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Badlands Wilderness Campground
Our Camping Trip Experience

When you think of "wilderness camping," what do you think of? Miles and miles of lush green forest, wild animals, and absolutely no one around? Not so in the Badlands wilderness! Our Badlands wilderness camping experience was totally different than what we expected!

Driving from Tripp SD in early May, we figured we would "beat the heat." We took Hwy 44 all the way there, and once we got to the small town of "Interior," we headed north to the Badlands National Park and Visitor's Center. The first place we stopped was the Cedar Pass Lodge.

Entering Badlands National Park

The Visitor Center's rangers explained to us how the wilderness campground worked, and where it was located. It turned out that it was located 50 miles west of the Visitor's Center. Not realizing this at first, we didn't take many pictures of the Badlands, thinking we could come back later.  Once we realized it was 50 miles away, we knew there was no returning. (See the pictures of the Badlands from our 2011 trip)

We arrived at the wilderness campground toward sunset, and so we went ahead and set up our tent in the campground. There were three buffalo grazing nearby to our amazement.

The next morning, these three buffalo decided to walk through the campground. They were losing their winter fur, and were using the shelter posts to rub off their winter coat.

Buffalo scratching in campground

We woke up rather chilly, because the wilderness campground sits in a valley. From a distance, it reminded me of a "wagon train" type of setup.

We were forewarned by the Visitor's Center, that there is no water at the wilderness campground, and only an outhouse. The campground has about 10 to 15 camping spots with picnic tables, and cabana type shelters. No open fires are allowed.

The Procedure for Camping in the Wilderness

The procedure for camping in the Badlands wilderness, is to drive your car to the southeast corner of the Sage Creek campground and park. Then fill out a registry form that lets a ranger know you have hiked into the wilderness, and when you will return. If you are not back by the day you say, they send in a search party for you.

View of wilderness campground

No Water!

They recommend that you take a gallon of water per person, per day, and this is the "catch."  For 2 people you would need 2 gallons per day. Water is heavy, and carrying two gallons, along with your gear keeps you from hiking too far, and staying too long.

So if you need more water, you have to return to your vehicle. If you run out of water, you have to drive 50 miles back to the Visitor's Center, or drive 20 miles north to the town of Wall, and then back again.

There is a small creek running nearby the campground, but the water is not drinkable. It is bitter and all the rocks in the creek have a white sediment dried on them. See this picture of Vlad by the creek.

The wilderness camping is free... but you can't stay long unless you have a huge container of water with you. I suspect most people stay in the campground, and then just take "day hikes."

The Badlands Wilderness Scenery

The first morning, we packed our gear to go look for a place to "wilderness" camp. There are few trees, and most of the barren hills reminded me of "strip mining" hills from long ago, maybe looking for gold? Here's a picture of the type of stuff on top of the hills.

There is a lot of prairie with small herds of buffalo grazing, which is pretty cool to see, and lots of Prairie Dogs that chatter at you as you are walking by.

Climbing the hills is tiresome if you are not used to it, but we found out "after the fact," that there is a buffalo/horse trail behind the hills which is much easier to hike.

Our Camping Spot

We located a spot to camp by searching the surrounding hills with our binoculars. We were disappointed that the "actual" Badlands scenic peaks were at least 10 miles away from us in all directions.

The spot we found to camp was a small level area hidden in some cedar trees. We dropped our gear, set up a tarp tent, and went exploring. Walking the "peaks" was easy, they are covered with rocks,  some were covered in a reddish clay, and rather crumbly looking. We didn't climb those, they looked too scary.

Vlad found some rocks that looked like the type Indians used to "knap" arrowheads, so he spent a lot of time knapping rocks.

The next day we had to make a decision of whether to go back to the vehicle to get more water, or just leave. Here's why we had to make a decision. Look how far we are from the campground. We decided to go get more water and spend another night. We followed the buffalo/horse trail we found, and it only took us 20 minutes to get back, which was amazing! We cooked potatoes on a small homemade campstove and made some tea.

The next morning, two buffalo decided to take the trail, and I took a picture as he was standing outside our camping spot. We were wondering whether we had taken their camping spot! The buffalo generally stay 20 to 30 feet from you, and they just mosey along doing their own thing.

Our Wilderness Camping Conclusion

I would say we were generally disappointed with the Badlands Wilderness camping experience. It wasn't what we expected at all, even though we did have a chance to test our "wilderness survival skills" and was dramatically impressed with the notion that... "You can't live without water!"

Pictures of the Badlands

A view looking west after leaving the Visitor Center... view looking west
View of the Badlands Loop Road sign and peaks... Badland peaks ...another view
First stop is an scenic overlook view... scenic overlook ... view southwest ... another view south
Badlands wall... Badlands wall view ... view east ... view northeast
Me in the jeep view... me in the jeep ... jeep in the Badlands

See the campground where we stayed on the way back home: Platte Creek Campground.

Thanks for visiting
Photography © Vlad and Carol in Tripp, SD
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