It was Day 7 of our South Dakota road trip. We spent the morning visiting Wall Drug and exploring both the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site and the Delta-09 Missile Silo before heading to Badlands National Park. After hiking both the Notch Trail and the Door Trail, we pulled into Badlands National Park to set up camp. After tent camping in the badlands, Buddy and I are sharing 10 Small But Important Tips for Camping at Cedar Pass Campground in Badlands National Park.
Cedar Pass Campground is in Badlands National Park in South Dakota. The campground is a 5-minute walk from the Cedar Pass Lodge, which is home to a store where you can find food and camping supplies, and the Cedar Pass Restaurant. The campground is also a short walk to the Badlands National Park Ben Reifel Visitor Center and the Amphitheater. The campground is open seasonally, usually April through October, but off-season dry camping is available. There are tent, RV, and group sites at the campground. We camped at a tent site in mid-July.
For the most up-to-date information about camping in Badlands National Park, including information about RV sites, visit the website.
10 Small But Important Tips for Camping at Cedar Pass Campground in Badlands National Park
1. Book your campsite in advance
Book your site at Cedar Pass Campground early to ensure your spot. Like other well-known national parks in the U.S., Badlands National Park can be very busy in the summer months. If you are planning your visit to Badlands NP at that time, consider reserving your campsite early.
If Cedar Pass Campground in Badlands National Park is fully booked when you go to reserve your campsite, no worries! Sage Creek Campground in Badlands National Park offers free first come first serve primitive camping in Badlands National Park. It is perfect for tent camping! Unfortunately, however, RVs are not allowed.
When we camped at Cedar Pass Campground in Badlands National Park, I booked our site in early May for a trip in mid-July. At this point, all the electric sites were reserved during our travel dates. We opted for a non-electric campsite. If electricity is important to you, please consider booking earlier in the season. Or bring a Jackery to a non-electric campsite to charge your phone and other devices.
2. Choose your campsite wisely
In addition to the general considerations when choosing a camp site, such as selecting electric or non-electric site. Or the availability of campsite WIFI, which the campground does have, although the signal is spotty and weak. Or proximity to water, restrooms, and other campers. Something else to consider is high ground.
When booking a campsite, campers will be alerted that sites 34, 48-57, 88, and 89 are subject to flooding during heavy rainstorms. With that knowledge in mind, I did a lot of research to make sure that I selected an available campsite on high ground.
I chose camp site number five because it is relatively isolated from other camp sites, a bit away from the road, a short walk to the water spigot and restrooms, and on higher ground. It was a nice spot with one exception, the ground at campsite 5 was not even. We slept lopsided in our tent!
Given the propensity for flooding, it appears that campsites 48-57 are no longer available to reserve on the website.
3. Prepare for wind
South Dakota can be breezy and so can camping in Badlands National Park! You can prepare for the wind by bringing heavy-duty steel tent stakes to ensure that your tent (and perhaps you in it!) do not blow away. Likewise, if you bring a tablecloth for your picnic table, tablecloth clips are essential at Cedar Pass Campground in Badlands National Park.
During our trip, we used the heavy-duty tent stakes to secure our tent at Badlands National Park and at our campsite in Cheyenne, Wyoming. We also used tablecloth clips to secure our tablecloth throughout our 10 day road trip on picnic tables at campsites, cabins, and at rest areas on scenic drives.
It was breezy when we arrived to at our campsite. It took some teamwork to set up our tent in the wind, but it was a fun experience!
4. Know that campfires are not allowed and plan your meals accordingly
Cedar Pass Campground in Badlands National Park is a campfire free campsite. The National Park Service advises this is due to fire danger in the area. Although this will not be a stories-around-the-campfire-while-making-smores type of camping trip, there are a few options for food preparation that do not involve a campfire.
Camp stoves and charcoal grills are allowed at the Cedar Pass Campground and at picnic areas in Badlands National Park. Charcoal can be disposed of in the trash when, and only when it is cool. If you don’t want to cook, Cedar Pass Restaurant offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner including items like burgers, salads, and the like.
We opted for neither of these options while camping in Badlands National Park. Instead, we prepared cold meals such as cereal with coconut milk, sandwiches, canned food, and the like, during our stay.
5. Sunscreen and a hat
The only shade at the campground is the picnic table and your tent. Other than that, there is no shade. Come prepared with lots of sunscreen and a long sleeve light sun cover to protect your skin. If you are bringing a hat, consider a hat with a strap since Badlands National Park can be windy.
As I mentioned in my post about Hiking the Door Trail in Badlands National Park, I got sunburned during my first day at the park! Even though I applied sunscreen and wore a hat and sunglasses. The South Dakota sun is strong. Be prepared!
6. Attend the Astronomy in the Park Night Sky Program
Badlands National Park is known for star gazing. With little light pollution, the area is ideal for gazing up at the heavens and enjoying the night sky.
During the summer months, at the Cedar Pass Campground Amphitheater, the National Park Service hosts a Night Sky Program at 9:30pm each day. The Night Sky Program is fun with astronomy staff pointing out various constellations and stars. It is popular, get there early to ensure a seat on the amphitheater’s benches. You do not need to stay at the national park to attend the Night Sky Program. However, it is only a short walk to the amphitheater from the campground if you do.
We camped at Badlands National Parks because of its reputation as a night sky destination. We enjoyed the Night Sky Program and appreciated the ranger’s astronomy trivia and knowledge. For example, we loved learning how the days of the week are named for the planets in the solar system.
Not anticipating a large crowd, we arrived at the amphitheater five minutes before the Night Sky Program. Only to find that the amphitheater was standing room only! Arrive early if you can.
If you are attending the night sky program, we recommend
- Binoculars to see the stars
- A flashlight or head lamp with a red light so your eyes can better adjust to the night sky.
We used Black Diamond SpotLite headlamps red light setting and it worked well for us. We also had a flashlight with a red light setting that we used as well.
7. Ditch your tent’s rain fly
If the skies are clear and the stars are out, leave your tent’s rain fly packed up. This is so you can look up and see the stars while lying in your tent at night. There is nothing better than to sleep under a starry sky!
When we stayed at Cedar Pass Campground, many of our tent camping neighbors slept without their tent’s rain fly.
Bonus Tip: Watch the sunrise or sunset
We did not catch the sunrise; however, the South Dakota sunset was beautiful. Unfortunately, at the time we visited Badlands, fires burning a few states over and the smoke from the fires made the skies a bit hazy. The sunset, however, was still spectacular. As were the stars. I can only imagine what it looks like on a clear night.
8. About the Bathrooms
Cedar Pass Campgrounds has accessible bathrooms with flush toilets, sinks, and coin-operated pay showers. The showers are in a building separate from the toilets, although both buildings have sinks.
Bring your own soap, shampoo, towels, wash cloths, shower shoes, etcetera if you plan on bathing at the campground. The showers are operated by quarters, so make sure to bring enough to operate the shower. Consider bringing a handful of quarters into the shower with you in case the water runs out before you finish with your shower.
In all honesty, the bathrooms were not as clean as I would have liked. But after a day of hiking in breezy Badlands National Park, we needed a shower.
Regarding the showers, there was a line of bathers when we visited. That said, you might need to wait your turn for a shower. Especially in the mornings. Also, I paid for a full 8-minute shower but only received 4 minutes of water! This happened to another bather who I overheard complaining to her travel companion. To avoid being left with soap in your hair, bring a few extra quarters in to the stall or shower quickly! We visited in the summer. The showers might not be available year-round.
9. Walk to the Ben Reifel Visitor’s Center
The Ben Reifel Visitor Center is a short 5-minute walk from the Cedar Pass Campground in Badlands National Park. The visitor center has a bookstore, exhibits, a theatre, and a Fossil Preparation Lab.
Hands down, our favorite part of the Visitor Center was the Fossil Preparation Lab where we got to see paleontology students work on fossils in real time. It was fascinating! And of course, Buddy stamped his Passport To Your National Parks passport book.
Be sure to check the Visitor Center’s hours before stopping by. During our first day at Badlands National Park, the Visitor’s Center closed 9 minutes before we arrived. Luckily, we were able to stop by the next day.
10. Bring your own soap and toilet paper- just in case!
In the evenings, the facilities at the campgrounds ran out of toilet paper and soap. Luckily, I always had some in my handbag during the road trip. I would have been in a bind without these supplies. Consider packing a small roll of toilet paper and soap or hand sanitizer, just in case you might need it!
- I recommend camping at Cedar Pass Campground because you get to see the night sky without any lights. During the summer they also host sky exploration shows about the stars at the amphitheater.
- Note that there is no running water at the campsite. There is a water filling station that is near the bathroom.
- Also be aware that you cannot have open flame in Badlands, so you most likely will eat cold food. Well, maybe that was just our family!
Overall, we loved our time at Badlands National Park. And we loved tent camping at Cedar Pass Campground as well. We liked the badlands so much, we filmed not one but three Movement Postcards at the national park and many more in South Dakota. Check them out!
Have you stayed at the campground in Badlands National Park in South Dakota? If so, what are your recommendations? Are you planning a trip to Badlands National Park? Let us know in the comments below!
Do you have questions about family travel or traveling with teens? Feel free to reach out! We are happy to chat and share our experiences! We look forward to connecting with you.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:
- 5 Useful Tips for Hiking the Scenic Door Trail in Badlands National Park
- Important Tips for Hiking in Badlands National Park: Notch Trail and its Famous Ladder
- 6 Things You Should Know about Cherry Creek Campground
- 5 Fascinating U.S. National Parks for National Park Week
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