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Badlands National Park may have a name that’s intimidating to some, but its uniqueness attracts RV campers from all over the world. Badlands, located about one hour east of Rapid City, is perhaps best known for its geological features, particularly its fossil beds. The park is also home to herds of bison, black-footed ferrets, and endless prairies only broken by jagged sandstone pinnacles. At one point, as the fossils show, it was also home to rhinos and saber-tooth tigers.
A portion of Badlands National Park lies within the Pine Ridge Reservation. Indigenous peoples, notably the tribes of the Great Sioux Nation, have inhabited this land for over 11,000 years. Two of the most well-known events in modern native history – both at Wounded Knee, 80 years apart – took place just south of the park boundaries. Badlands was declared a national monument in 1929 and became a national park in 1978. And although they were driven from the land, the Sioux still help the government administer the park.
Badlands National Park has two visitors’ centers with educational films and exhibits, information desks, a bookstore, and more. Outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty of wild backcountry to explore. You can stroll along boardwalks through the prairie, hike to breathtaking viewpoints, and explore more challenging hikes that take you right up to the park’s unique formations.
You can also explore Badlands without having to hike much at all. The archeologist in your family will want to visit the park’s paleontology lab, open to the public in the summer months. This is a working lab where you can watch scientists uncover historic fossil finds as they happen. You’ll also find other fossils on exhibit in visitors’ center displays.
Stargazers and photographers also love Badlands for its scenery both day and night. Park rangers put on an excellent stargazing program. These start as talks in the evening, and as dusk gives way to darkness, the rangers invite visitors to their telescopes. Badlands hosts a great astronomy festival during one weekend in the summer. If these activities are too late for you, you’ll find plenty of wildlife and landscape photography opportunities. Keep an eye out for bighorn sheep, bison, deer, and prairie dogs.
Visitors can go RV camping in Badlands National Park year-round. The weather is unpredictable, however, and temperatures make wild swings throughout the year, from -40F to well over 100F. The campgrounds are open, with no protection from the elements, but covered picnic tables are provided at each site. Pets on a leash six feet or shorter are allowed in the campgrounds. Be sure to keep an eye on them at all times. Another important note about camping in Badlands National Park is that fires are prohibited. The prairie grass can get extremely dry and is a fire hazard.
There are two campgrounds in Badlands for rental RVs. Cedar Pass is the main campground. This campground is equipped with running water, flush toilets, and is partially open during the winter. You’ll find 96 sites with excellent views in every direction. RV campers will also find electrical hookups at some of the sites and a dump station.
The other campground is Sage Creek, off-limits to RVs over 18 feet long. This is a primitive, remote campground that can’t accommodate more than a dozen RVs. Other than picnic tables, the only other amenity at Sage Creek is pit toilets. Generators are prohibited due to fire hazards. This campground, located in the prairie, is also often visited by bison.
Other than the facilities already mentioned, there are no other facilities within Badlands National Park. This means that if you’re renting an RV for camping at Badlands, you’ll have to purchase your motorhome camping supplies and fill up with gas before entering the park. There are plenty of truck stops along Interstate 90, just north of the park. You'll find more on your search for an RV rental in Pennington County.
One exciting stop just outside of Badlands National Park is Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in Philip. Here, you can discover how thousands of nuclear missiles were hidden in plain sight during the Cold War.
Rapid City is the only metropolis near Badlands. This bustling locale has some exciting events spring through fall, including the Black Hills Mountain Festival, Stockman's Days Beer Fest, the Great Downtown Pumpkin Festival, and numerous live music venues. There's no shortage of great steakhouses in Rapid City, and be sure you try a bison burger before leaving town.
If you continue your motorhome camping trip to the west, you’ll enter the Black Hills. Take your time and explore Mount Rushmore, Deadwood, and Jewel Cave National Monument.