Your Guide to Badlands National Park Camping

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A sign for badlands national park as you enter the park

Badlands National Park camping is some of the best camping in the country. With its stark beauty, camping in this national park under the star-lit night sky is worth its weight in gold. Or should we say fossils? 

Did you know that Badlands has one of the world’s most impressive natural fossil beds? Keep reading to learn more about the Badlands, including a brief history, things to do, and where to camp. 

About Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park is one of the most underrated parks in the U.S. national park system, with only around 1 million visitors per year.

In comparison, according to More Than Just Parks, the most visited national park, Great Smoky Mountain National Park, has around 14 million visitors every year. While fewer people are visiting the Badlands, there are still the same beauty, history, and things to do.

It’s located just 75 miles east of Rapid City in the southwest corner of South Dakota. The area now designated as Badlands National Park was first recognized in 1939 as a national monument. It wasn’t until 1978 that it became a national park.

This national park is a 244,000-acre paradise where travelers can find themselves in a world of adventure. The badlands is derived geologically from sedimentary rocks from the remnants of ancient riverbeds and volcanic ash. 

It boasts an expansive mixed-grass prairie with many spectacular geologic formations. In addition to wide open skies and stunning views, Badlands National Park also hosts a plethora of fossils. That includes marine reptiles and carnivores, with a 75 million-year-old fossil record.

Tons of Activities

Visitors here can experience cultural, historical, and outdoor adventures throughout its land and educational centers.

There are three main scenic drives allowing you to explore the land’s beauty within the comfort of your vehicle. 

If you’re more of a hiker, there are eight official trails in the park ranging from less than one mile to 10 miles. Are you up for more of an adventure than simply staying on a hiking trail? Badlands has an open hike policy, meaning you can hike off-trail anywhere in the park.

And when done hiking, driving, and horseback riding within the park, you might want to stay and do it all again. With two front-country campgrounds with amenities, backcountry sites, and boondocking possibilities, spending more than a day here is highly recommended.

About Badlands National Park Camping 

Badlands National Park camping can be as primitive or as civilized as you would like it to be. It has two official campgrounds.

One allows RVs with electrical hookup sites available. The other allows tents and small rigs without hookups. You can camp comfortably in the front country.

However, being the open hike park it is, you can also be as close to nature as you wish. There are seemingly endless backcountry camping possibilities throughout the entire park.

Front-country and backcountry camping offer access to the wonders of the prairie lands. There are unique geologic formations that define the Badlands National Park.

Can You Camp in the Badlands for Free?

You now know there are camping opportunities in the Badlands, but can you camp here free of charge?

Since Badlands is a national park, and most national parks have entrance fees, you will have to pay to enter the park. You can do this with a day pass or a national park pass.

However, once you’ve entered the park, there are free options for Badlands National Park Camping. Sage Creek Campground, one of the two front-country sites within the park, is a free, first-come, first-serve campground.

And then there’s backcountry camping, where you can camp almost anywhere in the Badlands, free of charge.

Can You Camp Anywhere in the Badlands?

You can camp anywhere in the Badlands, but that anywhere camping does have a couple limitations. While permits aren’t required, if backcountry camping, it’s highly recommended that you let a park staff member know that you will be camping in the Badlands.

You can do this at The Ben Reifel Visitor Center or the Pinnacles Entrance Station. 

The other limitation to camping anywhere in the Badlands is just as simple. Your campsite must not be visible from a road or trail. You must also be at least half a mile from these roads or trails.

Otherwise, that’s it. Pack everything you’ll need for a night under the stars because the only amenities you’ll have while backcountry camping is what you bring.

How Many Days Should I Stay at Badlands National Park? 

Knowing where to camp goes right along with knowing how many days you need to fully experience Badlands National Park. The correct answer is however many it takes you to explore the places you want to see. For some, that may only be a day.

For others, it might be an entire week. But, for the most part, if you want to experience the Badlands in all its beauty, three days is a great starting point. 

In three days, you can experience a scenic road trip around Badlands Loop Road while having time to stop at the many exhibits and informational points along the way. In those three days, you can hike the famous Notch Trail for glorious views of the White River Valley. 

You’ll even have time for a bike ride or a horseback ride. But the best part of the three days is that you’ll also have three nights of tranquility under the star-lit sky.

What Is the Best Month to Visit the Badlands?

The best time to spend those three days or more (or less) is in late summer, as the season just begins its transition into fall.

Summer can be excruciatingly hot, with temperatures over 100 degrees. Thunderstorms also frequent the area in the summer heat, making for not-so-pleasant experiences when spending time outdoors.

During the winter months and early spring, you can expect 12 inches to 24 inches of snow at any given moment.

So whether you’re just coming for a quick visit or have plans for some Badlands National Park camping excursions, August, September, and early October might just be the best months to play in this national park.

Keep in Mind: Did you know you can South Dakota Residency as a Full-Time RVer? Click the link to find out how!

View of badlands national park

Badlands National Park Camping Options 

While there are only two established campgrounds within and backpacking options throughout the park, there’s also a boondocking site just outside the park itself.

You won’t find resort-style amenities at any of the Badlands National Park camping sites. But you’ll find easy access to unique and gorgeous sites only offered by Mother Nature.

Cedar Pass Campground

Location: 25216 Ben Reifel Rd, Interior, SD 57750. Located near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. 

Cedar Pass Campground is a great experience for the outdoor enthusiast within Badlands National Park. With 96-level sites and picture-worthy views of badland formations, visitors can witness abundant wildlife in their natural habitat as they RV or tent camp.

Cedar Pass Lodge isn’t far either and offers the opportunity to shop for goods or dine without leaving the Badlands National Park.

Amenities: Not only does this picturesque campsite offer great views, but the amenities don’t disappoint.

You can enjoy all the creature comforts you’d expect from a great camping spot, such as shaded picnic tables at each site, hot-pay showers, and on-site bathrooms with flush toilets.  And if that weren’t enough, there’s even a water and dump station.

Maximum Length RV: 40 feet

Are Pets Allowed?: Yes, but must be kept on a leash no longer than 6 feet.

View of badlands national park

Sage Creek Campground

Location: On Sage Creek Rim Road within the park

Badlands National Park is often praised for its stunning landscapes. Camping at Sage Creek Campground is one way to experience all it has to offer.

This campground is free and easy, with 22 first-come, first-serve sites. Horse riders will be pleased to know there’s even a portion of the campground designed explicitly for their use, ideal for horseback rides through epic Badlands landscapes. 

Sage Creek Rim Road is unpaved and may close in adverse weather conditions, but this scenic drive just adds to the thrill of the journey.

Amenities: A far cry from glamping, this free camping ground comes with limited amenities, so don’t expect to find a swim-up bar or valet service for your tent. Instead, you’ll be treated to the basics – pit toilets and covered picnic tables – without any luxuries like running water or generator use. 

Take heart, though, as you’ll easily find water at the nearby Ben Reifel Visitor Center, and scenic vistas are all around.

Maximum Length RV: 18 feet

Are Pets Allowed?: Yes, but must be kept on a leash no longer than 6 feet.

Keep in Mind: Plan an RV trip you won’t forget to South Dakota with these tips!

Badlands Boondocking Area 

Location: 43.8898, -102.227 – Located about six miles south of Wall, SD, on Highway 240. 

Badlands National Park camping just got better with the Badlands Boondocking Area, often called The Wall Dispersed Area or Nomad View Dispersed. This wide open spot, complete with stunning views, is conveniently only 1 mile away from the Pinnacle Badlands entrance. 

Don’t want to break open your wallet with hefty camping fees? That’s not an issue here, where you can camp for free on either the cliff known as “the Wall” or a large grassy field. 

Amenities: The only amenities here are the ones you bring with you. Pack it in. Pack it out.

Maximum Length RV: Any size rig can camp here. Just be aware of road conditions, as thunderstorms can cause damage to the road.

Are Pets Allowed?: Yes, and as a good pet owner, keep your pets on a leash.

A Badlands National Park trail sign

Plan Your Perfect Badlands National Park Camping Trip

Now that you know all the essentials for planning your perfect Badlands National Park camping trip, it’s time to start packing.

Whether you choose to camp in the front country, backcountry, or boondock, be sure to bring along your sense of adventure. 

The Badlands are a unique and beautiful place, and with just a little preparation, you can have the perfect camping trip.

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