Last Updated on January 5, 2020 by Jody
Use this resource to help you plan a camping trip to
Badlands National Park.
Located just south of Interstate 90 as it stretches (seemingly endlessly, at times!) across South Dakota, The Badlands are an unexpected contrast to the immense prairie you've passed through.
Visiting Badlands National Park
There are a few entrances into Badlands National Park, though most visitors enter at the Northeast and Pinnacles entrances, both just south of I-90.
Connecting these two entrances is the Badlands Loop Road, the best maintained road through the park and the recommended road if you are driving an RV or pulling a camper.
With a single main road running through the North Unit and no marked roads within the Stronghold and Palmer Creek Units (both located within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation), the Badlands seem practically untouched by humans.
Camping In and Near Badlands National Park in South Dakota
Campgrounds in Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park has two campgrounds, both in the North Unit.
Sage Creek Campground, located at the west end of the park, offers rustic camping with pit toilets but no water or electricity.
Bison often roam through the campground and limited turn around is available for large recreational vehicles.
Sites are free on a first come, first served basis. Generators and ground fires are not permitted.
Note: This is a very popular site and park staff are working on new management strategies to reduce impact on park resources.
Cedar Pass Campground is a managed campground located near the eastern end of the park, not far from the visitor center. You'll find basic tent camping sites, as well as RV sites with electrical hookups. Cold running water, flush toilets, and covered picnic tables are available here.
Near the Cedar Pass Campground is Cedar Pass Lodge. Open from April to October, these modern cabins offer small kitchen areas, bathrooms and comfortable beds.
Backcountry Camping in Badlands National Park
Tips from Wade Ellett at Intrepid Daily
Unlike most National Parks, no permit is necessary for backpacking into the wilderness. I recommend stopping at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to speak with a ranger about current conditions, and to let them know your plans.
You should also log your visit in one of the backcountry registers, found at Saddle Pass Trailhead, the Conata Picnic area, the Medicine/Castle Trail Loop, the Sage Creek Basin Overlook, as well as the Sage Creek primitive campground. This is for your safety; should anything go wrong, it ensures rangers will know where to locate you.
Otherwise, you’re welcome to camp anywhere in the park over one-half mile from all roads and trails that’s not visible from park roads.
This offers a great deal of freedom, but don’t rush out without planning. There is no potable water in the backcountry; any stream, puddle, or pool you find is full of dissolved minerals and sediment. Boiling, chemical treatments, and filtration will not render it drinkable. You will need to carry at least one gallon of water per person per day, and more is recommended in the summer months.
Fires are prohibited everywhere in the Badlands, so you’ll need to use a backpacking stove, or carry food that doesn’t require cooking. Exercise caution when using your stove; the risk of fire is always high in this arid environment, and even a stray spark can be dangerous.
Watch out for wildlife. Bison roam the park freely, grazing at their leisure, and will gore or trample if threatened. Several snakes make their home here and while only the prairie rattlesnake is venomous, any snake will bite if provoked. Even prairie dogs, which look cute and cuddly, can bite and can carry sylvatic plague. As a general rule, enjoy wildlife from a distance.
Don’t let these warnings scare you. It’s important to know the risks, but if you’re properly prepared your night in the Badlands backcountry will be spectacular.
My recommendation? Head to the Sage Creek primitive campground and then hike out into the surrounding hills. Sleeping amidst hoodoos and rock formations seems awesome, but unless you’re experienced camping in harsh environments, you’ll find the Sage Creek Area safer, more accessible, and more comfortable.
Much of the backcountry remains unimproved, which means no amenities, no roads, and not much in the way of trails. A good topographical map and compass will be worth every penny spent. Luckily, a game trail, worn deeper by the footsteps of adventurers like yourself, extends south from the primitive campground, along South Fork creek.
This isn’t a developed trail, and it follows washes and cuts through tall prairie grass. I recommend that you still carry your map and compass, but following this trail lends you a navigational aid; with the creek as your landmark, you can always follow it north back to the Sage Creek primitive camping area. This won’t diminish your backcountry experience; knowing you’re safe allows you to relax and fully enjoy your Badland’s backpacking experience.
Campgrounds Near Badlands National Park
Badlands/ White River KOA is just 4 miles from the national park. In fact you have to pass through the park to reach this campground!
Located along the White River, this campground has earned the name ‘Oasis in the Badlands' for its wonderfully shaded campsites and many trees.
All RV sites are pull-thru, and quite spacious. Tent sites are available with and without electric. If you aren't bringing accommodation with you, this campground offers camping cabins, deluxe cabins, and tipis.
You'll find all the amenities you expect at a KOA- pool, gated pet area, mini golf, and on site activities including kids crafts and evening ice cream socials.
Because this site is along the river (yea for the trees!) you can expect mosquitoes, so be prepared to banish bugs from your campsite.
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