Cliff Shelf Trail in the Badlands

The Cliff Shelf Nature Trail begins with stairs, so although part of it is a boardwalk, it is not stroller friendly.

One of the trails that we hiked in Badlands National Park was called Cliff Shelf Nature Trail. The reason we love Cliff Shelf Trail is that we saw a five foot long rattlesnake slither right across the trail in front of us. It was the highlight of our trip! If you’re interested in this sort of thing, keep your eyes open. If you’re not interested, it is probably a good idea to keep your eyes open anyway!

This rattlesnake crossed the trail right in front of us. Don’t worry! We stayed back and let him have the right of way.

Cliff Shelf Trail is just east of Ben Reifel Visitor’s Center in the northeastern section of the park. Some of this trail is on a boardwalk, and some of it cuts though the gravel, but there is no rocky terrain to navigate. The trail runs a half mile and has several stairways in the boardwalk section. These stairs are no problem for many people, but this trail wouldn’t be a good one for the stroller or wheelchair.

The trail alters between boardwalk and dirt.
There are quite a few stairs on this trail.

Since the trail is a loop you can walk it either way. We went counter clockwise. This meant that we climbed the stairs and walked downhill in the open sections of the trail. It is a nice gentle walk, and it goes through one of the few forest portions of the Badlands, so there were some trees and a bit of shade. There are also interpretive signs along the way that talk about the Badlands, as well as beautiful views.

The hike is called Cliff Shelf because you walk underneath this cliff.
There are a few different viewing areas.
Part of the trail walks through these trees, and this is where we saw the rattlesnake.
It is beautiful in the Badlands.

This hike is the perfect simple hike in the Badlands along with The Door Trail. Give it a try and maybe you’ll be lucky enough to spot a rattlesnake, too! We also have a list of great kid hikes in Badlands National Park, as well as a list of fun stops in South Dakota.

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