Hike the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail

Cliff Shelf Nature Trailhead

Badlands National Park is a popular destination in the summer months for climbing, hiking, and exploring amongst the rock formations. One of the lesser known hikes takes visitors away from the crowds and trampled earth to a boardwalk over an untouched natural landscape for a closer view into a wilder past.

About 4 miles south of the Northeast Park Entrance, just past the Castle Trailhead, is the Cliff Shelf Nature Trailhead. It sits on the outside of the cliff formation facing open space just through Cedar Pass. There is a parking lot here typically filled with people soaking in the panoramic views. Park and head up the loop trail to step into Badland's past.

The trail heads up stairs through boardwalks and well marked trails into a Juniper forest. The shade can be a relief in South Dakota's sweltering summer heat that often reaches into the 100's. The trail winds along a ledge offering long views before turning up toward the rock formation below the Notch Window. Up a few flights toward the top is a resting area with grande views facing South and East. 

This hike is a perfect early morning stop on your adventure through the park. It is common to see Bighorn Sheep, Rattlesnakes, Deer, Quail, Bison, Porcupine, and Bobcats on this trail before the crowds arrive. It is unique in that it takes you above the wild hills in a way that does not damage them, letting the wild move beneath you untouched.

Bring a hot breakfast with cold orange juice and start your Badlands visit right!

To complete the trail, follow the loop back through the thick Juniper grove back to the parking lot!

Pack List

  • Outdoor Research Helios Hat
  • Merrell Carpa Bolt Hiking Shoes
  • Mountain House Breakfast Skillet
  • Jetboil Personal Cooking System
  • Glacier Point Vacuum Bottle
  • Orange Juice!
Show More
RT Distance 0.75 Miles
Elevation Gain 200 Feet
Activities Photography, Yoga, Hiking, Fitness
Skill Level Beginner
Season Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Loop
Features
Bathrooms
Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Groups
Scenic
Wildlife

Reviews

Leave a Review

Overall rating: 

Great Family Hike

This is an excellent hike if you have a family with small kids. Its well maintained, not a long hike with minimal elevation change, and a lot of it is on boardwalks. That, and it makes for some great sunrise shots to the east. Added plus, its real close to both the Visitor Center and the campground next door.


Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

Nearby Adventures

More Nearby Adventures

Drive the Sage Creek Rim Road

201 Saves

Hike the Badlands' Notch Trail

385 Saves

Hike the Castle/Medicine Root Trail in Badlands National Park

57 Saves