When I started researching Badlands National Park, I was sort of shocked to discover that there were only about….six trails in the whole park. Granted, the entire park is hike-able in that the rangers literally do not care where you go provided you can get back to your vehicle and do not get gored by a bison in the process.
Permits apply to some areas, of course, but they are free and unlimited. Park staff just wants to know who to look for if someone fails to return.
But for those who simply want to enjoy the sights that the park has available for all, please consider Notch Trail.
The Notch Trail parking lot is the same parking lot as Window Trail and Door Trail. Three hikes in one place and yes, it is possible to do all of them in one afternoon. Door Trail is about .10 miles long and just leads to an overlook. Window Trail is a little longer but not extreme.
The sign for Notch Trail is correct – you’re going to want sturdy shoes. This doesn’t mean ankle support (unless you have weak ankles) it means no flip flops. Tourists being what they are, I’m sure someone has tried.
One of my absolute favorite things about Badlands National Park was the way that the trails are set up. They aren’t traditional trails where you just follow a dirt path through some grass. Because these trails go over rocks, you have to navigate by finding your way from marker to marker. The markers are tall poles set into the ground which gives hiking in the park a sort of exploratory feel.
You find your way to one marker, stop, look around to locate the next marker, and then make your way over via a path of your choosing. It is a lot of fun and feels very scavenger hunt-y.
Notch Trail’s defining feature, and the reason why a lot of people love hiking this trail, is a very tall ladder built into the side of a cliff. This ladder isn’t for the faint of heart. While I was there, I passed an entire family who was debating whether or not they wanted to climb the ladder. It is intimidating going both up and down. But as I’ve learned, it is the difficult things that lead to the best rewards.
Once you are at the top of the ladder, the trail continues to converse difficult but unique terrain.
I will not spoil the reward for you by posting a photo of the overlook but believe me when I say that it is worth it.
Rather – if you take my trail, it is worth it.
As you come to the second to last marker you will see in front of you a spire with a green streak going down the side of it. The green streak is caused by some sort of mineral in the rock and is entirely natural. Head towards this spire and not towards the last marker.
It’ll take some exploration, but as you continue past the spire with the green streak, the rock formations will naturally guide you towards a second and better overlook.
The reason this second overlook is better is because there is a wider opening in the rock and the overlook has less focus on a manmade structure. Also, less people.
A warning – I would not hike this trail in the middle of a hot day. There is very little shade. The best times to come are early morning or close to the evening when it is cooler. There are a few little places where you can sit to rest but there are no trees and nothing to help you cool off.
- Does not allow pets.
- Is family friendly provided your children are okay with heights.
- Does not have shade.
- Does have cell service.
- Is really fun to hike using the markers.
- Is high reward due to the gorgeous overlook at the end.
- Features a really cool ladder.