|Distance||1.5 miles roundtrip|
|Best Seasons||Spring, Fall|
- Exciting climb up a precarious ladder
- Hiking through and across the top of badlands formations
- Expansive views at the end
Not only is the Notch Trail the most difficult of the three trails that start near this parking lot (check out the Door Trail and the Window Trail too!), it's also the most thrilling hike in the park (and one of the more thrilling hikes in the Midwest) thanks to the cable and log ladder built to help you ascend an otherwise vertical badlands rock formation. The sweaty palms and uphill climb are worth it though, since the view from the notch, named for the gap between two towering rock formations where this trail ends, is spectacular. This trail gives you an intimate look at the cool geology of the badlands, and the intimidating ladder and uphill climbing involved scare away some of the crowds of people that you'll find on the other trails nearby.
Starting from the southeast end of the parking area, the trail starts with a mostly flat section winding through a water-carved gorge -- during those torrential South Dakota thunderstorms, this area probably turns into a muddy river as the water pours down the cliffs. In some places, the path is less obvious and may split into two or more directions; try to choose the most traveled path to stay on course and of course avoid trampling any plants. The trail ends near a steep cliff and on your right you'll see the ladder pictured below.
Pets are prohibited on all hiking trails in Badlands National Park. This is not a family friendly hike; the ladder portion of this trail makes it too difficult and dangerous for small children, though brave older children would probably love the climb. While you can certainly hike here in all four seasons, the trail is unmaintained in winter and may be icy or covered in snow -- in addition to the brutally cold temperatures you'll have to endure. Summers are hot and dry with average daytime highs in the 90s, exacerbated by the lack of shade anywhere in the park; I wouldn't recommend visiting in the summer. Be prepared with extra water and sun protection, no matter which season you hike. This is one of the most popular areas of the entire park, as evidenced by the amount of parking spaces here, so expect to share the trail with crowds of people.
From Interstate 90, take exit 131 for South Dakota Highway 240 (you'll see a brown sign for Badlands National Park and the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site Visitor Center). Head south and continue to the park entrance station. Pay your fee, continue straight, then turn left into the parking area, labeled with a brown sign for the Door/Window viewpoints.
Google Maps Directions
Parking, Fees, and Facilities
Entrance to the park requires paying the $20 vehicle entrance fee ($25 starting January 2019), except on designated fee free days. Annual passes for Badlands National Park are also available at $40 ($50 starting January 2019). Interagency annual passes are available for $80 with discounts for seniors, military, and those with disabilities. Visit the Badlands National Park webpage about fees for more detailed information. There are pit toilets available in the center of this large parking lot.