Badlands National Park Fees & Reservations

English: Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA

English: Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Badlands National Park is 244,000 glorious acres of prairie wonderland, it’s open all day, every day throughout the year, and it offers great value for money. I’m not kidding, get your calculators out – okay, 244,000 acres of national park, for a mere $15 per private car (including passengers), for 7 whole days. Right, that’s 244,000 shared by 15, multiplied by 7 . . . no, scratch that, it’s $15 shared by 244,000 shared by 7 . . . no, hang on a minute, math was never my strong point which is why I prefer to waffle – okay, I’ve got it now, 244,000 acres of national park, at a cost of $15 for a car load of people for 7 days = BARGAIN – that’s my answer to the equation, a real bargain.

Okay, now that we’ve established how much of a bargain it is to visit Badlands National Park (and all of the other National Parks too, for that matter), let’s take a look at some alternative prices.

  • Private, non-commercial vehicle must pay $15 for entrance, valid for a period of 7 days
  • Individual people – hikers, cyclists etc must pay $7 each for entrance to the park, again this is valid for a period of 7 days
  • Motorcycles have to pay a total of $10 for 7 days
  • Annual pass – if you’re lucky enough to live close enough to Badlands National Park for multiple visits throughout the year, then an annual pass can be yours for the knock-out price of $30, valid for a whole year from the month that the pass was purchased

Commercial vehicles do have their own rates for entry to Badlands National Park

  • Commercial vehicle with capacity to carry 1 – 6 passengers – $25 entry plus $7 per person
  • Commercial vehicle with capacity to carry 7 – 15 passengers – $50
  • Minibus with capacity to carry 16 – 25 passengers – $60
  • Motorcoach with capacity to carry 26 passengers or more – $150

If you like the look of these bargain prices then read on, it gets even better. If you visit Badlands National Park on one of the following dates the National Park Service completely waives the entrance fees – you get in for free. You’ll still have to pay for things like camping (we’ll get to that soon), but entrance to Badlands National Park won’t cost you a penny, or a bean, not a dime. The following are the dates for 2012, but it’s usually pretty similar on other years too – the dates might change but the events won’t.

  • Martin Luther King Jr Day Weekend – January 14 through to 16 (2012)
  • National Park Week – April 21 through to April 29 (in 2012)
  • Get Outdoors Day – June 9 (2012)
  • National Public Lands Day September 29 (2012)
  • Veterands Day Weekend – November 10 through to 12 (2012)

Just bear in mind that even though entrance to Badlands National Park is a real bargain every day, if you do opt to take advantage of free entrance days you’re likely to come across lots of other people who have had the same idea.

Camping at Badlands National Park

There’s nothing quite like a national park camping trip to really help you get “back to nature” – whether you’re interested in a spot of back country camping (which we will come to), or prefer to spend the night at a “proper” campground. There are two campgrounds in Badlands National Park, Cedar Pass Campground and Sage Creek Campground – what better place to watch the sunset, spend the night and then get up early for the most glorious of sunrises?

Reservations are not required at either campground, it’s strictly “first come, first served” which is a good thing, and a bad thing. The good thing is that you don’t have to book ages in advance, if you’re one of those spontaneous types who just likes to grab a backpack and go whenever the fancy takes you, then all well and good . . . however, you’ve gotta’ make sure that you’re at the campground before it gets full to overflowing and you’re unceremoniously turfed away. Don’t worry too much about it, neither campground gets full to capacity very often, and you are limited to a maximum of 14 days camping at either ground.  Let’s look at each Badlands National Park campground in a little more detail.

Cedar Pass Campground, Badlands National Park

The Cedar Pass Campground is close to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, with 96 level sites all enjoying scenic views of the Badlands.

  • Camping fees $15 per night
  • Camping fees for sites with electrical hook-ups $28 per night
  • Dump station available – $1 charge
  • Cold running water
  • Flush toilets
  • Picnic tables
  • Campfires are not permitted.
  • Collection of wood is prohibited from Badlands National Park
  • Camp stoves and contained charcoal grills are permitted in the campgrounds and picnic areas – ensure that the charcoal is completely cooled before disposal to prevent fire
  • A portion of Cedar Pass Campground is open throughout the winter

Group Camping at Cedar Pass Campground

  • Advance reservations are required for group camping at Cedar Pass Campground
  • Four campsites are available for organized groups
  • Group camping fees are $3 per person, per night, with a $30 minimum charge

Sage Creek Campground, Badlands National Park

Definitely a more primitive and “back to nature” campground, don’t be surprised if a bison wanders through while you’re cleaning your teeth! It’s located in the parks North Unit on the west side, close to the Badlands Wilderness area.

  • Accessed via an unpaved road which is often temporarily closed during the winter and spring storms.
  • There is only limited turnaround for the larger types of recreational vehicle.
  • There is no charge for camping here, it’s absolutely free.
  • There is no water available at Sage Creek Campground
  • Pit toilets
  • Covered picnic tables
  • Some of this campground is designated to be used by horses

I’m not usually one to say “told you so”, but guess what, “told you so” . . .

Backcountry Camping at Badlands National Park

If you want to camp somewhere even more primitive and away from it all than Sage Creek Campground then you might fancy a little backcountry camping. At present it won’t cost you anything and you don’t even require a permit to spend the night in the back country, but you do need to speak to a member of staff at either the Ben Reifel Visitor Center or the Pinnacles Entrance Station for a little more information. Basically there are a few rules which you must follow, remember, leave nothing behind!

  • Don’t forget to take a topographic map, and learn how to read it.
  • Make sure that you wear sturdy boots, twisted ankles are easily sustained at places like Badlands National Park and can severely damage your enjoyment, plus the enjoyment of everybody traveling with you
  • Campfires are not permitted anywhere, remember to take a backpacking stove
  • Pets are not permitted in the backcountry, trails or wilderness, so leave Buster at home 
  • Camp at least 0.5 from the trail or road, not visible from the road
  • Carry out all refuse, including used toilet paper – animals can dig this up which is definitely not good for the park
  • Keep an eye on the weather, it can change quickly – the best months for backpacking in Badlands National Park are generally regarded to be during September and early in October

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