Don’t Make This Badlands Nation Park Camping Mistake
What’s in a name? It depends. The Lakota Indians called Death Valley “Mako Sica,” meaning “land bad.” Flip it and today you have the Badlands National Park camping. Located in southwestern South Dakota the park is 244,000 acres of desolation at its best. You can look for miles and see no sign of civilization, and easily see how the land was named. It is so picturesque with its bizarre, colorful spires and pinnacles, massive buttes and deep gorges – truly a must visit for anyone who loves the odd, bizarre and desolate.
However, most visitors to the park never venture past the two campgrounds or the visitor’s center. Don’t be one of these visitors. Go out of your way – about 68 miles out of your way. Visit the Stronghold, the North and Palmer Creek Units, which are the most unvisited, but most spectacular and historic parts of the park. The South Unit consists of two tracts of OST-owned land – the Stronghold and Palmer Creek. For administrative purposes, the reservation tracts are collectively referred to as the South Unit. At a little over 133,000 acres, the South Unit accounts for more than half of the park’s total area of 244,000 acres.
You can find your way to the Stronghold Unit by visiting the Cuny Cafe. Bring cash. They don’t take credit cards. The cafe is a corrugated steel shack with a stovepipe peering from the roof, operated by a lifelong resident named Nellie Cuny. The cafe has two booths and a round table, and seating for maybe 20 people. Don’t worry, it gives you more time to ask the Cuny sisters for directions to Stronghold Mesa. With hundreds of unmarked and unnamed dirt roads in the lower units of Badlands Park you have to look for landmarks. Call the cafe at 605-455-2957.
Badlands National Park Camping and the Badlands Campgrounds
Badlands Campgrounds can be summed up in two campgrounds – Cedar Pass and Sage Creek Campgrounds. They are the only two parks available in Badlands National Park, and they’re open year-round. Camping, however, is limited to 14 days. You can also stay at Cedar Pass Lodge, inside the park. The lodge is run by Forever Resorts, who is an authorized concessionaire of the National Park Service and state and public agencies, and operates under special use permits with the USDA Forest Service.
If you plan to backpack and camp, Badlands National Park camping is your paradise. Backpackers may camp anywhere in the park that is at least one-half mile from any road or trail and not visible from park roads. Wherever you camp, be aware of the dangers on the ground, around wood piles, logs, or ledges. Never place your hands or feet where you cannot see first. Rattlesnakes, scorpions, or black widow spiders may be sheltered there. Welcome to the southwest, home of scary crawly things. But, there’s more to the Badlands than the critters. There are magnificent trails, views, and vistas.
Castle Trail, the longest maintained trail in Badlands National Park, stretches 5.4 miles along the north edge of the Badlands Wall. It weaves through a maze of spires, buttes, sod tables, and fins interspersed with open prairie. Because the Castle Trail strays far from the main road, most backpackers set out cross country on routes of their own. If you choose to do this, bringing along topographic maps are strongly recommended, if not essential. If you want to backpack through the park, leave your car at the Sage Creek primitive campground, then follow Sage Creek into the wilderness. Want a more structured campground, with a road, electricity, hot coffee and restaurant food nearby is more your thing, consider staying at Cedar Pass Campground.
Cedar Pass Campground – Badlands National Park Camping
Be prepared for an unusual campground setting at Cedar Pass. Unlike most campgrounds there are no pull-throughs, or pull-ins. There is just a very large, circular road. Campers, whether RV, car, or tent campers park parallel to their site, and next to a sheltered picnic table, the only shade in the campground. Campsite numbers are painted on the asphalt. Roads through the campground are one way streets. Depending which side of road your site is situated, your camper door may be facing the street. If this occurs you can drive opposite the one way sign so as to insure your door faces the picnic table. Some campers don’t seem to mind having their camper door face the street, but it’s up to you.
Sites provide electricity only, and there is a common bathroom for toilets. A water station is available to fill the water tank of your camper. There are no fire pits. The vast open prairies and grasslands of the Badlands contain a variety of plants and animals. In an effort to maintain the prairie grassland, fires are not allowed within Badlands National Park. However, you may use small, portable propane grills at your campsite for cooking. Visitor’s tips? Book one of the tent sites closest to the highway (not much traffic) for the best views.
Cedar Pass Tent Camping – Badlands National Park Camping
Click here for reservations
Campsites for tent camping for 2 people are equipped with a shaded picnic table and also include:
● A surrounding of spectacular views of the Badlands
● All sites within short walk of pay showers and bathrooms
● Near amphitheater for National Park Service evening programs during the summer
● Easy access to Cedar Pass Lodge and Restaurant
$22.00 Per Night (2 People)
There is a $3 fee for each additional person per night. Children 15 years and younger stay for free.
Cedar Pass RV Sites – Badlands National Park Camping
Click here for reservations
Cedar Pass Campground offers RV sites with electric only service. There is a septic dump available nearby for $1.
● All sites include shaded picnic table area
● A 14-night limit applies during the summer
● Electric only service
● No water or sewer
● Campground has pay showers, flush toilets, and water nearby
$37.00 Per Night (2 People)
There is a $4 fee for each additional person per night. Children 15 years and younger stay for free.
Group Campsites at Cedar Pass Lodge Campground
There are four Group Campsites at Cedar Pass Campground that can be reserved in advance by calling (605) 433-5460.
● Cost is $4 per person with a minimum fee of $40
● Campsites can accommodate a maximum of 6-26 people
Cancellations outside of 48 hours will incur a $10 cancellation fee. Rates are subject to approval by the National Park Service, and are subject to change without prior notice. There is a 14-day limit on all campground reservations during the summer season.
Cedar Pass Dining
Most people prefer to cook at their campsite, but if you don’t, the Cedar Pass Restaurant just a short walk away from the campground, provides a variety of locally and regionally sourced breakfast, lunch, and dinner dishes to all Cedar Pass guests. They make their own fry bread each day for their Sioux Indian Tacos, a local favorite made of large fluffy fry bread topped with refried beans, buffalo meat (or vegetarian option of spicy black bean burger) topped with shredded lettuce, tomato, cheddar cheese and a sprinkling of black olives. Served with a side of salsa and sour cream the Sioux Taco is a large treat in the Badlands.
Want a cup of coffee without firing up your coffee pot? The Cedar Pass Restaurant serves
Cherry Bean coffee. Cherry Bean is a Fair Trade, organic, independent coffee supplier based in rural Parker, South Dakota.
Are you Vegan? The restaurant offers a selection of vegetarian and gluten free dishes. If you like your meat, don’t worry. There’s also locally sourced beef and buffalo burgers, free range chicken, steaks, line caught sustainably sourced fish, plus fresh soup & salad bar.
The restaurant also serves South Dakota made wine & beer. The restaurant doesn’t just serve good food. Cedar Pass Lodge has implemented a green procurement program to increase the use of renewable, reusable, recyclable and recycled content materials and reduce the use of any hazardous products. Their green procurement program is used throughout the Lodge from their food and beverage operations, retail sales, to facility maintenance and company transportation.
2018 Store Hours:
The Cedar Pass Store and Restaurant will close for the season at 12pm on November 1st
● Apr. 15 – May 13th: 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM
● May 14th -May 29th: 8:00 AM -7:00 PM
● May 30th – Sept. 4th: 7:00 AM – 9:00 PM
● Spet. 5th- Sept 30th: 8:00 AM – 7:00 PM
● Oct. 1 – Oct. 31st: 8:00 am – 5:00 PM
● Last seating in restaurant is 30 minutes prior to closing.
Cedar Pass Lodge
If you’re not one for rustic camping, or you left your RV or tent at home this trip, you can still stay in one of the cabins at the Cedar Pass Lodge across from the campground. As of 2018 there are several new eco-friendly cabins built to Gold Level LEED standards.
The cabin exteriors are designed to resemble the original cabins built in 1928 at Cedar Pass, using repurposed and energy saving efficiencies. The interiors are lined with fallen beetle kill pine from the Black Hills of South Dakota. Outfitted with custom made regionally hand crafted lodgepole pine furniture from Lonepine Lodgepole, a family owned Montana company. The cabins have the creature comforts of home, including an in suite private bath and shower with on demand hot water heater, low flow devices and compact fluorescent lighting. Large, handcrafted pine deck chairs make watching the spectacular views of the Badlands comfortable.
The Cabins Include:
● 32″ Flat Screen TV with Satellite Reception
● Mini Refrigerator and Freezer – Energy Star
● Microwave – Energy Star
● Coffee Maker
● Hair Dryer
● Bamboo Towels & Upgraded Bedding
● Ceiling Fan and Lakota Lamp
● Air Conditioning and Heat ultra quiet for your comfort
Rates are $176.00 plus tax per night double occupancy
Additional guests age 15 and over are $20/night.
Pet friendly cabins available upon request for $20 per night per pet plus tax (2 pet maximum)
The Cedar Pass Lodge 2018 Season:
April 15th – November 1st, 2017
Reserve your campsites online or call us at (605) 433-5476 or (605) 433-5460 for more information and reservations.
Off-season dry camping (4 Group Loop sites only): $15 plus tax per night.
Forever Resorts is an authorized concessioner of the National Park Service and state and public agencies, and operates under special use permits with the USDA Forest Service.
Sage Creek Campground – Badlands National Park Camping
If you like wildlife outside your tent or RV, stay at the Sage Creek Campground. Bison often wander through this primitive campground, and you’ll have a great chance to get photos of them grazing, socializing, and sometimes battling for dominance during rutting season in the fall.
After rocking and grinding down what most campers call a rough 11 mile, unpaved road, you’ll reach the campground and one of the best, but little known Badlands National Park Camping. Open plains camping, clean pit toilets, picnic tables, and the sound of coyotes howling at night make this about the most spectacular wilderness camping available.
The campground is 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.
If you’re coming in with an RV be aware that the road provides limited turnarounds for large recreational vehicles. However, unlike Cedar Pass, camping at Sage Creek is free. There are pit toilets and covered picnic tables at each site, but there is no water is available on-site, so fill up before you head in. Potable water is available near the Pinnacles Entrance Station. Sites at the Sage Creek Campground are available on a first-come, first-served basis and rarely fill to capacity. A portion of the Sage Creek Campground is designated for horse use, so if you’re looking for a chance to ride through the park, this is where you might want to stay.
Regulations to be Aware of When Camping in Badlands National Park Camping
Laws and regulations are what Federal Parks do best – but don’t get peeved – 99% of the laws, rules and regulations in the Badlands National Park Campingare for the preservation of the fragile natural resources there. To get a full list of the regulations, and the reasoning behind them, visit the Park website.
Here are the most asked about rules in the park:
Visitors fees help keep the park operating. If you plan to be a repeat visitor plan on purchasing an annual park pass for $40. This pass covers entrance fees for the pass holder and accompanying passengers in a single, private, non-commercial vehicle. It does not cover camping fees and is non-transferable and non-refundable. This pass can be purchased at all entrance stations. Other fees:
Private Vehicle: $20 – Valid for 7 days
Motorcycle: $10 – Valid for 7 days
Individual (hike, bicycle, etc…): $10 per person 16 and older – Valid for 7 days
Admits the purchaser and passengers in a single, private, non-commercial vehicle or the purchaser when entry is by other means (hike, bicycle, etc…) – Non-transferable, non-refundable, and does not cover camping fees. If you’d like a list of all the park’s fees, see the government website for more details.
Fossils in the Park
Look down. You may be walking over one of the world’s greatest fossil beds. That’s right. Badlands National Park preserves the world’s greatest fossil beds of animals from the Oligocene Epoch of the Age of Mammals – one of the seven periods of time marked by of earth’s history. They aren’t dinosaurs, but there are fossils of marine life, and of the Oligocene period. This particular time is believed to have begun after a massive extinction event – which is why park officials are still uncovering fossils of the skeletons of ancient camels, three-toed horses, saber-toothed cats and giant rhinoceros-like creatures. Chances are good you’ll find fossils yourself, but leave them alone. All rocks, plants and animals are protected and must remain where they’re found. Violating this policy is punishable by a hefty fine.
Guns in the Park
Badlands National Park Camping is still a part of what’s left of the “wild, wild, west,” and its culture and ways of life remain the same in many ways. Federal law prohibits firearms in certain facilities in this park; those places are marked with signs at all public entrances. However, as of February 22, 2010, a new federal law allows people who can legally possess firearms under applicable federal, state, and local laws, to legally possess firearms in this park. Whether you possess a gun or not, please be aware that those around may legally have guns in their possession. It is the responsibility of visitors to understand and comply with all applicable state, local, and federal firearms laws before entering this park. As a starting point, please visit the state’s website for more information-South Dakota Codified Laws
Dogs and Pets in the Park
Good news for you and your dog. Pets are permitted in Badlands National Park. However, there are some restrictions. Don’t plan on going off hiking, or leaving your animal unattended or tied to a fixed object. Not only are those actions prohibited, they’re a danger to your pet. While visiting the park, pets must be kept on a leash no more than six feet in length at all times. Pets are only allowed in developed areas, such as campgrounds and picnic areas, and other areas open to motor vehicles, such as gravel and paved roadways, roadway corridors, and parking lots. Pet etiquette dictates always cleaning up animal waste and disposing of it in trash receptacles.
Pets, such as dogs and cats, can carry disease into the park’s wildlife populations, and park animals can also transmit diseases to your pet. Maybe they’re just having fun, but maybe their predatory side is triggered. Either way, pets can chase and threaten wildlife, scaring birds and other animals away from nesting, feeding, and resting sites. The scent left behind by your pets can signal the presence of a predator to park animals, which tends to disrupt or alter the behavior of park wildlife. Finally, your pet may be injured by park wildlife, such as rattlesnakes and porcupines, or may become prey for predators, such as coyotes.
It’s not just the park’s animals. Congested trails during the summer season means more people on the trails and a greater chance of negative interactions between dogs and people. This includes barking dogs – and when confronted with unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells even the calmest, friendliest, and best-trained dog will behave unpredictably, causing most to bark excessively.
No Dog Zones
Pets are prohibited from hiking trails, public buildings (i.e. visitor centers), and backcountry areas, including the Badlands Wilderness Area and areas where there are prairie dog colonies.
Summer temperatures can be extreme, often reaching over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Even on an 86 degree day, the temperature inside a motor vehicle can quickly reach 134 to 154 degrees.
If your pet needs more room to walk, consider visiting the trails managed by US Forest Service, Buffalo Gap National Grassland, located adjacent to Badlands National Park, where pets (with some exceptions) are permitted. For more information contact the Buffalo Gap Visitor Center which is located in Wall at (605) 279-2125.
Service animals are an exception to most pet restrictions and are allowed on trails and in public buildings. They must be kept on a leash at all times and, due to potentially infectious wildlife diseases, are not allowed in areas with prairie dog colonies.
Fires in the Park
You’d think with all this vast expanse of rock and dirt that campfires wouldn’t be a problem. But they are. Due to fire danger, campfires are not permitted in either campground and collection of wood is prohibited. However, camp stoves or contained charcoal grills can be used in campgrounds and picnic areas. When using charcoal grills, ensure the charcoal is cool prior to disposal to prevent a trash fire.