The Notch Trail is the most thrilling trail in Badlands National Park.
This hike is pure fun. It features a walk through a scenic canyon, a climb up a wooden ladder, and a brief walk along a cliff trail. The Notch Trail ends with a beautiful view of the Badlands.
Notch Trail Hiking Stats
Distance: 1.5 miles round trip
Total Ascent: 180 feet
Time: 1 hour
Please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trail, pack out what you bring to the hiking trail, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.
The Notch Trail
Step-By-Step Trail Guide
Getting to the Trailhead
Park in the large parking lot for the Window, Door, and Notch Trails. It is best to park at the southern end of the parking lot, since this is where the Notch trailhead is located.
On the Trail
At first, it’s a flat, leisurely walk through a wide canyon. The farther down the trail you walk, the more the walls close in around you.
After a few bends in the trail, you arrive at the wooden ladder. This ladder climb is the trickiest part of the hike but it’s also the most fun.
From the top of the ladder, follow the trail to the left. This is the cliff section of the hike. Briefly, you will walk along a narrow ledge with a drop-off on one side. The ledge is about 6 feet wide. If you have a fear of heights, you can either stay as close as possible to the side wall, or take the detour through the canyon (keep reading to learn more about the detour).
Once the cliff section ends, you will walk up through the canyon until you get to “The Notch,” a cut-out in the walls. From here, you can look out over the Badlands and you will be able to see the Visitor Center, campgrounds, and part of the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail.
To finish the hike, retrace your steps back to the parking lot.
Optional Route through the Canyon
If you don’t think you can handle the ladder climb or the cliff walk, you can still do this hike.
Rather than climbing up the ladder, you can continue on the trail through the canyon. For a short distance, this trail meanders through the canyon and later meets up with the Notch Trail, just beyond the cliff section.
View of the trail from the cliff. The white line is the main trail. The red line is the optional detour to avoid the ladder and the cliff walk.
More Hikes in this Area
Four walks/hikes start from the same parking lot.
The Notch Trail is the most fun and starts at the southern end.
The Window trail is located next to the Notch trailhead. Just .25 miles long, the trail ends at the Window, a viewpoint of “the Wall” and the pinnacles and spires that make the Badlands so famous.
The Door Trail starts at the north end of the parking lot. It is 0.75 miles long, starts off as a boardwalk trail, and then descends down into a field of fossil beds, with views of the pinnacles and spires of the Badlands.
The Castle Trail starts across the street from the parking lot. This is a 5-mile, point-to-point trail that ends at the Fossil Exhibit Trail. You can walk the entire distance, or just walk a mile and a half down the Castle Trail to hike into the grasslands of Badlands National Park. Get full details on the hike here.
Get updated trail and road conditions before you do this hike on the National Park Service website.
If you have any questions about hiking the Notch Trail, let us know in the comment section below.
More Information for Your Trip to the Badlands
BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK: Take a look at our Badlands National Park Travel Guide for important travel planning tips, sample itineraries, advice on when to go, where to stay, and more.
BEST OF THE BADLANDS: Learn about the best things to do in Badlands National Park, how to spend one perfect day in Badlands National Park, a get a list of the best hiking trails in the park.
CUSTER STATE PARK: Plan your perfect visit with our big list of things to do in Custer State Park and how to hike to Cathedral Spires and Black Elk Peak.
SOUTH DAKOTA ITINERARY: In our One Week South Dakota Itinerary, visit Custer State Park, Badlands and Wind Cave National Parks, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and Mount Rushmore.
NATIONAL PARKS: In our Guide to the US National Parks, get the full list of national parks with important travel planning information, such as things to do in the parks and sample itineraries.
Read all of our articles about the United States in our United States Travel Guide.
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Thanks SO much for your detailed posts about the Badlands and TRNP. Your advice helped so much as we made our plans and you were spot on all your reviews! Safe travels! The Dragons
My son is afraid of heights but we’d like to do the Notch trail – is the detour your describe easy to follow? Will we be able to see each other (if we split 2 and 2 with two of us going up the ladder and the other two walking ‘around”? And we meet up at the main viewing area – then each descend as we see fit back? Does the detour take extra time? Just trying to see if we can all enjoy but respect some limitations. Thanks.
Hello Aimee. The upper route (going up the ladder and walking along the ridge) will be slightly longer but you will be able to see each other almost the entire way. The only place where you will lose sight of each other as it the quick detour by the “Dangerous Cliff” sign. Just beyond this point the two trails meet. Basically, the lower trail is in the canyon and you just have to look up to your right to see the upper trail. And this section of the hike is about 400 meters long and that might be an overestimate. Those of you who walk the upper trail can let your son know how it was and if he wants to try it out on the way back. Cheers, Julie