10 Small But Important Tips for Camping at Cedar Pass Campground in Badlands National Park

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.

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An orange and gray tent sits on grass with cars and RV campers in the background. Cedar Pass Campground at Badlands National Park. Camping at Cedar Pass Campground. MPA Project Travels.
Our tent at Cedar Pass Campground in Badlands National Park.

The details

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.

Book today!

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

A white number five attached to a wooden post painted brown. RV campers, grass, some tress, and the badlands of South Dakota are in the background. Badlands National Park. Camping at Cedar Pass Campground. MPA Project Travels.
Campsite 5 at Cedar Pass Campground in Badlands National Park

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!

At nighttime, a screen projecting an image of a galaxy that says NASA rendering of the Milk Way. Approximate Location of our Sun. Photo taken from the back of the outdoor amphitheater. Camping at Cedar Pass Campground. MPA Project Travels.
Astronomy in the Park Night Sky Program at the Cedar Pass Amphitheater at Badlands National Park

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.

Yvonne and Buddy wearing red lams on their heads smiling in the dark at Cedar Pass Campground Badlands National Park. Camping at Cedar Pass Campground. MPA Project Travels.
Red light headlamp selfie taken on the walk back from the Cedar Pass Amphitheater to our tent after the Night Sky Program at Badlands National Park.

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.

Man sits on bench watching the sunset in the distance. Towards the direction of the sun are RVs and campers and the badlands. At Cedar Pass Campground in Badlands National Park. Camping at Cedar Pass Campground. MPA Project Travels.
Watching the sunset from our campsite in Badlands National Park.

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.

Boy sits with glasses looking off camera. Behind him is a student in a lab coat behind a Plexiglas cover working on a fossil. Buddy watching graduated students work at the Fossil Preparation Lab at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center in Badlands National Park. Camping at Cedar Pass Campground. MPA Project Travels.
Buddy watching graduated students work at the Fossil Preparation Lab at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center in Badlands National Park.

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 addition to bringing your own supplies for the showers, consider bringing your own soap and toilet paper to the Cedar Pass Campground facilities.

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!

Buddy in red washing dishes in a camp kitchen at Cedar Pass Campground in Badlands National Park. Buddy holds a red plate. Behind him are grasslands and the badlands. Camping at Cedar Pass Campground. MPA Project Travels.

Buddy’s Thoughts

  • 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.

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Hello! We are Yvonne & Buddy and we create family travel blogs based on firsthand knowledge and experiences of a destination. Our goal is to inspire teens, parents, and families to share time together engaging in new experiences whether the destination is near or far from home. Come join us on our travels!

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25 thoughts on “10 Small But Important Tips for Camping at Cedar Pass Campground in Badlands National Park

  1. So many great tips to consider when camping at Cedar Pass Campground. The park looks amazing and I would love to check out their astronomy in the park program, it looks like so much fun!

  2. These tips were very useful! I also love that you included Buddy’s thoughts. That Astronomy in the Park sounds super interesting, I will have to check it out!

  3. I am not a camper. I used to go when my girls were young because I felt the experience was important for them, but now I am happy with a hotel! That said, there were some great parts to camping and seeing the sunrise, sunset and a sky full of stars.

  4. The Night Sky program sounds amazing. That’s something I love about camping far from the city lights. Always good to know about campfire bans too, we have a lot of those where I live due to wildfire risk

  5. I feel like I’ve heard so much about Badlands National Park lately! These are really great tips and I’m sure they’d make the entire camping experience so much easier than without knowing them in advance. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  6. I can’y say that I’ve camped here before, but that astronomy activity sounds really fun. Thanks for sharing all of these helpful tips!

  7. I’ve always wanted to visit the Badlands, and your camping experience seems like such a fun adventure! I loved reading about your tips and tricks too.

  8. I am not a big fan of camping, but with your tips it sounds like something I should try at least once. Also, this national park sounds like something you cannot miss! Thanks for sharing!

  9. So much great information here, thanks for sharing. I’m not much of a camper but find one or two nights fun Lol. I would love to do the astronomy night program though

  10. Some great tips. Not knowing the park it’s beneficial to know to look for a site on high ground. It’s unfortunate that campfires aren’t allowed however a stove works too. I’d love to do the star gazing program. I’m sure you’d be able to see lots of stars.

  11. Oooh I love the idea of camping out without the rainfly so you can see the stars! Camping at cedar pass looks looovely!

    btw, how easy is it to choose a specific campground? I feel like when we camp here in Canada, we just grab whichever spot is available (as they sell out so fast!) but it would be rubbish to get stuck on one of the flooded sites!

    • Hi Josy! It is fairly easy to select your preferred campground and campsite online (usually on reservation.gov). As long as you book early enough, there are usually a lot of campsites to choose from at many national parks. Or at least that has been my experience in national parks in South Dakota, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona (including the very popular ones!). But, I would not try to find a spot the day of as things are usually sold out by then.

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