The Ultimate Guide to Camping in Badlands National Park

Camping in Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park is located in southwestern South Dakota.

The truly desolate and completely unique landscape is home to vast grasslands as well as extensively eroded rock formations. The bizarre and colorful rocky structures combined with the absolute isolation far from civilization make this a must-see national park.

And, like always, our favorite way to experience any national park – including Badlands – is by camping in or near it! Luckily, there are several Badlands camping opportunities for tent campers and RV campers alike.

Here’s everything you need to know to plan the perfect Badlands National Park camping trip.

Why Camp in Badlands National Park?

Road in Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park is best known for its fascinating landscape – unlike any other on Earth – that includes surprisingly vibrantly colored rocky buttes, pinnacles, and spires all eroded by the wind and sun over hundreds of thousands of years.

In addition to these badland formations, vast grass prairies cover much of the park as well as the surrounding national grasslands. Wildlife is prevalent, most notably buffalo, but prairie dogs, elk, and bighorn sheep are also abundant.

The park is home to two developed campgrounds plus plenty of backcountry camping opportunities. And that’s not to mention the various campgrounds, RV parks, and dispersed camping areas just outside of its boundaries.

Camping in Badlands National Park is amazing not only for the scenery but also for the remoteness. You’ll seriously feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. And the lack of nearby towns and cities means incredibly dark night skies and jaw dropping views of the Milky Way.

In addition to camping and sightseeing, the national park is crisscrossed with hiking trails and is also a popular place for fossil hunting.

While Badlands National Park offers more than enough on its own to warrant a camping trip, it’s a popular family camping road trip destination thanks to its proximity to many other fascinating sites in South Dakota (Custer State Park and Mount Rushmore National Memorial) as well as surrounding North Dakota (Theodore Roosevelt National Park), Wyoming (Devil’s Tower National Monument), Montana, Nebraska, and more.

If you do decide to take a family road trip to Badlands National Park and the surrounding area, consider renting an RV with our handy RV rental tool to spend your vacation in the utmost comfort and style. 

Where to Go Camping in Badlands National Park

Bison in Badlands National Park

Camping in Badlands National Park is somewhat limited. There are just two frontcountry campgrounds. However, a variety of backcountry camping opportunities are available.

Here’s a roundup of the best campgrounds in Badlands National Park.

Cedar Pass Campground

Camping at Cedar Pass Campground in Badlands is perfect for those that prefer a more amenities-filled camping experience. This developed campground has 96 campsites, including several with electric hookups for RVs, and is open year-round. It’s just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Cedar Pass Lodge, Cedar Pass Restaurant, and the nearby gift shop. For incredible views just minutes from camp, don’t forget to take the short walk to the overlook that faces beautiful Cedar Pass. Advance reservations are accepted in the peak season.

Learn more about Cedar Pass Campground.

Sage Creek Campground

For a more primitive Badlands camping experience, try Sage Creek Campground. This free campground offers 22 campsites that are all first-come, first-served. No RVs or trailers over 18’ are allowed here. This Badlands campground is primitive with no running water, although pit toilets are available. Be warned that the dirt access road can be very rough. However, those that brave the trek will be greeted absolutely beautiful scenery in all directions as well as very dark night skies that are prefect for stargazing.

Learn more about Sage Creek Campground.

Backcountry Camping

Backcountry camping in Badlands is another popular way to explore the park. Although navigating the spires, buttes, and canyons can be difficult, miles of backpacking trails wind their way through them. You can pretty much camp anywhere as long as you’re at least a half mile from any road or trail and are not visible from a roadway. Although permits are not required for overnight stays in the backcountry, it is important to contact a ranger at the visitor center before heading out. Fires are never allowed in the Badlands backcountry. It’s also important to pack out all trash, including human waste.

Learn more about backpacking in Badlands National Park.

Other Lodging in Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park in winter

Want to visit Badlands National Park but prefer not to camp? Luckily, Cedar Pass Lodge offers cabin rentals near the Cedar Pass Campground.

Here’s the lowdown on Badlands National Park lodging.

Cedar Pass Lodge

Historic Cedar Pass Lodge is the only option for non-camping overnight accommodations in Badlands National Park. A variety of cabin rentals are available custom made to resemble the original cabins built in 1928. Large decks, spacious beds, kitchenettes, small bathrooms, and flat screen televisions make for extra comfort. Air conditioning and heat are available to deal with the often extreme weather conditions. Book early in the summer months as cabin reservations fill up fast.

Learn more about Cedar Pass Lodge.

Free Camping in Badlands National Park

Van Camping in Badlands National Park

Free camping in Badlands National Park is totally possible.

In fact, one of the park’s two developed campgrounds, Sage Creek Campground is completely free! All 22 campsites are first-come, first-served so arrive early to secure a site.

That said, camping at Sage Creek still requires paying the park entrance fee of $30 per vehicle, so it’s technically not 100% free…

For completely free camping in the Badlands area, look just outside the park’s boundaries. My favorite free campsite nearby – and arguably one of the best places for boondocking in the United States – is just north of the northern entrance to the national park.

Part of the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, this dispersed camping area doesn’t have an actual name, although you’ll sometimes hear locals refer to it as “The Wall,” because it’s located just a few miles south of the town of Wall on the edge of a cliff overlooking the badlands.

Seriously though, camping here isn’t to be missed. It’s honestly one of the most beautiful camping spots I’ve ever been to with incredible views of the badlands with plenty of room to spread out.

This free campsite is located just off Highway 240 near the tall cell towers in the distance. For more specific directions, the rangers at the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands Visitors Center will help point you in the right direction.

[Free Camping]

Best Things to Do in Badlands National Park

RV Camping in Badlands National Park

In addition to camping, Badlands National Park offers the following activities:

  • Hiking – Miles of hiking trails make hiking the perfect Badlands camping activity. From short boardwalk walks (like the 0.75-mile roundtrip Door Trail) to grueling day hikes (like the 10-mile roundtrip Castle Trail and everything in between mean there’s plenty of hiking for those of all skill and fitness levels. Dogs are even welcome on the park’s backcountry roads!
  • Backpacking – Head out for an overnight jaunt with a foray into the Badlands backcountry. Backpacking opportunities are numerous and enable you to get up close and personal with some of the park’s most stunning vistas.
  • Wildlife Viewing – Bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, pronghorn, and coyotes are just a few of the animals you might see during your visit to Badlands National Park.
  • Stargazing – The night sky is absolutely fantastic because of the remote location. Gaze at the heavens wherever you are or join a nighttime astronomy program at the Cedar Pass Campground Amphitheater offered nightly during the peak season for a chance to peer through a powerful telescope.
  • Fossil Hunting – Fossils are incredibly common in Badlands. Try your luck just after a rainstorm as this helps the fossils stand out. Or, rather than fossil hunting yourself, check out the Fossil Preparation Lab to watch paleontologists in action!
  • Bicycling – Bicycling, both on paved roads and dirt roads, is an interesting way to take in the Badlands scenery.
  • Horseback Riding – Horseback riders rejoice! Horseback riding is allowed in Badlands National Park, although there are no commercial tours available. Try an overnight trip with a stay in the backcountry or at Sage Creek Campground where a portion of the campsites are reserved for equestrians.
  • Ranger Programs – A variety of ranger programs are offered during the summer months, including the always popular Junior Ranger Program.

Learn more about the best things to do in Badlands National Park.

Additional Badlands National Park Camping Tips

Backpacking in Badlands National park

Here are a few additional tips to help you plan your next visit to Badlands National Park:

  • When to Visit – Summer is the most popular time to visit Badlands, although temperatures are often well over 100° F during the day. Fall and spring are the best times to visit with smaller crowds and more manageable temperatures. The park is also open in the winter although it is very cold.
  • How Long to Visit – Most people agree that three nights is the perfect amount of time to visit Badlands since it gives you two full days to explore. That said, many of the most impressive features can be seen in a single day while it’s also easy to stay entertained for a week or more.
  • Winter Camping – Both Badlands campgrounds are open year-round. That said, winter camping is best at Cedar Pass Campground. The road into Sage Creek Campground is often closed due to winter storms although the campground itself remains open. Prepare for very cold temperatures and severe weather including heavy snow and strong winds. Make sure to bring the right winter camping gear!
  • Camping with Pets – Dogs are allowed in developed areas in the national park. This includes campgrounds, parking lots, and roadways. They are not allowed on hiking trails or in the backcountry. You must keep your dog on a leash at all times.
  • Leave No Trace – Remember to always practice the Leave No Trace Principles when recreating outdoors, especially in the backcountry. Most importantly, always pack out anything that you pack in if a trash receptacle is not available!

Learn more about how to plan your visit to Badlands National Park.

Final Thoughts

Badlands National Park Camping

Visit Badlands National Park to take in a landscape that is unlike any other on the planet.

Not only does this unique national park feature a variety of stunning scenery and interesting animal life, but it’s also home to some incredible camping, especially for those that prefer a remote, primitive, and private camping experience.

While planning your Badlands camping trip, don’t forget to check out our national park camping guides and best state camping guides.

And, if you have any other questions about camping in the Badlands, please don’t hesitate to ask us in the comments below! We’re here to help! 

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