The Notch is a fun, intermediate hike in Badlands National Park. This out and back hike runs about a mile and a half through the rocky terrain of the Badlands. We rate this hike as moderate to strenuous and suggest that families with small children are careful if they attempt to do this hike. There are a few things that you should know before you go.
First, there is absolutely no shade in the Badlands. On a hot day, and there are some really scorchers in summer, this hike would be really punishing. Even though it was a relatively cool mid 70s when we did this hike, we ended up with sunburns, so make sure to use plenty of sunscreen. The trail is also quite rocky and steep. There are many uneven places, and sometimes the trail has a fairly steep precipice that falls away twenty or more feet. Because the Badlands are so gravelly any slip or fall can leave you with a bleeding scrape. There is also a 50-foot ladder, which is the highlight of the hike, but it can be dangerous, particularly if you have a fear of heights.
This trail starts out near the northeast entrance to Badlands National Park at a marked trailhead. There is plenty of parking, and there are a lot of people playing and climbing in this area. Many people prefer to ignore the three marked paths here and just explore the rocky crags. To find Notch Trail, walk all the way to the south end of the parking lot. This is the farthest part of the parking lot from the northeast entrance.
The trailhead has a sign, and it is well traveled. It starts out fairly flat, and the trail is wide. Once you arrive at the ladder, at about the halfway point (which is a quarter of the full roundtrip 1.5 miles) you’ll need to make the decision to go up or go back. Our boys loved the ladder, and it was what they had been looking forward to for days. The first thirty feet of the cable ladder leans against the mountainside at a rough 45 degree angle. This can be easily walked without the use of hands for most people. Then the ladder gets steeper and tips up to about a 75 degree angle. Make sure to hold on and go up carefully behind little ones. Finally, the last ten feet runs at nearly a 90 degree angle. The ladder is not too difficult for most adults who are in good shape, but a fear of heights or health restrictions would make it quite the obstacle.
After the ladder, the trail climbs a few small rocky ridges and runs along the lip of a shallow canyon. It would be a nasty fall, but if you hold little ones’ hands, it is safe. You walk along the ridge for most of the way from the ladder over to the Notch. There is one fork in the trail. We weren’t sure which way to go, but luckily some people came along who had walked both ways. If you take a right at the junction, there is an overlook, but it’s not that great. If you head straight or more toward the left, you come to the overlook that we visited.
Finally, the final approach to the Notch is steep and rocky. It is easy to slide if you don’t have proper hiking footwear. When you reach the Notch, there is a straight drop of over a hundred feet, so don’t let the kids climb ahead. The Notch overlooks the valley below, and it is really beautiful. You can look down on the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail which we have also shared about.
We think The Notch Trail is the best hike in the park. But we also think that you need to go carefully and know what obstacles you will be facing. If you’re the adventurous type, give this hike a try. It is definitely worth it! You can also check out our other kid hikes we tried in Badlands National Park on our post: Badlands Kid Hikes.