Cliff Shelf Nature Trail Badlands National Park hike

Beneath the natural fortress known as Badlands Wall, Cliff Shelf Nature Trail presents easy access to South Dakota’s badlands and has views across the Great Plains. This pleasant half-mile lollipop loop passes through a juniper forest elevated along the Badlands Wall, a 100-mile long ridge spanning across the park. The start of the loop is wheelchair friendly, but steps lead to the highest viewing platform on this wide trail. While Cliff Shelf Nature Trail has 300 feet of elevation change, most hikers will fly through this short hike with soaring views.

Badlands National Park Cliff Shelf Nature Trail
Badlands along Cliff Shelf Nature Trail

A sign at the trailhead previews the trail this way:

This loop trail rises 300 feet to a dramatic view of the White River Valley. From this elevation you can also see the flat-topped Eagle Butte, 25 miles to the south. Humans have used the Cliff Shelf for more that 11,00 years. More than 50 plant species and 100 bird species have been identified in this small area.

Badlands National Park Cliff Shelf Nature Trail
Looking down Cliff Shelf Nature Trail

This circuit begins 0.05 miles from the start of the hike. The route to the left is gradual, sipping through a forest of juniper past an often-dry pond. The route to the right mounts a string of stairs, taking a more direct route to the viewing platform at the high point of the loop. Crane your neck to look up at “the notch,” an opening in Badlands Wall to the north that can be reached via Notch Trail.

Badlands National Park Cliff Shelf Nature Trail
Looking up at the notch

Perched on the south side of Badlands Wall, Cliff Shelf Nature Trail presents an overview of surrounding sedimentary buttes and spires. The iconic badlands landscape is complemented by far reaching views over prairie grasses in the White River Valley to the south.

Hike Cliff Shelf Nature Trail in either direction. It’s impossible to get lost along this loop. No permit is required for this trail, butBadlands National Park has an entrance fee.

To get to the trailhead: Take Badlands Loop Road (Route 240) half a mile east of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to a parking lot on the outside of a horseshoe bend in the road. The trailhead is well marked.

Trailhead address: Badlands Loop Road (SD 240), Badlands National Park, Interior, SD 57750
Trailhead coordinates: 43.750393, -101.931067 (43° 45′ 01.41″N 101° 55′ 51.84″W)

Elevation Profile
Click or hover over any spot on this elevation profile to see the distance from the start and elevation above sea level at that location, which will be highlighted on the map.
Trail Map

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These photos were taken in August of 2011. Click to enlarge.
Nearby Trails
Notch Trail Notch Trail
This adventurous 1 1/3-mile hike travels up a badlands canyon to an elevated overlook with views over the Great Plains.
Door Trail Door Trail
This one-mile hike passes through a gap in Badlands Wall to a viewing platform followed by a cross-country path into the rugged badlands.
Window Trail Window Trail
This level 0.25-mile round trip hike leads to an opening in the Badlands Wall overlooking the rugged landscape beyond.
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Tagged with · Badlands · National Parks · Nature Trails
Distance: 0.5 miles · Elevation change: 300 feet

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