Latest Tips for Camping in the Badlands of South Dakota [2021]

 Latest Tips for Camping in the Badlands of South Dakota [2021]

One trip that belongs on every RVers bucket list is camping in the Badlands of South Dakota.

It's easy to see why American Indians and the early settlers called the area of southwestern South Dakota the Badlands.

They are dry, unbearably hot in the summer, rugged, isolated and – in the days before modern transportation – extremely difficult to navigate.

Camping in the Badlands is an amazing experience

While the Badlands may be an inhospitable place to live,  these days the Badlands make for a very good visit by RV.

Jennifer and I try to spend time here each year. You could say we've gotten hooked on the Badlands.

The Badlands National Park protects 242,756 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles, and spires blended with the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States.

There is a rugged beauty about the place like none other we have seen anywhere in North America.

You will see bison, bighorn sheep, and prairie dogs throughout the park, sometimes far off, sometimes surprisingly close.  On the downside, you need to be snake aware out here.

Prairie rattlesnakes abound.

How the Badlands came to be

The Badlands were formed by the geologic processes of deposition and erosion.

Deposition of sediments began 69 million years ago when an ancient sea stretched across what is now the Great Plains. After the sea retreated, successive land environments, including rivers and flood plains, continued to deposit sediments.

Although the major period of deposition ended 28 million years ago, significant erosion of the Badlands did not begin until a mere half a million years ago.

Erosion continues to carve the Badlands buttes today. Eventually, the Badlands will completely erode away.

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Jennifer shot one side of a Badlands cliff…
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…Mike shot the other

There were Dinosaurs n the Badlands

During the Age of Dinosaurs, a warm, shallow sea covered the Great Plains, including what is now Badlands. As a result, the Badlands contain one of the world’s richest fossil beds. 

Since dinosaurs were land creatures, no fossils of these animals have been found in the park. Giant marine lizards called mosasaurs swarmed in the ancient sea, along with sea turtles and fish.

The park is open year-round, though we seem to always visit in the summer. Temperatures can easily hit 100 degrees during the day. So we plan our hiking and bike riding in the early morning.

The badlands are a photographer’s dream location

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The craggy spires and wide-open spaces seem to look different with every glance, every time the sun goes behind a cloud, and as the day draws to an end. Sunrises and sunsets here are spectacular.

How long should you plan for Camping in the Badlands?

Three days and two nights are the minimum time to spend if you want to see most of the park. We always budget a visit of that long as we're either heading west towards Yellowstone, or back home towards Michigan.

Getting to the Badlands is easy.

Interstate 90 (I-90) is located directly north of the park and provides access to the Hwy 240 Badlands Loop Road.

For those traveling west on I-90, take Exit 131 (Interior) and follow the signs directing vehicles south approximately three miles to the Northeast Entrance.

For those traveling east on I-90, take Exit 110 at Wall, South Dakota. Follow signs directing vehicles south approximately seven miles to the Pinnacles Entrance.

Bisen in the Badlands
Down in the valleys of the badlands are bison

State Highway 44 provides an alternate, scenic access to the park and intersects Highway 377 in the town of Interior. Follow 377 two miles north to the Interior Entrance.

When we leave the Badlands towards the west, we prefer driving the two lanes of Highway 44 west to the Black Hills area instead of heading back to I-90.

There are three places that offer Camping in the Badlands

There are three campgrounds to choose from.

Two are operated by the National Park Service –  Cedar Pass Campground and Sage Creek Campground.

Cedar Pass is located near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center and has 96 level sites with scenic views of the badlands formations. Camping fees are $18 per night per campsite or $30 per night for campsites with electrical hook-ups. A dump station is available for a $1.00 per use fee. Cold running water, flush toilets, and covered picnic tables are available. In the summer, it’s often filled.

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The Badlands has a very dramatic landscape

Sage Creek is a primitive campground.

You are apt to have bison wandering about the campground. It’s located on the west side of the park's North Unit, near the Badlands Wilderness Area. Access is located off of the Sage Creek Rim Road, an unpaved road that may temporarily close after winter storms and spring rains. The road provides limited turnarounds for large recreational vehicles, but Class B and C motorhomes have no problems.

Camping here is free. There is no electricity or water, but there are pit toilets and covered picnic tables. This campground rarely fills up.

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Bighorn sheep

Our favorite spot for Camping in the Badlands

The third area campground is the White River KOA, located about four miles outside of the park.

This is our favorite spot for camping in the Badlands. It is located in a quiet, rural area with large shade trees beside the White River.

There's a great dirt road right across the street from the campground that is perfect for bike rides  Believe me, the shade of the campground is well appreciated, as is the swimming pool.

The Badlands: Put it on your must-visit list.

And even if you have been there before, I bet, like Jennifer and me, you, too, want to keep returning for more camping in the badlands..

Right?

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These are baby Bighorn Sheep…there are many in the Badlands
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You'll see lots of prairie dogs when camping in the Badlands

Extra things to see your way to Camping in the Badlands

BONUS #1: To get to the Badlands, you'll most likely be on I-90. Here is a video we did on some of the fun things to see there.

Looking for more RV Travel Ideas?

Please check out our RV Lifestyle Adventure Guides. We have written a whole library of them, offering guided tours to the most popular RV and Camping spots in America. 

Latest Tips for Camping in the Badlands of South Dakota [2021] 2

Latest Tips for Camping in the Badlands of South Dakota [2021]

Mike Wendland

Mike Wendland is a veteran journalist who, with his wife, Jennifer, travels North America in a small motorhome, blogging about the people, places, joys and adventure of RV life on the road at RVLifestyle.com. He and Jennifer also host the weekly RV Podcast and do twice-weekly videos on the YouTube RV Lifestyle Channel. They have written 10 books on RV travel.

9 Comments

  • We visited the Badlands Park about 10 years ago and were awestruck by the scenery Mike. Whenever we travel I am always looking at the countryside and imagining what it must have been like for the pioneers to travel thru or settle in an area. The Badlands stretched my imagination to the max! Keep on trekking, Bigfoot Dave

  • Visited it about 8 years ago and definitely want to return. It is truly one of the most unique and remarkable landscapes in the world. Plan on returning in our RT sometime in the next 18 months.

  • Will be retiring at the end of April. Camping in our used RT long term ever. This will definitely be on our stop list as we journey to the Olympic Peninsula. Haven’t been there for 30 years. We will be making up for lost time.

  • Just returned from the Black Hills last week. I came into the Badlands via 44 and stayed at Cedar pass. I tried to get to Sage creek but the washboards made me turn back. I didn’t know if my Chevy chassie would take the 12 miles to get there. Beautiful place.

  • We just got back from a trip that included staying at the White River KOA and a National Parks On the Air broadcast from the parking lot of the visitor center. The NP staff was gracious and helpful and we really enjoyed the Badlands and Devils Tower which were the highlights of our trip.

  • Hi guys, we are fortunate to live close. A small ranch town of New Underwood, just East of Rapid City and the airbase town of Box Elder. Next time you come thru give us an email. I’ll share some Black Hills tips.
    Meanwhile motorvate safely.

  • Thanks for this recent posting of your video from several years ago. As subscribers we enjoy you highlights you have provided. We are going to be there this summer, so this is timely for us to see. Appreciate you putting this together.

  • GREAT INFORMATION! We love the Badlands and have returned often with plans for future visits also! Thanks for the video~

  • We visited the Badlands on our honeymoon 53 years ago, as we headed west from MN to CO. My new bride had never been west, so I was anxious to show her the Black Hills and Rocky Mountains where I often tent camped as a kid. But she became fixated on the Badlands, so every SD trip since we make the detour. Never gets old. We now travel in a 22′ Born Free, and love the White River KOA.

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