Black Hills, Badlands, and presidential icons await intrepid campers.
South Dakota's headline acts need little introduction. This sparsely populated state is home to the most visited national park in the Midwest—Badlands National Park—and one of the most iconic landmarks in the United States—Mount Rushmore. From the craggy peaks of the Black Hills to the vast backcountry of the Great Plains and the banks of the mighty Missouri River, outdoor adventures are easy to find in South Dakota. The main camping season runs from May through October, with midsummer temperatures peaking in the mid-80s, while winters are snowy, especially in the north.
Swathes of forested mountains blanket the southwestern corner of South Dakota, where a road trip to Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial is likely top of your to-do list. Just west of the four presidents, the Black Hills National Forest has 450 miles of hiking, biking, OHV, and horseback riding trails, plus 30 campgrounds, some with full hookups. To the east, hike beneath layer-cake cliffs and towering canyons in Badlands National Park, then camp out beneath the stars—backcountry camping is permitted throughout the park.
The Missouri River flows through the heart of South Dakota, where you'll find the four man-made "great lakes"—Lake Oahe, Lake Sharpe, Lake Francis Case, and Lewis and Clark Lake. Campgrounds and RV parks pepper the shores, and all four lakes are popular spots for walleye and smallmouth bass fishing. Bring your own boat, paddle the lakes on a kayak, or rent a jet ski.
The sweeping prairies and glacial lakes of northeastern South Dakota are little-explored, but you’re never far from a lakeside campground. With its chain of eight glacial lakes, Oakwood Lakes State Park affords plenty of opportunities for swimming, paddling, and ice fishing, depending on the time of year. Further south, Lake Poinsett has a sandy beach, two camping areas, and lakefront cabins.
The state's southeast corner is a patchwork of lakes, rivers, and vineyards, interspersed with country towns. Set up camp at Lake Vermillion and hit the water to swim, canoe, or paddleboard; enjoy hiking or rock climbing around the unique pink quartzite cliffs of Palisades State Park; or go wine tasting in South Dakota wine country. A photo stop at Sioux Falls is a must for visitors to the namesake city, but for camping, head to the nearby Big Sioux Recreation Area, a scenic stopover along the Jay Heath Canoe & Kayak Trail.
Yes, you can camp for free in South Dakota. Dispersed camping is allowed in the national forests and grasslands in the state. The two primary areas for free camping are the Black Hills National Forest and the Buffalo Gap National Grassland. Keep in mind that these campsites are primitive and typically have no facilities, so be prepared to practice Leave No Trace principles and pack out all your trash.
Camping fees in South Dakota state parks vary depending on the type of campsite and amenities offered. On average, you can expect to pay the following for campsites:
Keep in mind that these prices are approximate and may vary by specific park or campsite. Some parks may also charge additional fees, such as entrance fees or vehicle permits. You can explore more about South Dakota state parks and their camping options on Hipcamp.
While you cannot camp just anywhere in South Dakota, there are numerous designated campgrounds and camping areas throughout the state where camping is allowed. These include state parks, national forests, and private campgrounds. Dispersed camping is allowed in some areas within national forests, such as the Black Hills National Forest, but you must follow specific rules and regulations. Always check with the managing agency or landowner for the area you plan to camp in to ensure you are following all guidelines and restrictions.