Cliff Shelf Nature Trail & Ben Reifel Visitor Center, Badlands NP


After you drop down the hill from the Door/Window/Notch trail area, the next hiking opportunity is at Cliff Shelf Nature Trail.  The only challenging thing about this short trail is its brief elevation gain, which involves climbing some steps.  The trail is fairly obvious in this picture — it takes you up the side of that small hill on the left, then circles back.

Notice the sign at the start of the trail?  It says “Beware of Rattlesnakes”.  I didn’t see any rattlesnakes during my entire visit to Badlands National Park, so I don’t know how bad the problem actually is.  Maybe the signs are just a ploy to get visitors to stay on the paths (and if so, they worked on me!).

Once you’ve climbed a few dozen steps…

… you’re rewarded with a nice view of one of the greenest areas in Badlands National Park.  You should know, however, that this viewpoint…

… is located directly below the end of the Notch Trail.  So, if you hiked to the Notch, there isn’t much of a reason to also hike up Cliff Shelf Nature Trail.

Drive the rest of the way down the hill from Cliff Shelf, and you end up at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.  In addition to the park headquarters and visitor facility, Cedar Pass Lodge is also here (the only lodging inside the park), as well as a gift shop run by Native Americans.  Both facilities are large and packed with interesting stuff, so allow some extra time here.

Across the street from the visitor center, there are some great sharp-edged cliffs.  Now that the road has dropped down from the higher elevation, you’ll have a different view of things (and it’s great down here).

Just beyond the visitor center, the road splits.  Turn right to continue on the park’s scenic loop road, or turn left to leave the park.  If you leave, you’ll pass through the town of Interior, and hit South Dakota Route 44, which can take you back to Rapid City (allowing you to avoid the interstate).

Note: This trip was first published in 2008.

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