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Discover Free Camping Inside Badlands National Park

Posted on February 01 2021

Discover Free Camping Inside Badlands National Park

No trip to Western South Dakota is complete without a visit to Badlands National Park. The park offers a completely contrasting habitat to The Black Hills National Forest, yet the same Wild West vibe.

Name: Sage Creek Campground

Location: West side of Badlands National Park in South Dakota 

Sage Creek Campground Horse Corals at Sage Creek Campground

Site type(s): Tent or RVs for dry camping/boondocking (no hookups). Pit toilets on site. No generators are allowed. There is a 'grassy' area for tents, but most parking is on a 1-way loop road. When parking RVs consider how far out into the road any slides will hang. One website sates the RV size limit is 18 feet. Mine is 24 feet and I had the smallest rig out there. Not being a rebel, just had not seen this limit and parks crews never said anything.

Cost: $0 (National Park entrance fees still apply)

Stay restrictions: 14 days maximum

Best features: Lone buffalo roam near camp. Corrals are provided for horseback riders. Walking up the trails behind the camp reveals fossils, petrified wood and nice views along with your workout.

Worst features: A 12 plus mile, frequently washboarded, gravel road leads to the camp. This makes driving in/out for supplies, or further park exploration, less than idea. Make lemonade from this graveled lemon. Starting down this road very early in the morning can result in some of the most beautiful sunrise wildlife viewing in the park, especially as you approach the park's Pinnacles area.

Website(s): National Park Service Badlands Information

Also read The Complete Guide to Camping in Badlands National Park.

Dragonfly in Badlands National Park Prairie dogs

Summary: I recommend Sage Creek for a free night or three away from the Black Hills. The region adds to the diversity of any South Dakota experience. Frequent winds and isolated the location make longer stays less attractive, but doable.

Additional info: In theory there are 22 first come, first serve campsites at Sage Creek. No one enforced this when I was there in July 2020. If you’re in an RV arrive early. There are a few spots on the right before the horse corrals that offer a better fit for rigs off the campground loop road. However, be respectful and leave plenty of space next to the corrals for rigs arriving with large horse trailers in tow.

Please mind the prairie dog mounds. Don’t drive over/park on them!

Nearby: Sage Creek is rustic and isolated, but don't miss out the paved tourism routes through the park. They are paved and popular for good reason. Take a day and enjoy the other side of the Badlands. Small prairie towns, such as Scenic make for amusing photographic experiences. Even the absurdly tourist-centric Wall Drug can add to the experience if traveling with kids or overtly addicted to tourist cliche shopping. You’re on holiday. You be you!

*Almost every year in Western South Dakota one of two people get gored by bison (American Buffalo). I was a zoologist with a behavioral background long before it evolved into travel writing for me. Therefore I am confident in recommending this one safety precaution: Don’t be a moron. Give them lots of space.

American Buffalo at Badlands National Park

 Mountain Goat at Badlands National Park Landscape at Badlands National Park


What’s up with the bandana store?

That’s a fair question. I am a RETIRED guidebook author/travel columnist. While I still enjoying sharing my discoveries with fellow travelers who appreciate camping and nature, fancy blogs and vlogs are not my thing. Thus, I use this empty blog space, which came free with my shop website, to share information with other nomads.

I hope you find my travel tips helpful. If you do, please consider taking the time to share a link to a product you like or to my website ( on social media. Good trade? This little store pays for my nomadic ways, which I pull off on an extreme shoestring budget. Your help in keeping me on the road/in my kayak is truly appreciated.

Happy camping everyone!

Nola Lee Kelsey


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