Notch Trail in the Badland National Park is a 1.5-mile out-and-back hike that is loaded with adventure. It has some challenging sections, which include a ladder and walking ledge. Ultimately, the path points hikers to the “Notch” for a dramatic view of the Badlands. Meandering through the canyon to the overlook takes some physicality but can be achieved and enjoyed by most visitors of the park.
We have been asked whether we liked hiking Notch Trail or Castle Trail best. It’s a difficult question to answer because they are uniquely different. However, if you’re looking for a hike that is fun, has some challenging elements, and you aren’t fearful of heights, Notch Trail is hard to beat.
The Trail Description
Notch Trail is a popular and clearly marked hiking path that meanders through a rocky canyon. The initial portion of the trail consists of a wide gravel path, which is easy to navigate. As we ventured along the route, we couldn’t help but notice the surreal beauty of the Badlands landscape.
The vegetation on the left and right of the trail is quite sparse, or at least it seems that way because small sediment rock is everywhere. Plant life consists of patches of ankle-high grass, a few spindly scrubs and the occasional tree.
Hikers can walk at their own pace with their eyes up most of the time because there is rarely a trip hazard on this part of the busy trail.
The 40-foot ladder that is located on this trail is a custom made contraption of landscape timbers attached to two heavy cable. When we first approached the ladder, I had mixed feelings about it. On one side, I thought it was no big deal, but as I watched other hikers navigate it, I wondered if it was more difficult than it appeared.
One thing is certain: the ladder is a bottleneck for all hikers on this trek. It serves as a focal point on the trail, where both slow and speedy hikers converge. Since the Notch hike is quite popular, and some individuals approach the ladder with caution or even fear, it is common to find a line of hikers waiting their turn to ascend or descend. This concentrated spot on the trail requires some camaraderie and patience, as hikers wait for their chance to conquer the ladder.
As for Gail and me, the ladder added an intriguing and enjoyable element to our hike. While ascending, we found it relatively easy, but descending proved more intimidating. Gail opted to climb down in reverse, while I found myself employing a crab-walk technique to descend.
In the end, we witnessed hikers of various skill levels successfully maneuvering the ladder and even experiencing a sense of accomplishment after conquering the obstacle.
The Notch Trail Overlook
Once we climbed the ladder and proceeded along the path, the scenery changed dramatically. High above the gorge, we continued on the path following a narrow ledge. We found this section of the hike to be quite exciting and enjoyable. In fact, the scenery here was so appealing we couldn’t resist capturing the moment with pictures. One such snapshot showcases Gail standing on the ledge, with the stunning canyon to her left (the feature photo for this blog post).
Although walking along the ledge can be exhilarating, it is crucial to prioritize safety by wearing shoes or boots that provide a firm grip for secure footing. Additionally, it is important watch you steps while on the ledge. Keep in mind that certain areas of this hike may pose slipperiness due to loose rocks.
Beyond the ledge, the next challenge was a section of rugged terrain that required basic skills in scrambling and climbing. It was an enjoyable change of pace to proceed where the trail was less obvious. The imposing rocks didn’t leave any footprints or distinct path to follow for a while.
Eventually, we found ourselves standing at a fork in the trail, unsure of which path to take. After some debate, we decided to venture left. This led us to a short but steep climb towards a viewing area overlooking the valley below. Knowing we were near the end, we excitedly reached the summit, and the panoramic vista beyond.
It was time to take pictures again!
After spending around 15 minutes admiring the view, we retraced our steps back to the trail intersection and began ascending the other side. To our delight, we discovered another lovely vantage point from a different perspective, which was just as stunning as the first one.
Whie in the area, consider visiting Custer State Park. Click on the link to learn more of what is has to offer!
Directions to Notch Trail
The for Notch Trail in Badlands National Park is located off the Sage Creek Rim Road, approximately 7 miles south of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. To find it, follow these directions:
- Start at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.
- Head south on the Badlands Loop Road.
- After approximately 7 miles, turn left onto Sage Creek Rim Road.
- Continue along Sage Creek Rim Road for about 0.7 miles.
- Look for a small parking area on the left side of the road.
- Park your vehicle in the designated area.
Once you have reached the trailhead, you will see a sign indicating the start of the Notch Trail. From there, you can begin your hike.
Things to Consider Before Hiking Notch Trail
Remember to bring water, sunscreen, and appropriate footwear for hiking. Additionally, it is always helpful to check the weather conditions and trail status before starting on your adventure.
The best months to hike in the Badlands are April or October because of the milder temperatures. However, we were in the park in the month of September, and the weather was warm but comfortable. If you are in the park during the summer months (June-August), be aware that the heat in this timeframe can be brutally hot. Also, the possibility of pop-up thunderstorms is higher during the summer season. When wet, the trail can get very muddy and slick, so be sure to wear your best pair of hiking boots/shoes.
During the summer months, start your hike early in the morning or late in the afternoon when temperatures are cooler.
Sunblock and water are highly recommended for this hike. The National Park Service recommends taking at least 1 liter of water per person.
The average time to complete the 1.5-mile out-and-back hike is 2 hours.
Hikers should practice the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace. Generally, these principles include carrying out what you carry in, staying on designated hiking trails, and respecting wildlife, among others. Be familiar with all the guidelines before starting this or any other hike.
If your time in the Badlands National Park is limited and you’re in search of an ideal hike, we highly recommend the Notch Trail. This trail offers a multitude of challenges, providing a truly unique and immersive experience that captures the essence of the Badlands. With a moderate difficulty rating, it is suitable for individuals of all skill levels, including families with children.
However is important to note that there are certain aspects of the trail that demand careful hiking, rock climbing, and navigating makeshift ladders. Additionally, individuals who experience a fear of heights should exercise caution when traversing the sections of the trail where the narrow ledges present a potential risk of slipping.
All in all, this hike is a wonderful experience and we highly recommend it to our readers. Enjoy!