details
- Trail Description
- Notch Trail Video
- Getting to the trailhead
- Climbing the famous log ladder
- Notch Trail tips
- Notch Trail Map
- Nearby Hikes
Sound great? Let’s dive in!
Table of Contents: Hiking the Notch Trail
Hiking the Notch Trail
- Notch Trail Details
- Things to Know Before You Hike the Notch Trail
- The Notch Trail
- Hiking the Notch Trail
- Map of the Notch Trail
- Summary of the Notch Trail Hike in Badlands National Park
Notch Trail Details
Location: South entrance of Badlands National Park
Length: 1.5 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 200 feet
Time: 45-70 minutes
Things to Know Before You Hike the Notch Trail
Leave No Trace
Practice it. Read about the seven principles and live life by them.
The Best Guide Book
I like this guide book the best for Badlands.
The Best Map
I like this map best for Badlands National Park.
There’s very little cover on the Notch Trail so use it. Lots of it. Especially this one which I never leave the house without because it plays nice with our dear friend, earth 🙂
The Notch Trail
Getting to the Notch Trailhead
The Notch Trailhead is located off the main park road (highway 240) just 2.5 miles from the northeast entrance to Badlands National Park – a mere 5 minutes driving.
Shortly after entering the park you’ll see signage for the large parking lot for the Door Trail, Window Trail, Castle Trail, and Notch Trail. I recommend parking at the far end of the lot which is where the Notch Trailhead is located.
Video of the Notch Trail
To give you the best possible idea of what to expect on the Notch trail I created this condensed walk through video.
Hiking the Notch Trail
The first part of the Notch trail starts off flat with the winding trail leading you through grassy meadows. On either side of the trail increasingly dramatic badlands formations begin to surround you as you hike further down the trail.
There are several offshoot trails that may look tempting but it’s tough to get lost so don’t worry. They all pretty much lead to the same place.
Into the Canyon
Eventually a small valley forms and the trail follows a creek bed for a short distance. The further down the trail you go the more the canyon closes in around you making the hike more and more interesting.
The Wooden Log Ladder
The trail twists and turns through the canyon a few times before reaching what at first appears to be a dead end. Upon hiking a bit further you’ll notice a log ladder appear on the right side of the trail. The only way from here is up!
At first it seems like climbing the log ladder may be a bit technical but it’s really quite simple. I walked up it rather than climbed but don’t recommend that for first timers. Climbing to the top takes about a minute, maybe a few if there’s traffic.
If you don’t feel up for the log ladder hike there’s another option to still complete the hike (more on that below).
Top Half of the Notch Trail (The Cliff)
From this point on hikers will have a totally different vantage point. Sweeping views of the canyon all the way back to the parking lot can now be achieved. Looking back down the log ladder is a great (maybe the best) perspective and photo opportunity.
Hiking down the Notch Trail to the left of the log ladder along the cliff will take you closer to “the Notch” itself. The ledge is a bit narrow at points but on average is at least as wide as you are tall.
From the ladder to the notch is about half a mile or so. I consider the log ladder the best and most fun part of the trail. Personally, I find the notch itself underwhelming. About 500 feet down the trail and around the ledge you’ll get another cool perspective of the ladder.
If you’re short on time I recommend hiking back after you get this perspective, climbing back down the ladder, and returning to the parking lot the way you came.
For those who are up for it. Make your way to the Notch! The view from the Notch gives you a vantage of the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail and the visitor center down below.
After reaching the Notch, head back the way you came all the way to the parking lot.
RELATED: Read our article on 20 Epic Things to Do in Badlands National Park
Alternative Route (No Ladder)
For those looking to avoid the ladder continue down the canyon past the ladder. After a few twists and turns the path converges with the Notch Trail. From here you can still reach “the Notch”.
From the same parking lot as the Notch Trail are the following trails:
The Window Trail is another great trail with boardwalks that is just a quarter of a mile long with “windows” or viewpoints out into the badlands.
The Door Trail is another kid-friendly trail with boardwalks at .75 miles long located at the north end of the parking lot.
Across the street from the parking lot you’ll find the trailhead to the Castle Trail. The Castle Trail is just over 5 miles long making it the longest trail in Badlands National Park.
Map of the Notch Trail
Summary of the Notch Trail Hike in Badlands National Park
- 1.5 miles long
- Really fun log ladder
- Easy overall hike
- Beautiful views
- Best Hike in Badlands National Park
More Helpful Articles
Best Hikes in Badlands: 15 Best Hikes in Badlands National Park
Hiking the Castle Trail: Castle Trail: Epic Hikes in Badlands National Park (Photos + Guide)
Hiking the Notch Trail: Hiking the Notch Trail in Badlands National Park (Photos + Guide)
Badlands NP Guide: Helpful Guide to Badlands National Park
Things to Do in Badlands: 20 Incredible Things to Do in Badlands National Park
Badlands Facts: 10 Amazing Facts About Badlands National Park
Things to Do Wind Cave: 10 Epic Things to Do at Wind Cave National Park
Visiting Mount Rushmore: 15 Helpful Tips for Visiting Mount Rushmore
Things to Do Near Rushmore: 25 Epic Things to Do Near Mount Rushmore
Black Hills National Forest: Comprehensive Guide to the Black Hills National Forest
South Dakota National Parks: 6 Epic South Dakota National Parks Worth Visiting
South Dakota Landmarks: 15 Amazing South Dakota Landmarks to See
South Dakota Historical Sites: 15 Incredible South Dakota Historical Sites
Watch the Award-Winning Badlands National Park Videos
Getting to Badlands National Park – Directions & Location
Badlands National Park is located in southwestern South Dakota near the town of Wall (home of the famous Wall Drug roadside attraction).
Closest Airport: RAP – Rapid City Regional Airport (Rapid City)
The fastest way to get to Badlands National Park is almost certainly by flying into Rapid City. From Rapid City (or just Rapid, as the locals call it) you can rent a car and be in the Badlands in under an hour. Rapid City is a terrific gateway city to Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave National Park, and the Black Hills National Forest.
Best Time to Visit Badlands National Park
The best time of year to visit Badlands National Park is May or September in the shoulder seasons when the park is spectacularly empty and the weather is mild.
Summers can be hot and you’ll have to share the park with lots of motorcycles if you plan on visiting in the month leading up to the nearby motorcycle rally in Sturgis. Winter in the park is quite cold and sees the area blanketed in snow.