Spread over a vast area of over 244,000 acres, the Badlands National Park represents a mosaic of breathtakingly beautiful terrain, vast mixed-grass prairies, and some remarkable wildlife.
If wild bison roaming between uniquely shaped beige rock formations seems like a scene you would like to see, the Badlands National Park is where you want to be.
In this guide, we’ll discuss the best campgrounds in the Badlands National Park and how to find them. Whether you want to get here by car, in an RV, by foot, or looking for dispersed camping – we’ve covered all the different camping options.
Having had some sections thoroughly bombed during World War II and representing an ancient native American bison hunting ground, the Badlands area has seen some rough and turbulent past.
This place’s sheer vastness and natural beauty make it a major staple on the map of US camping attractions. When the night falls, this national park opens its curtains to over 7,000 stars, making it one of the best stargazing locations in the US and the world.
Only at times interrupted by Western meadowlark’s song, the Badlands National Park is where the wind reigns supreme, and the grass follows its lead. So, a perfect place to pitch a tent.
This vast and gorgeous national park can be a camper’s paradise if you mind not interrupting the business of such endangered species as black-footed ferrets or bighorn sheep.
Anyway, the Lakota people ended up saying what every other tribe was obviously already thinking about this place and called it ‘Mako Sica,’ or ‘lands bad’ in their language. Due to the scarcity of resources, the name stuck. After centuries passed, it still lives on as ‘Badlands.’
We should say that hunting for sustenance and scarcity of water was a big part of why the ancient peoples distrusted this area.
For a modern-day visitor, as long as you arrive here well-equipped with food, water, and other assets you might need, you will likely have no problem staying here for as long as you like.
In the passages below, I’ll list the most critical campgrounds in this national park, including car campgrounds, RV-friendly places, and backcountry and dispersed campsites.
Car Camping Sites
Here are the two most notable campgrounds in the Badlands National Park proper that you can drive into in your car.
Cedar Pass Campground
- Number of sites: 96 (four of these are group sites for up to 26 people)
- RVs: Yes
- Charge: $23 a night for a tent site | $38 for an RV site with electricity | $40 a night for a group site
- Reservations: Yes (especially during the peak summer season)
A great starting point for accessing the Badlands National Park, the Cedar Pass Campground is a part of a broader complex called Cedar Pass Lodge – a place offering lodging, dining, and some fantastic star and moon-gazing potential.
Also, watching the buffalo graze and other animals in their natural habitat can be another activity you can do here.
As far as the campground is concerned, it is easily accessible by vehicles and offers some of the most breathtaking views of the Badlands rock formations. You can observe its sharp pinnacles, spires, and oddly-shaped buttes that the wind eroded over thousands of years.
If you look at the area below, you will see a significant grassland stretching as far as the eye can see. This expanse is where the energy of ancient hunters, herds of buffalos running around in panic, and vast open skies meet with the tranquility of gentle wind moving the grassy patches and steady rocks standing as a monument of history and nature.
This significant ground is home to 96 campsites, some dedicated to RVs, some to tenting, and some to groups of visitors.
Thanks to the proximity of the Cedar Pass Lodge, camping here means easy access to potable water, washing, and recycling facilities, as well as a restaurant and restrooms. The RV sites are electric-only, but there is a dump site nearby that you can use.
Starting campfires here is against the rules due to the sensitive nature of the low-growing plants in this area.
This campground is open seasonally and is pretty popular among visitors. For this reason, making a reservation ahead of time might be an excellent idea.
An important note: Cedar Pass Complex is not a part of the Badlands National Park, so it is not under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. It’s right next to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center and can, as such, be a central entry point to the national park if you want to explore it at some point.
Sage Creek Campground
- Number of sites: 22
- RVs: Yes (with trailers no longer than 18 feet, though)
- Charge: Free
If you’re looking for a camping experience where you get a bit of privacy and a chance to observe the beautiful scenery and wildlife of the national park from within it – the Sage Creek campground is where you want to be.
The location of Sage Creek is within the northwestern portion of the park, with the campsites sitting pretty along the road with the same name as the creek. There are 22 sites total, and they are all first-come, first-served. For this reason, arriving here as early as possible is essential to getting the best sites you like.
In terms of amenities, you can find pit toilets and picnic tables. All the campsites here are free of charge, so you don’t have to worry about getting passes or reservations.
That said, the closest town to this area is Scenic, about 15 miles away, so you can get your supplies here. (If you decide to secure your supplies this way, make sure to do so before you head for the campground.)
So, the first thing to remember – is don’t let the name ‘creek’ fool you. There’s no potable water on this campground. Secondarily, as with most campgrounds in the Badlands National Park and general area – starting fires is strongly forbidden.
Backcountry Campsites in Badlands National Park
Negotiating the rugged terrain with your adventurer’s boots on (the ones with pointy soles) and brandishing your map every so often represent a fantastic Indiana Jones-like experience that you wouldn’t want to miss out on if you’re into camping and mountaineering at all.
It would help if you always had a map around these parts. The terrain here tends to repeat itself regarding its appearance, and the park is more than large enough for the prospect of getting lost in it to become pretty accurate.
Deer Haven Trailhead
- Length of trail: 6-7 miles (for a round trip)
- Amenities: No
Starting from the Conata Picnic area trailhead, the Deer Haven Trailhead is an unofficial but still somewhat famous and beloved hiking trail that leads further into the Badlands backcountry.
If you fancy getting to know the parts of this National Park and its surrounding area not shown on the postcards, setting up a camp along the Sage Creek Rim Road can be a great starting point.
In terms of camping amenities, you won’t find any along the trails. Assuming you approach these camping spots with a backcountry backpacking expedition mindset, you will probably carry everything you need in your rucksack.
If not, remember that bottled water, food, and maps are the bare minimum necessities around here.
Many people flock to this place because of the wild bison grazing the low-growing prairie grass. Mostly, these herbivorous giants mind their own business, so as long as you give them their space, they will leave you alone.
A final word of caution: No campfires along the trail. Do not interact with the bison or other animals you encounter. No pets allowed. Have plenty of water with you at all times. This trail is not official, so don’t expect a clear-cut path to follow. Bringing a map along is essential.
Conata Picnic Area
- Amenities: parking, pavilion shelters, toilets, wheelchair accessibility
Representing a starting point for accessing several fantastic and challenging hike trails, the Conata Picnic Area is one of the most remote campgrounds with some amenities in the entire Badlands National Park.
Starting from Canada, you can easily access and start finding your way up some exciting hiking trails, including the 7-ish-mile Deer Haven Trail we mentioned above. There’s a more challenging 23-mile route of rugged but beautiful terrain along the Sage Creek Trail if you’re up for more of a demanding but also rewarding hiking adventure.
Regarding camping, this place has some useful amenities – especially if you’re arriving here onboard an RV or a car. There’s plenty of parking space everywhere in this area, and you’ll also easily find shelter in the shape of pavilions and restrooms. The entire area is also wheelchair accessible, for good measure.
Interestingly, a specific paleontological excavation site has been open for 15 years now in the vicinity of this picnic area. The curiously-called Big Pig Dig is a unique place with fossil remains of thousands of animals that died in the same place that was once a sole and dwindling water source for miles. As the water from the source expired, so did the animals stuck in it. The place is a must-visit if you’re a zoology, paleontology, or archeology aficionado.
Whether you plan to have a day’s picnic en route out of or into the national park, or you have bigger plans that include attempting one of the most challenging unofficial trails in the entire park – the Conata Picnic Area can be a great starting point.
Last but not least, even though this area has toilets and is wheelchair accessible, there is no source of potable water, so make sure to bring some of your own along.
RV Camping Near Badlands National Park
Undoubtedly, one of the best ways to experience camping in and around a national park as large and full of long, lonesome roads surrounded by fantastic scenery as Badlands would be to get onboard an RV.
Although there are a few RV parks you can visit within the national park proper, if your RV is longer than 18 feet, you may have trouble finding a spot for yourself.
If you like to have an additional trailer behind your RV – considering camping grounds outside the developed campgrounds would be a must.
Not only can you camp there, but you will also have enough space for objects other than the vehicles themselves. (You can set up tents, spread a picnic table, surround it with picnic chairs, etc.)
Below, you can see the two best RV camping options outside Badlands National Park.
Badlands Interior Campground
- Number of sites: 34 RV sites, 27 tent-only, 16 RV, and 4 group sites
- RVs: Yes
- Charge: $26.06 a night for a tent site | $23.61 – $37.07 for an RV site
- Reservations: Yes
- Pets: Allowed
With Free Wi-Fi, a large on-site restaurant, a pool, and a small shop, Badlands Interior campground can be a fantastic option for anyone interested in camping near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.
While campfires are verboten in the national park itself, there are fire pits you can use to your heart’s content at this campground.
Also, other amenities present here include an on-site restaurant, a swimming pool, as well as a small shop where you can restock your supplies.
It’s not all about the Wi-Fi and full hookups when it comes to this place. Surrounded by some of the most breathtakingly beautiful natural sites this area offers, this campsite can be a perfect starting point for taking excellent photos of all the extraordinary creations around you.
Interspersed throughout the area are some unique animals, including the bison, bighorn sheep, and an occasional mountain lion blending in with the surrounding environment.
Sleepy Hollow Campground & RV Park
- Number of sites: 57 RV sites, 20 tent sites
- RVs: Yes
- Charge: $28 a night for a tent site | $43 for an RV site
- Reservations: Yes
- Pets: Allowed
Besides its recognizable folklore name, the Sleepy Hollow campground & RV park nests in the town of Wall, South Dakota. For those looking to explore the Sage Creek area, this campground can be a fantastic starting place from where you can get the best possible access to the scenic Sage Creek area.
Camping here is more akin to glamping than a dispersed camping experience.
Some of the stuff you get here include a dog park, a playground, a basketball hoop, and a pool. Other than that, there’s a grocery store present, so you can get your supplies before heading into the national park.
That said, even if you don’t plan on entering the national park, or camping here, you can have a fun, family-friendly experience that you will remember for the rest of your life.
For more cool campgrounds in South Dakota, check out our guide to camping in Custer State Park and our guide to camping near Mt Rushmore.
Dispersed Camping Near Badlands
One of the best free camping options around the Badlands National Park would be to get a campsite adjacent to the Buffalo Gap National Grassland. There are a few developed recreational areas around here, but other than that – the rest is free for dispersed camping.
Regarding rules and limitations regarding dispersed camping around Badlands, since the BLM manages the national grassland area, you will likely find the rules reasonably easy to follow – since BLM is known for its lax and reasonable camping directives.
The other option is the so-called Outlook dispersed camping, Badlands Boondocking, as it’s also known. This area sits just north of State Highway 240, connecting Badlands to the town of Wall. An interesting unofficial road mark for this area would be the three radio towers protruding from the surrounding area.
Some of the views overlooking the national park from this area are fantastic. An important thing to remember here is to always bring water with you, as there are no potable water sources near this area. Also, taking care of the trash is entirely your responsibility.
Generally speaking, the BLM encourages campers to observe and adhere to the Leave No Trace camping principles, which can be a great way to approach this area.
Badlands National Park Camping – Key Pieces of Info
Native Americans, one of the most challenging, bravest, and most ruthless warriors on the planet, used to call this place Badlands‘. Thus, approaching a camping expedition around these parts, you should showcase a certain degree of respect.
The picture of the Badlands as the unforgiving dry area with only buffalo and bighorn enduring the challenging climate has changed in the past decades. Ever since this region became a national park, the number of amenities, structures, and stations has been steadily growing.
Whether it’s something as simple as a shade-providing picnic pavilion or as complex and detailed as the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, the Badlands National Park is certainly not without its amenities.
Hot weather, little to no creeks, rivers, or other bodies of water nearby, and poor rainfall all mean one thing – Badlands is a dry place.
A dry prairie at that.
With over 400 plant species, the Badlands National Park is one of the largest mixed-grass prairie expanses in the US. Unsurprisingly, much of this plant life dries up in the summer and becomes incredibly easily combustible.
For this reason, the rule regarding campfires within the boundaries of the Badlands National Park is simple – Authorities strongly prohibit starting fires.
In any National Park with a significant wildlife population, bringing your pets along is a touchy subject.
In Badlands National Park, pets are allowed in several designated places, usually those with RV hookups and other, more complex amenities nearby. Cedar Pass and Sage Creek campground are examples of areas where you can bring your pets.
Even on campgrounds where pets are allowed, you still need to keep them on a leash at all times. Regarding hygiene, picking up your pet’s droppings and adequately disposing of them is also required.
Backcountry or dispersed campsites within or just outside the national park prohibit bringing pets along.
You can learn more about the rules of bringing along kids or pets on the official Badlands National Park website.
The rules surrounding the wildlife in Badlands are relatively lax, considering the sheer number of species inhabiting this large area.
As long as you mind not stepping onto the super rare and endangered black-footed ferret, or worse still, on a rattlesnake, animal encounters shouldn’t be that much of a problem unless it’s bison.
It would help if you avoided large animals such as the bison or the bighorn sheep. (Which, if you’re heading for a backcountry expedition, you most certainly will.) Although these aren’t necessarily aggressive, tampering with any animals is strictly prohibited, and leaving them alone is the best course of action if you take a chance upon any.
Other remarkable animal species in this area include prairie dogs and turtles and majestic birds of prey such as golden eagles, northern harriers, sharp-shinned hawks, and many others.
The remoteness and the wild nature of the Badlands National Park make it a unique and exciting destination for campers, hikers, and other visitors who flock to this place every year.
That said, getting the necessary supplies for your camping trip into the Badlands won’t be that simple.
If you only want the bare-bones basics, you might visit the town Interior, South Dakota. The town of Interior is only a 10-minute drive from the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. You can find bottled water, sandwiches, and perhaps a candy bar or two at the grocery store. You can refill your tank at the adjacent petrol station and prepare for the next leg of your journey.
However, a long drive of about 1.5 hours will land you in Rapid City, a town where you can restock on anything you can think of – from water to your camping pickaxe. The massive Safeway market in Rapid City is where you will get your groceries. The Roam’n Around store will get you all the supplies for outdoor-related pursuits.
Ancient rocks that took thousands of years to form their current shape were vast expanses of yellow, dry, but still alive and healthy grassland. Add to that Bison, bighorn sheep, the elusive black-footed ferret, and a rich bird fauna composed of majestic birds of prey and colorful plumage.
All this, plus some of the most well-placed developed campgrounds in the US, both for RV-ing and regular ones, make the Badlands national park an absolute must-visit. Whether you’re an RV enthusiast, tent camper, or simply a person looking for a once-in-the-lifetime adventure, you will find it here in one of the most remote and beautiful regions in the US and the world.
It is my grandparents fault. They took me camping every year from the age of three, and hiking was simply walking up hills! He would be surprised now to hear of wild camping – for him living in Scotland – he just pitched up and camped. I don’t think he paid for a campsite in his life.