I live in Minnesota and there are plenty of beautiful places to camp and enjoy the outdoors. But, if you’re looking for a little change in scenery, Camping in the Black Hills of South Dakota is a great option that offers lots of excitement and beautiful places to see within kid-friendly driving distance.
The Black Hills region of South Dakota is full of amazing opportunities for wildlife watching, hiking, sightseeing, fishing, and of course, camping. Also, several National Parks and Monuments are located in this area giving you and your family plenty of places to explore.
I first visited the Black Hills when I was 8 years old. My grandparents took me on a week long trip to see all the major sites. I still remember visiting Mt. Rushmore for the first time, completely in awe of how beautiful it is.
It was a trip I’d remember for a lifetime and recently planned a similar trip there with my husband. Except, this time, we camped! It was his first time in South Dakota and he absolutely loved it. We still talk about this being one of our favorite trips we’ve taken together.
Camping in Black Hills National Forest
The Black Hills have 60 campgrounds with many different types and locations of campsites making it a daunting task to pick a place to camp. Fear no more, we’ve compiled a list of our favorites along with some of the best rated campgrounds in the Black Hills National Forest!
Family-Friendly Campgrounds in the Black Hills
Big Pine Campground – Custer, SD
There’s a reason this is our top pick and one of the best rated campgrounds in the Black Hills. It’s great location allows you to visit many of the best attractions in Black Hills National Forest without spending too much time in the car. My husband and I stayed here for four nights and had an amazing time! We still talk about the “whistling” pines and cozy nights making dinner over the campfire.
Although the campground is located off the highway, you feel like you’re in your own slice of Back Hills paradise. The secluded and quiet campsites are scattered between tall pine trees. Primitive sites are offered, as well as sites with electric/water, and RV hookups. They have camper cabins, too, if you’re not feeling like setting up the tent. Each site includes a fire pit for s’mores roasting and a picnic table for your family to enjoy their favorite camping meals.
Custer State Park Campgrounds – Custer, SD
Custer State Park offers many beautiful campgrounds for your family to choose from. Here’s a few to get your adventure started.
Bluebell Campground is situated in a Ponderosa pine forest in Custer State Park. This campground offers tent, RV sites, and camper cabins with flush toilets and showers available on site. Visit the Bluebell Lodge while you’re there to enjoy a chuck wagon cookout or take a horseback ride through the park. The campground is also located near the Wildlife Loop where you can catch a glimpse of bison, deer, elk, and more.
Center Lake Campground is located near Center Lake and boasts a boat dock and swimming beach for your little ones. Sites do not have electric hookup and are only able to accommodate tents or small RVs, so keep this in mind when planning your trip.
Sylvan Lake Campground located near stunning Sylvan Lake, this campground gives you the opportunity to explore the Needles Highway. Take your time going through the hairpin turns and stop at The Eye of the Needle for a great photo op. Sylvan Lake Lodge also offers amazing views of Black Elk Peak as well as a restaurant and watersport rentals for a fun day on the water.
Bismark Lake Campground – Custer, SD
Bismark Lake campground is situated off Lake Bismark and offers wonderful scenery, hiking, and camp sites. You and your family can also enjoy fishing and canoeing on the lake. The campground is more primitive than previously listed sites, but still has flush toilets and potable water available during peak season.
Adventurer’s Campgrounds in the Black Hills
Grizzly Creek Primitive – Hill City, SD
Spacious campsites with lots of wildlife viewing and close proximity to Mt. Rushmore make this campground a hit. This tent-only campground is located off the scenic Iron Mountain Road. The sites do not offer electric hookup, but vault toilets and picnic shelters are available in the campground.
- Custer State Park French Creek Natural Area – Custer, SD
This back-country hiking trail along French Creek offers primitive hike-in sites for serious adventurers. The moderate-difficulty trail gives you the opportunity to truly experience nature with an abundance of wildlife viewing opportunities, fishing, and more.
The Black Elk Wilderness Area offers a special opportunity to experience the wild. There are multiple hiking paths that run through this area for backpackers, hikers, and campers to use. One of the most popular trails is Trail #9. If you want a more secluded hike, try Lost Cabin #2 trail or Grizzly Bear Creek #7. Also, keep in mind the wilderness regulations and Leave No Trace during your visit.
If you’re hungry for adventure and blazing your own trail, try free camping in Black Hills National Forest. This is an amazing way to get in touch with nature and truly experience the Black Hills.
There are several rules you need to be aware of if you choose to free camp: 1) You may only camp for a maximum of 14 days. 2) Amenities are not available. Make sure you have the ability to carry in enough potable water or have the means to purify water before using it. 3) Campfires are not permitted. See the National Forest Service’s website for update rules and any restrictions or closures.
Check out our post for more info on Free Camping in the US.
Rustic Retreats in the Black Hills
Newton Fork Ranch – Hill City, SD
If you’re looking for somewhere to relax after your time camping in Black Hills National Forest or would rather stay somewhere with more amenities than a campground, look no further than Newton Fork Ranch. Their log cabins offer everything you and your family need while providing beautiful views of the Black Hills. While you’re there, head into Hill City for their shopping boutiques and a delicious steak dinner at The Alpine Inn.
Rustic Ridge Guest Cabins – Keystone, SD
Rustic Ridge offers beautiful log cabins located near major attractions like Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse. These cabins are situated in a mountain-like setting and boast a kitchenette and many of the other amenities of home. Enjoy a cozy family get away here while you’re in the Black Hills!
Camping Tips for the Black Hills
Whether you plan to “rough it” at a primitive campsite or stay in a cozy cabin, these tips will help you prepare for your trip!
- Get your car or RV checked to make sure it can handle the windy, sharp, and sometimes steep roads in the Black Hills.
- Know your route. Even in the age of technology, it’s smart to have a paper map or “offline” maps available if you are to get lost in an area without cell service or GPS.
- Prepare your gear. Double check your gear is in working order and you have all the tools you need before leaving home. If you plan to camp in wilderness areas or backpack, read our post on how to plan a backpacking trip.
- Check the weather. My husband and I learned this the hard way! We camped in the Black Hills in the end of August and encountered temps in the upper 30s overnight. Make sure you pack gear appropriate for the season and be certain you’re prepared for cooler or very warm weather!
- Keep your campsite safe by following posted rules about managing waste, containing fires, and what items aren’t permitted. For example, you’re not allowed to bring your own firewood!
Check out our Family Camping Packing List to make sure you pack everything you’ll need.
Want even more info? Check out our tent, sleeping bag, tent heater, and sleeping pad buying guides.
Planning Your Meals:
Meal prepping for camping trips can sometimes be a difficult thing to do. To make it easier, here’s a list of make ahead meals for your family camping trip.
- Be sure to pack enough food for the length of your trip and the size of your group. It can be tough to purchase food at a reasonable price in smaller cities if you run out once you get there. Follow these tips to make sure your packing game is spot on.
- Know what options you’ll have for food storage at your campsite. Ensure you have a way to keep your food safe and be sure to appropriately dispose of your food waste.
- If you’re backpacking or won’t have a way to keep food cold, there are some great recipes for non-refrigerated meals here.
- Ensure you have enough clean water or have means to purify water for your group. Streams and stagnant water can harbor germs that could make you very sick.
This is the most important part of any camping trip. You may run into snags along the way, but the journey is all part of the adventure. Hopefully, this guide will help you in planning an amazing vacation in the Black Hills. Happy camping!
Want even more to do in the Black Hills? Check out our post on 14 Things To Do In The Black Hills, SD.