notch trail

Hiking the Badlands, South Dakota

notch trailhead
The Notch Trail in South Dakota is one of our favorite hikes in the USA.

The Notch Trail in Badlands National Park provides a fun, exhilarating trail for the entire family. A map of the Notch Trail hike is at the bottom of this post. Before heading out on our road trip to knock out Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota on our 50 Hikes 50 States Hiking Project, my daughter wanted to have a sit down before we figured out where to hike in the Badlands.

She was very concerned about our choice to drive in the path of a Trump rally. He was planning an extravaganza at Mt Rushmore the day before we’d arrive where social distancing and mask wearing would not be enforced. She feared us getting exposed to COVID, and that the timing and itinerary of our trip were bad ideas.

bison at sunset
Beauty abounds in the Badlands.

She’s a smart kid.

We had a family meeting. Her biggest concern fell around eating, restaurants, and being in touristy spots with unmasked visitors. So we made a few changes. We wouldn’t visit Mt Rushmore, which frankly was fine with me; I’ve been there several times (see 5 Unusual Thing to Do at Mt Rushmore.) Instead, we’d focus on Crazy Horse and the Badlands National Park. We also decided to stuff a cooler with Trader Joes, produce, hummus, and snacks so we could eat outside at picnic tables in parks.

We headed out on Monday, July 6th, thinking we’d give the Trump team and its followers enough berth. Our first stop in Nebraska yield pioneers and old cars. As we left Carhenge, our Tesla had 160 miles left of charge on it. We only needed 140, so off we jetted to our Custer destination.

Corn. Canola. Corn. Soy beans. Canola. Soy beans.
And more corn. Canola. Soy beans.

Crazy Times at Crazy Horse

They continue to make progress on the Crazy Horse Monument.

As we arrived into Hot Springs, where we’d stay in the cutest AirBnB I think I’ve ever seen, our Tesla’s battery warning light came on. We had chewed up 135 miles, and Custer was just a bit of a reach. We found a destination charger, which is a slower charger, and decided to stop and juice just a few miles to buy some mileage insurance to get us to Custer.

We pulled up to the charger which was in a hotel parking lot. A sign hung next to the charger declaring it was for customers only. No problem, thought my husband, we’ll go into the lobby and ask how much we could pay to charge.

sunset on badlands
Sunsets in the Badlands are jaw-dropping

The manager, wearing his MAGA hat, gruffed, without saying hello, “Customers only for charging!” We politely asked how much we could pay to charge, and again we were gruffed, “Customers only, you need to leave.”

That was a fine how-do-you-do.

With our tails between our legs, we got back in the Tesla. Gulp. 30 miles to go and 30 miles of range left. We nixed our plans to stop at Wind Cave (it was closed anyway due to COVID) and started praying to the Tesla gods (Elon Musk) that we’d make it.

baby mountain goat
You’ll see wildlife in the Badlands.

I swear it’s all uphill from Hot Springs to Custer. Slower and slower we crawled. Finally, we arrived at Custer with 1.5 miles left before the Tesla slept. It was a nail biter for sure.

In Custer, as we walked around with masks on, we found the Trump compadres parading Custer’s main drag. It felt very similar to our visit to Tennessee.

We had the perfect shoes for hiking the Badlands.

With a recharged car, we stopped in at the amazing and inspiring Crazy Horse Memorial for several hours, then rolled back to Hot Springs to enjoy cooking a meal and finishing it with homemade bread from our Airbnb host.

Notching It Up in South Dakota

notch trail
Watch out for Obi Won in the Badlands

Finally, the next morning, we headed to what might be my favorite hike in the U.S. Out to Badlands National Park we drove to the Notch Trail. I had done this trail before, but I loved it so much, I had to do it again. Somehow my daughter thought from my description that the trail’s climb up a tall ladder echoed Angel’s Landing at Zion. Nope. It’s not near the difficulty. It’s just strictly fun.

Moon like landscapes in the Badlands
Moon like landscapes in the Badlands

The parking lot swarmed with all types of folks, including some with Trump flags and bumper stickers, but the mood at the trail welcomed everyone to enjoy it. People kept their distances, and kindness popped up as folks had to wait to climb the infamous ladder up the bluffs.

notch trail ladder
We love the Notch Trail ladder

We had a blast. After reaching the trail’s end, 1.5 miles from the start, we then went off and explored some of the canyons and ruts on our own. I swear Obi Won lurked behind the next cave, although we never did find him. Instead, we reenacted famous Star Wars scenes and giggled our way back to the trail head. The Notch Trail was just as enjoyable as the first time I’d done it, and I gleefully still recommend it.

Sunsets Galore in South Dakoka

mountain goats
Wildlife everywhere in the Badlands

After a frightening stop at Wall Drug where ventilation was low and mask un-wearing was high, we journeyed to our AirBnb for the night. A purple rainstorm rolled in right before sunset, inspiring us to return to the park to catch the sunset. As if Disney’s animitronics team had set up, a bison lumbered into my sunset shot behind a herd of mountain goats. Simply perfect.

On the third day of our trip, we pointed the car north again to find ourselves in North Dakota. Read about our Teddy Roosevelt adventure.

What You Need to Know about This Hike (click for interactive map)

notch trail map

Similar Posts