Take a Good Walk in Badlands, South Dakota
(note: this blog was updated in 2020.)
South Dakota doesn’t necessarily invoke a good walk in the mind. With the Gatlinburg-like overabundance of tourism in Rapid City and the reputation of the ill-named Badlands National Park, my feet surprised my mind by finding one of my favorite walks yet. My good South Dakota walk is in Badlands National Park on the Notch Trail.
The Notch Trail sits just two miles to the east of the eastern visitor center. Most folks who park in the lot wander out to an overlook not far from the lot. Taking on the Notch Trail requires some bravery and guts, as the ladder to the top invites the adventurous. Before heading out, be sure you’ve got enough water. Yes, everyone says bring water. But I’m not kidding. This is a hot, dry hike through the aptly named Badlands. Don’t fool yourself.
Climbing the Notch Trail at Badlands National Park
The hike starts off fairly easy. But within the first 15 minutes, you’ll find yourself at the ladder of the brave hearted. With about 50 rungs, you’ll pull some and climb some up to the top. The top rung is actually the worst, as the distance between the top rung and the pole to help you ascend is just *this much* out of reach. Be careful.
After the ladder, you’ll meander along a dry creek and then climb along a ledge. The signs that say dangerous curves ahead aren’t kidding. Stay close to the bluff and stay sure-footed. This hike isn’t necessarily difficult, but it does require you to take time. Once you get past the curvy area, you’ll continue walking toward the overlook. But don’t get pulled into the overlook, remember to look behind you. The views to the rear are almost as good as the views ahead.
At about 45 minutes, you’ll reach the final overlook. Get ready to gasp. Although the elevation is not that high, the depth of view goes on for ever. Here at the top, you’ll also find some shade to take a well-deserved break. Have a seat, cool off, and take a look around. The gradation in the sand bluffs, the clear blue sky against the cliffs, and the greens and yellows in the distance overcome their namesake.
When you’re ready, return down the path whence you came. Congratulations, you’ve survived a hike of the Notch Trail at Badlands National Park.