Badlands National Park in southwestern South Dakota protects a severely beautiful landscape of eroded clay and shale gullies, knife ridges and pinnacles, and tablelands of blowing, mixed-grass prairies. While day visitors enjoy the roadside vistas and grazing bison, those who opt to camp out overnight are treated to the shifting facade of the White River Badlands---transforming under midday blaze, ethereal crepuscular shadow and deep-black night.
There are two established, year-round campgrounds in Badlands: Cedar Pass and Sage Creek. The former is a 96-site facility near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center and offers running water and flush restrooms. Camping at Cedar Pass costs $10; there are four group campsites, which must be reserved in advance, available for $2.50 per person. Sage Creek, near the Badlands Wilderness, is a primitive campground with pit toilets, no running water and no camping fees; its unpaved access, Sage Creek Rim Road, is sometimes closed after inclement weather. Covered picnic tables are featured at both campgrounds, and both have a 14-day limit.
Backcountry campers may pitch a tent nearly anywhere in the park, as long as they do so a half-mile or more from a roadway or trail and out of sight of roads. Though no permit is required, the park recommends that those exploring and staying in the backcountry check in at the visitor centers. There are backcountry registers at the following locations: Sage Creek Campground, Sage Creek Basin Overlook, Medicine/Castle Trail Loop, Saddle Pass Trailhead and Conata Picnic Area.
No campfires are allowed in developed or primitive campsites in the Badlands, and collecting wood is prohibited. Charcoal grills and camp stoves can be used at Cedar Pass and Sage Creek. Use a backpacker's stove when primitive camping.
In the Vicinity
Abutting the national park for much of its border is Buffalo Gap National Grassland, nearly 600,000 acres of mixed-grass prairie, badlands formations and buttes. Buffalo Gap includes the three-site French Creek Campground, west of the park, with fire grills, a vault toilet and picnic tables (no water); primitive camping is allowed anywhere on the grassland. Black Hills National Forest and Custer State Park, also nearby, offer additional camping opportunities.