There are two campground options in Badlands -- and several backcountry options -- and Sage Creek was an awesome place to crash our first two nights in the park. We arrived late at night, and without reservations, we didn’t want to risk driving all the way to the developed campground. Sage Creek never really fills up -- and sites aren’t exactly designated, anyway -- so we squeezed our tent in.
Camping at Sage Creek is free, but that also means there is no water available here, so be prepared. There are picnic tables and pit toilets. The campground is more of an open field, where you can find a place to pitch your tent or park for the night. We had no trouble finding a place in the busy June season.
Sage Creek gave us pretty decent access to some of the highlights throughout the park: along with just driving through the massive badlands, we loved the Notch Trail and the Sheep Mountain Table Overlook hoodoos.
You can read much more about our four days in the park on our blog: Switchback Kids (Badlands)
We've visited this part of the park frequently, mostly because it's free and you get to hang with the bison. But in the past years it's really changed. They now have a ring so to speak around the camping area. People park around it and then walk in and find a site. Not bad in a large group setting, it used to be much quieter. Knowing the bison is key. They can spook easily and there were people shining lights on them in the dark and in the past, we've witnessed where they don't care for that behavior. There are no fires allowed, which is fine, we brought our jetboil along. We saw a lot of camp stoves there. There are two enclosed pit toilets and a couple dumpsters, which was nice to see. There are bison all around and prairie dogs right in camp. Due to the increased numbers of people, there was a lot of light pollution, so what used to be a fabulous place to photograph stars, isn't so much anymore. Also, due to it being free and on the outskirts, no one to moderate excessive noise late at night. But all in all, it was a good place to rest for a couple nights. It is a really pretty place too and the wildlife can't be beat!
This campground on the edge of Badlands National Park is totally in the middle of nowhere, and it takes quite a drive down gravel roads to get there. The roads are well-tended, but they still keep the large RV's out. This is an unusual campground. It is free camping, since it's totally primitive. It's basically a circle drive around an open space, and you just put your tent wherever you want to put it. The whole inner circle is level and well-tended. There are also horse corrals available on one side, and the smaller RV's and trailers pretty much gather there. There are a few covered picnic tables within the circle, and there are pit toilets on each end. The NPS website says that this place rarely fills to capacity, and that's because you just fill in an empty space. We were expecting total solitude, but there were quite a few people. There were vehicles parked around the whole circle, and there were probably 30-40 tents set up, but the space is so large that it didn't feel too cramped or close. The campground is so far from everything that it gets perfectly dark; it's wonderful for stargazing. We watched the moon come up over the hills, and it would have been perfect Milky Way viewing, but as one other camper said, "the full moon [was] shitting on it." We woke up in the morning to a couple of bison roaming through the campground grazing on the grass and wildflowers.
This primitive campground is about as close as you can get to being in the middle of the Badlands in your car. The campsites are just pull-offs from the main road, with a large field for tents. Each site is more of a loosely defined space with a picnic table and integrated sunshade. Just next to the Badlands Wilderness Area, this camping area offers folks a chance to be out on the grassland plains without planning a backcountry experience. Wildlife often graze through the campground. The pit-toilets are from the 1960’s and were heavily used and a little gross (and I have a relatively high tolerance for these sorts of johns).
There is nothing special about this campground, other than the location. It is little more than a place to sleep and make food; the real magic of the park is all around and should be explored rather than viewed from the picnic table within the campground. First come, first served. No reservations available.
Do wide open spaces and dark skies call you to seek adventure? Sage Creek Campground is a remote area in the Badlands with easy access on a dirt road. Traveling to the CG on the Sage Creek Rim Road gave us breathtaking views of the Badlands. The overlooks provided great views for sunset photos. Wildlife was abundant - bison, prairie dogs, badgers and serenading coyotes were seen on this visit. The campground is free but you must provide your own water. Fires are not allowed but cooking stoves are fine. The outhouses - two vaults - were very clean. If you want to experience bison up close and personal this is the campground for you. Bison roam the area at will so you need to exert caution in this area as there are no leash laws for buffalo :). Although we drive through the park frequently the recent visit to this campground gave us more reasons to appreciate this park. I'd recommend spring and fall for the best camping as it can get extremely hot during the summer.
Absolutely breathtaking views of the badlands right outside the tent. The camping is primitive as there is no water at this location. We had a fire ring for our campfire. Didn't see any bison on our time here but other campers we spoke with saw them right near their campsite!!
This campsite is actually pretty empty. I came last year and it was really basic with a table and fire ring. It gets pretty hot out there. This is a first come first serve site so i recommend coming early. There is nothing to burn out here so please bring your own supply of firewood. At night the temperature drops dramatically and the stars come out which is really pretty. In the morning the temperature come back up pretty early and it gets swarm pretty quickly. About a 15 minute drive away was the cliff shelf trail which I definitely recommend exploring. it is a boardwalk that's about half a mile and it shows you the geographic formations up close. When your out there you see so much animals such as prairie dogs and long horn sheep This park has similar feature to the grand canyon.
Looking for free camping in Badlands National Park? Perhaps a halfway point between your park activites and the black Hills/Mount Rushmore?
Very simple but fun campground. It's an open field space, with picnic tables (some with pergolas), bathrooms, and a secondary area for larger campers. It's fun because you have access to simple, 300-800 ft gain hikes all around you, because you're in a small Valley (think camping on the field inside a soccer stadium). I highly recommend making one of these hikes part of the morning or evening you're there, to see the sunrise/set. Being a free site, it's first come, first served. There are no plots, and so it's quite well understood you should pick an area to make camp that balances privacy to your neighbor with accommodating those yet to arrive.
You'll see prairie dogs and bison, whether by accident or on purpose.
Bathrooms exist on either end of the camping area. No showers or potable water.
I woke up to Bison grazing in the fields by the campground site.
Your tax dollars well spent.
site: covered picnic table. good size. not shaded.
amenities: no water. pretty clean bathrooms. attractions: great national park. wildlife. hiking. I would go camping here again (there were many chipmunks which made camping rough, so another season might be better?)