Free Camping in South Dakota: Our Favorite Spots

South Dakota was one of the most anticipated stops on my five-month US road trip in 2021. Because I was traveling on a budget in…

badlands boondocking area

South Dakota was one of the most anticipated stops on my five-month US road trip in 2021. Because I was traveling on a budget in my truck camper, I was on the lookout for the best free camping South Dakota could offer.

Fortunately, I found several great options near iconic locations like Badlands National Park and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. The Black Hills National Forest was also one of my favorite discoveries for epic dispersed camping in South Dakota.

In this guide, I’ll tell you more about the spots I visited, how to find them, and what their proximity is to nearby towns or places for supplies. I’ll also add a few places I didn’t visit so you have a better selection for South Dakota free camping and don’t wind up having to sleep in a parking lot.

So let’s dive in!

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Free Camping in South Dakota

Here is a collection of some of the coolest places I’ve stayed in and researched in The Mount Rushmore State:

Badlands Boondocking Area

badlands boondocking area
Photo by Tucker Ballister

This boondocking area just outside one of the Badlands National Park entrance stations was one of my favorite free RV camping areas on my entire trip. The entire campsite, which is also known as the Wall Dispersed Camping area, is essentially one giant Badlands overlook with no set number of campsites and no permit required.

Whether you are coming from east or west, the town of Wall is going to be your last, best stop for any supplies or camping gear you forgot. Wall offers its own intrigue in the form of the iconic Wall Drug Store, the Wounded Knee Museum, and, if you need it, a developed campground with more amenities. From there, the boondocking area is located roughly 5.3 miles south.

There are two entrances to the dirt road that runs along the overlook and the road provides easy access for all types of RVs. During my stay, I saw tent campers, camper vans, class A, B, and C RVs, and even large travel trailers and 5th wheels.

Keep in mind that RV camping here might be the way to go unless you have a portable cassette toilet in your camping setup. There are no pit toilets, RV hookups, or other amenities here, which makes it a true boondocking experience.

The great part about this site is that you’ll be able to get up early and get into the park before visitors that are staying at a developed campground further away. The location is roughly 40 minutes from the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, but it is also close to many natural attractions in Badlands National Park.

Free Camping in South Dakota’s Black Hills

black hills dispersed free camping in south dakota
Photo by Tucker Ballister

This location will actually bring you to a collection of free camping spots located in the heart of South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest. The coordinates above will bring you to one of the first camp options along this road, but there are actually several as you continue down the road.

I do recommend a four-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicle for navigating this road near Mount Rushmore, as you may have to continue down the road until you can find an open spot. The best-case scenario is to arrive early on a weekday to secure a site before many other campers arrive.

If you need supplies before you arrive or while you camp here, the small town in Hill City has a grocery and several restaurants. There’s also the nearby town of Keystone, which is located a little less than 20 minutes away.

The great part about this free campsite, aside from being on public land, is that it’s within close proximity to so many national parks and monuments in the Black Hills. Here’s a quick list of places with approximate driving times:

  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial: 14 minutes
  • Crazy Horse Memorial Monument: 20 minutes
  • Custer State Park: 42 minutes
  • Wind Cave National Park: 41 minutes
  • Jewel Cave National Monument: 32 minutes

This camping area is also located a quick eight-minute drive from Horsethief Lake if you are looking for a place to cool off. This lake is great for fishing, cliff jumping, and paddleboarding. It includes a short nature trail on the lake’s eastern edge and access to longer trails in the area.

There’s even a campground there (Horsethief Campground) maintained by the US Forest Service’s Black Hills division. So if you’re willing to pay, you can grab a site in this campground, which includes vault toilets, a beach, and a fishing pier that can be safely used as a boat launch for kayaks, paddleboards, and other non-motorized watercraft.

If you do stay at this spot, be sure to check out the hike to Black Elk Peak. There’s a parking lot for a trailhead at the entrance to the Willow Creek Horse Camp just three minutes down the road, but the hike from there is a lengthy one and will require an early start and most of the day.

If you’re looking for a slightly easier access point, you can take the 20-minute drive around to the trailhead near Sylvan Lake. That will put you in a position for a more manageable 7-mile round trip journey.

Dude Ranch Lakeside Use Area

dude ranch lakeside use area
Photo by Brooke T via The Dyrt

Although the body of water here is more commonly referred to as the Missouri River, this lakeside use area is still one of the best free camping spots for RVers in the central part of South Dakota. The location is a little over two hours west of Sioux Falls and almost three hours east of Rapid City.

It’s just off I-90, which makes it an easy stop-over for campers just passing through this area. But if you do plan on staying for a few days to enjoy some fishing on the “lake” or a round of golf over at Chamberlain Country Club, that’s okay too.

In the Dude Ranch lakeside use area, there are picnic tables at some of the sites and there’s a pier for launching watercraft. Users have reported good cell phone reception here and there are toilets if your RV isn’t fully self-contained. The area is managed by the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks.

There is a grocery and several restaurants over in Chamberlain if you need food supplies or don’t feel like cooking. And if you wind up needing to kill some time here on a rainy day, you might want to check out the Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center.

Sage Creek Campground

sage creek campground free camping in south dakota
Photo by Kevin Palmer via Flickr

It’s not often that you find free camping inside the boundaries of a national park, but that’s exactly what you’ll get at Sage Creek. South Dakota free camping doesn’t get much better than a free place to stay in the heart of Badlands National Park.

Sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis and they are located down an unpaved road that occasionally closes during winter storms or heavy rain. There are 22 sites in this camp area and getting there early on a weekday is the best way to maximize your odds of landing a site.

That said, camping on this private land owned by the National Park Service is restricted to RVs, travel trailers, camper vans, and other recreational vehicles that are less than 18 feet in length. Don’t expect to navigate a big rig to this camp.

Still, the wildlife viewing here can be exceptional, as it is throughout the park. Some of the wildlife you might hope to see around Sage Creek include bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, deer, coyotes, and more.

Be aware that picnic tables and toilets are available at this site. But there is no access to water and you will most likely need to make a short drive further into the park to access hiking trails and other park attractions.

Mount Roosevelt Free Camping in South Dakota

mt roosevelt dispersed campsite
Photo by Veronica S via The Dyrt

Moving to the northern end of the Black Hills National Forest, this free camping area actually includes several sites along Mt. Roosevelt Road. This road is also the access to the trail that leads up to the Mt. Roosevelt Friendship Tower if you’re looking for a cool hike after you make camp.

The camping area here is under the auspice of US Forest Service land management and stays are limited to 14 days within a 60-day period. You must also camp a minimum of 100 feet away from any lake, creek, stream, or other body of water near Forest Service campgrounds.

This location offers at least one pull-through site, in addition to two or three others. There are No Fire signs posted nearby due to the recent fire danger in this national forest. Other nearby attractions to check out if you decide to take advantage of camping in South Dakota here include Annie Creek Falls (about 30 minutes), Broken Boot Gold Mine (about 12 minutes), and the Devils Bathtub Trail (about 40 minutes)

Richland Reservoir Dispersed Camping

richland reservoir free camping in south dakota
Photo by Lucas via The Dyrt

If you’re on your way from the eastern part of the state to check out places like Custer State Park in the west, this free spot near Fort Pierce National Grassland is a great stop for a night or two.

It offers the perfect balance of feeling remote while still being easy to get to from the main road, which not many campgrounds can boast. It also has restrooms, which might be some of the cleanest around (according to two separate reviews I read).

The town of Pierre, which is the state capital of South Dakota, lies right along the Missouri River about 30 minutes north of this campsite. It’s going to be a better bet if you need serious supplies or want to grab a bite to eat than any of the places right along I-90 to the south.

You’ll also find Lake Oahe just north of that town if you are looking for a place to cool off or enjoy watersports in this area. Other nearby attractions include La Framboise Island (for hiking on an island in the middle of the Missouri River), the South Dakota State Historical Society (for a rainy day history lesson), and The Dunes Golf Complex (for riverside golfing).

How to Find Free Camping in South Dakota (And Elsewhere!)

Camper in roadside and lakeside pull out
Photo by Melina Keifer via Unsplash

You’re already in a good place to start your search for free South Dakota camping, but if the spots above aren’t close to the areas you’re exploring, here are a few resources you can use:

The Dyrt App

The Dyrt app is available for both Apple and Android phones. It offers an easy-to-use search feature that allows you to filter whether you’re looking for dispersed camping, developed sites, public campgrounds, or even a dump station to empty your RV.

The coolest part about this app is that you get rewarded with points for capturing photos and videos of the places you stay and adding them to a review after your stay. If you earn enough points in a month, you’ll be entered into a monthly contest to win free camping gear!

Check out our complete review of the Dyrt App and try it out yourself with a free 30-day trial to the Dyrt Pro.

Freecampsites.net

Freecampsites.net is another useful resource for finding fee-free campsites throughout the United States. This search tool has been around longer than The Dyrt, so it tends to have a wider catalog of campsite options on public lands.

That said, some of those sites may not be offering free camping anymore, so you will need to read into the recent reviews to see when the last stay actually was. This website is a little easier to navigate on a desktop computer, from my experience, but it can be pulled up on a smartphone in a pinch.

iOverlander

iOverlander is a very similar platform to the one we mentioned above. However, this tool generally offers a wider selection of dispersed camping locations in the US and abroad. So it might be useful if you are thinking of exploring boondocking around the world!

Conclusion on Free Camping in South Dakota

We hope you’ve bookmarked the free camping spots we highlighted above for your next adventure in South Dakota. If there are any places you’d love to share with your fellow readers, please don’t hesitate to drop them in the comments below!

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