Your Guide to Badlands National Park Camping

Last Updated on February 16, 2023 by Jess

Camping in Badlands National Park is among the best campgrounds in the country. With its beauty, camping in this national park is worth its weight in gold under the starry night sky. Or should we say fossils?

Did you know Badlands has one of the most impressive natural fossil beds in the world? Read on to learn more about the Badlands, including a brief history, activities, and camping options.

About Badlands National Park

With only around 1 million visitors a year, Badlands National Park is one of the most underrated parks in the US national park system.

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

It is 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 as a national monument in 1939. In 1978 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 are geologically derived from sedimentary rocks from the remnants of ancient riverbeds and volcanic ash.

It features an extensive mixed grass prairie with many spectacular geological formations. In addition to the wide skies and breathtaking vistas, Badlands National Park is also home to an abundance of fossils. These include marine reptiles and carnivores with a fossil record dating back 75 million years.

Tons of activities

Visitors can experience cultural, historical, and outdoor adventures across the country and at educational centers.

There are three main scenic routes to explore the country’s beauty from the comfort of your vehicle.

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

And when you’re done hiking, driving, and horseback riding in the park, you might want to stay and do it all over again. With two foreshore campgrounds with amenities, backcountry pitches and boondocking facilities, spending more than a day here is highly recommended.

About Camping in Badlands National Park

Camping in Badlands National Park can be as primitive or as civilized as you would like it to be. It has two official campsites.

One allows RVs with available power hookups. The other allows for tents and small rigs without connectors. You can camp comfortably in the foreland.

However, because it’s an open trail park, you can be as close to nature as you like. There are seemingly endless backcountry camping opportunities throughout the park.

Front and backcountry camping offers access to the wonders of the prairie. There are unique geological formations that define Badlands National Park.

Can you camp for free in the Badlands?

Now you know there’s camping in the Badlands, but can you camp here for free?

Since Badlands is a national park and most national parks charge an entrance fee, you will need to pay to enter the park. This is possible with a day ticket or a national park pass.

However, once you enter the park, there are free camping opportunities in Badlands National Park. Sage Creek Campground, one of two front-country locations within the park, is free, first-come, first-served.

And then there’s backcountry camping, where you can camp for free almost anywhere in the badlands.

Can you camp anywhere in the Badlands?

You can camp anywhere in the Badlands, but camping has a few restrictions. While permits are not required, if you are camping in the backcountry, it is highly recommended that you let a park official know that you will be camping in the badlands.

You can do this at the Ben Reichel Visitor Center or at the Pinnacles Entry Station.

The other constraint of camping anywhere in the Badlands is just as easy. Your campsite must not be visible from a road or path. You must also be at least half a mile away from any such road or trail.

Otherwise, that’s it. Pack everything you need for a night under the stars because the only conveniences you have with backcountry camping are what you bring with you.

How many days should I stay in Badlands National Park?

Knowing where to camp comes with knowing how many days it takes to fully experience Badlands National Park. The correct answer is how many you need to explore the places you want to see. For some, this may be just one day.

For others it can be a whole week. But in most cases, if you want to experience the badlands in all their beauty, three days is a good starting point.

In three days you can experience a scenic road trip around the Badlands Loop Road, with time to stop at the many exhibits and information points along the way. During these three days, you can hike the famous Notch Trail for beautiful views of the White River Valley.

You even have time for a bike ride or a horseback ride. But the best thing about the three days is that you will also spend three nights of rest under the stars.

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 is just beginning its transition into fall.

Summer can be unbearably hot, with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees. In the summer heat, thunderstorms are also frequent in the area, making for less than pleasant experiences when spending time outdoors.

Expect 12 inches to 24 inches of snow at any time during the winter months and early spring.

Whether visiting for a short visit or planning camping trips in Badlands National Park, August, September and early October may be the best months to play in this national park.

Keep in mind: Did you know that you can get residency in South Dakota as a full-time camper? Click the link to find out how!

Camping opportunities in Badlands National Park

While there are only two established campgrounds and backpacking options within the park, there is also a boandocking site just outside the park.

You won’t find resort-style facilities at any of the campgrounds in Badlands National Park. But you will find easy access to unique and beautiful places that only Mother Nature can provide.

Cedar Pass Campground

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

Cedar Pass Campground is a great experience for outdoor enthusiasts in Badlands National Park. With 96 level locations and picture-worthy vistas of wasteland formations, campers or campers can see abundant wildlife in their natural habitat.

Cedar Pass Lodge is also a short distance away, offering the opportunity to shop for goods or dine without leaving Badlands National Park.

Furnishing: Not only does this scenic campground offer great views, but the amenities don’t disappoint.

You can enjoy all the amenities you would expect from a great campsite, such as shaded picnic tables at every pitch, hot water showers and bathrooms with flush toilets. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s even a water and waste disposal station.

Maximum zip length: 40 feet

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

View of Badlands National Park

Sage Creek Campground

Location: Located on Sage Creek Rim Road within the park

Badlands National Park is often praised for its breathtaking scenery. 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 served. Riders will be pleased to know that there is even a section of the campground specifically designed for their use, ideal for horseback riding through the Badlands’ epic landscapes.

The Sage Creek Rim Road is unpaved and may be closed in inclement weather, but this scenic drive only adds to the thrill of the trip.

Furnishing: Far from glamping, this free campsite offers limited amenities. So don’t expect to find a swim-up bar or valet parking for your tent. Instead, you’re treated to the basics — pit toilets and covered picnic tables — without any luxuries like running water or generator use.

Be brave though, as water is easy to find at the nearby Ben Reichel Visitor Center and scenic views are everywhere.

Maximum zip length: 18 feet

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

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

Badlands boondocking area

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

Camping in Badlands National Park just got better with the Badlands Boondocking Area, often referred to as The Wall Dispersed Area or Nomad View Dispersed. This wide open space with breathtaking views is conveniently located just 1 mile from the entrance to the Pinnacle Badlands.

Don’t want to break your wallet with hefty camping fees? That’s not a problem here, where you can camp for free either on the cliff known as “the wall” or in a large meadow.

Furnishing: The only amenities here are those you bring with you. Pack it up. Unpack it.

Maximum zip length: Any size rig can camp here. Just be aware of road conditions as thunderstorms can damage the road.

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

A signpost in Badlands National Park

Plan your perfect camping trip in Badlands National Park

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

Whether you’re camping in the front country, back country, or boondock, be sure to bring your spirit of adventure.

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

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