In this article, we share our insights from our stay on “The Wall,” an amazing badlands boondocking area right outside the Pinnacles entrance of Badlands National Park, and help you plan your camping excursion or road trip to the Badlands.
As full-time RVers, we have traveled in our home on wheels all across the U.S. and have had the opportunity to stay among some unreal scenery.
Boondocking quickly became one of our favorite ways to camp as it offers the perfect balance of freedom and nature. In fact, some of our best memories and most epic views came from one iconic badlands boondocking area in South Dakota.
A wonderful world of color-changing sand castles of rock awaits, where the grasslands drop off into a dizzying array of shapeshifting gullies and ravines….
About The Badlands & Badlands National Park
Tucked in southwestern South Dakota the Earth has been carved away by an ancient sea, leaving behind layers of sedimentary rocks characterized today by rugged peaks, deep canyons, towering spires, and eroded buttes shaped today by constant erosion by water, wind, and freeze-thaw cycles.
The alternating layers of sedimentary rock, including clay, sandstone, shale, and siltstone, create the vibrant and striking color variations seen in the Badlands. These colors, ranging from white and gray to various shades of red, pink, and orange, result from different mineral compositions and oxidation processes within the rock layers.
Overall, the fascinating geological history of deposition, uplift, and erosion over millions of years has given rise to the breathtaking and otherworldly landscape of the Badlands in Badlands National Park. It stands as a testament to the power and beauty of natural processes shaping the Earth’s surface.
This is a lesser-visited National Park and one we found to be underrated. The park preserves over 240,000 acres of the largest mixed grass prairie in the U.S. and offers ample opportunity for exploration and adventure!
Best Time To Visit
Spring and fall will bring the mildest temperatures in the badlands boondocking areas surrounding Badlands National Park. These seasons also lend themselves to smaller crowds, making for a more enjoyable stay and park experience. Summer temperatures can soar, which can be less than ideal for dry camping (with limited or no access to air conditioning) or hiking, but of course this is personal preference.
Getting to Badlands National Park is relatively straightforward, and there are a few options available. If you’re traveling by air, the nearest major airport is Rapid City Regional Airport (RAP) in South Dakota, located about an hour’s drive from the park. From there, you can rent a car or arrange for transportation to reach the park.
If you will be visiting by RV or while on a road trip, Interstate 90 runs near the northern edge of the park, and you can take exits 110 or 131 to access the park’s entrances. The drive to the park offers scenic views of the South Dakota prairies, before unveiling the beautiful badlands areas.
- Closest Cities to Badlands National Park:
- Rapid City, SD (50 minutes)
- Sioux Falls, SD (4.5 hours)
Boondocking is RVing and camping “off-grid.” Typically, this means your RV is fully self-contained, suggesting you have a way to keep your batteries charged, a place to use the bathroom, etc. No reliance on outside amenities or resources.
You can boondock in a wide variety of places, ranging from truck stops and Cracker Barrel parking lots, to public lands such as BLM (Bureau of Land Management) areas or National Forest roads.
Boondocking is one of our favorite ways to experience new places as it is free, allows you to stay right in nature with million-dollar views, and often provides more space, privacy, and freedom than paid sites in campgrounds.
If you are new to boondocking and want to learn more about what it is and how to get started, check out our complete guide to RV boondocking for beginner our 51 best boondocking tips, and our RV off-grid power guide
About Wall South Dakota
Somewhere along the way, a small town northwest of Badlands National Park became a tourist attraction of it’s own. Wall South Dakota, despite its small size, is a popular tourist destination primarily due to its proximity to the iconic Wall Drug Store and its location near Badlands National Park.
Here’s an overview of the town and its attractions:
- Wall Drug Store: The town gained fame primarily because of Wall Drug Store. Originally a small pharmacy, it transformed into a sprawling shopping complex that offers a unique experience for visitors. Wall Drug Store features numerous shops, restaurants, and attractions, including Western-themed stores, a café, an art gallery, and even a dinosaur statue. It’s a place where you can take a break, enjoy a meal, and shop for souvenirs.
- Badlands National Park: Located just a few miles south of Wall, Badlands National Park is a breathtaking natural wonder. It showcases a rugged and dramatic landscape characterized by eroded buttes, spires, and colorful rock formations. The park offers opportunities for hiking, scenic drives, wildlife viewing, and photography. Explore the park’s trails, learn about its unique geology, and marvel at the incredible vistas and diverse plant and animal life.
- Outdoor Recreation: Beyond Badlands National Park, the Wall area and Buffalo Gap National Grassland provides additional opportunities for outdoor recreation. Camp, hike, or bike in the surrounding prairies and hills, enjoying the tranquility and natural beauty of the region.
- Local History and Culture: While Wall is primarily known for its tourist attractions, the town also has a rich history and culture. We highly recommend exploring the nearby Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, which preserves the history of the Cold War-era missile silos and offers guided tours. Additionally, the nearby Wounded Knee Museum and the Prairie Homestead Historic Site provide insights into the local history and Native American culture of the region.
Wall South Dakota, offers a blend of quirky tourist attractions, natural beauty, and a glimpse into the region’s history and culture.
Best Boondocking Areas in South Dakota’s Badlands
The stunning badlands stretch beyond Badlands National Park and can be found throughout the lands of the Buffalo Gap National Grassland that surround the park.
Free camping and boondocking in this area of badlands are part of the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. Typically you will only find paid camping within National Park boundaries, with designated campgrounds serviced by the NPS, with free boondocking areas being reserved for other types of public lands.
This being said, Badlands National Park is unique in that it does have free remote camping within the park for small RVs, in addition to a paid campground option. More on that below!
Nomad View Dispersed Camping “The Wall”
This first boondocking spot in our list is the one we chose to stay at and the top spot that we recommend. This will also be the boondocking area we cover in most detail.
The infamous “Wall” is a boondocking location that has been popularized by the movie “Nomadland.” With its views and proximity to the Pinnacles Entrance of Badlands National Park, this is one of our favorite free campsites and one we consider a must-visit for RVers and camping enthusiasts.
You can expect this location to be filled with RVs or tents nearly every night… and it is clear to see why! Mesmerizing sweeping views of the badlands, right outside the entrance of Badlands National Park. Hike, hang out with the bighorn sheep, soak in brilliant sunsets, and watch the Badlands change colors as the sun crosses the sky throughout the day in this picture-perfect free camping spot.
This location is busy and you can expect a lot of turnover. So…don’t fret if you don’t secure the best site, you might be able to change spots throughout your stay if you don’t snag the perfect spot when you first arrive!
What we loved:
- Unique views on the edge of the badlands with amazing sunsets and clear star-filled nights
- Close to the Badlands National Park Pinnacles entrance station where you can see bison, pronghorn, prairie dogs, and bighorn sheep
- Great cell service, Starlink access, and solar!
- Plenty of room, with spots for many RVs of various sizes
- As far as free camping, this location has easy access in addition to some of the best views you can get
Things to keep in mind:
- This area is windy, with wind gusts over 30 mph not uncommon throughout the plains! Think about your setup based on the wind direction and be careful along the edges of the wall (which is in fact a very sharp and steep drop-off in many places). We enjoyed parking across from the wall’s edge to have more space in the grass and still had great views.
- Sites are very unlevel. Bring plenty of leveling blocks to help level out your rig
- This camping area is far from many of the hikes near the main Ben Reifel Visitor Center for Badlands National Park. This being said, the drive through the park along Badlands Loop Road is gorgeous, and we highly recommend making the journey across the park no matter where you choose to stay.
Our Tips & Recommended Driving Directions
- There are two entrances to this free camping area along “The Wall.” We found the second entrance (closest to the Badlands National Park Entrance Station) to be the easiest to navigate with our larger rig. The first entrance is doable but has a very steep hill to get up to access most spots. You can take the second entrance and drive back to the spots accessed by the first entrance, although it is quite sloped side to side. Both roads have large potholes that require navigating around. Take it slow and you should be okay, but always be sure to check first. Road conditions change often!
- Road conditions can vary depending on recent weather. Access roads to the camping area may be muddy and slick after heavy rains, as the area can be prone to flooding. Each entrance is a dirt road that leads to a grassy area where you can camp in the grass or along the edge of the wall in the rocks and dirt.
- Use the radio towers as a marker. The access road that we found most suitable for larger rigs is the second road, which is located after the radio towers. The spot for boondocking is a vast area not far off the main road that leads into the park. We recommend using an RV Safe GPS like RV LIFE (one of our top RV travel apps) for directions, and cross-checking that with Google Maps. Most of the drive will likely be easy interstate miles, but we did find that our RV GPS took us on a roundabout way off the highway that we later found could have been easily shortened.
Nearby Attractions To Explore
- Wall Drug: Honestly, this was not our cup of tea. While it was interesting to see how much of a popular attraction this has become, it is certainly a bit of a tourist trap. One of the places you go to experience and learn more about an area, more than a true draw itself.
- Badlands National Park: Drive the scenic Badlands Loop Road and enjoy the picturesque overlooks. A few of our favorite trails include Notch Trail and Castle Loop
- Buffalo Gap National Grassland: You can hike in here, directly from your spot on “The Wall”!
- Minute Man Missile National Historic Site: We found the exhibits at the visitor center extremely eye-opening and educational. A great stop that has easy access to the East side of Badlands National Park for a complete day trip when exploring over that way from the Nomad View Dispersed Camping Area
GPS Coordinates: 43.8931, -102.2385
If you want to learn more about Badlands National Park while you are exploring, consider a self-guided audio tour. If you want a more guided experience, you can also a private tour of the park.
Other Boondocking Areas
While the Nomad View Dispersed Camping area is the most popular Badlands boondocking area and the top free camping area we recommend, it is not the only option for camping near Badlands National Park.
Next, we share a few additional boondocking areas just outside the park’s boundaries in the Buffalo Gap National Grassland, as well as two camping options inside the park.
- Steer Pasture Overlook Dispersed Camping: This is basically the same area as the Nomad View Dispersed Camping area, at the far end further away from the park
- Baja Off-Road Vehicle Use Area: Open off-road riding area that also allows overnight camping
- Railroad Butte: Another off-road area with high ATV traffic that also allows overnight camping
Developed Campground Options Operated by The National Park Service
Badlands National Park has 2 campgrounds, 1 paid and 1 free:
- Cedar Pass Campground: 96 paid sites with electric hookups reservable April through October. Managed by the Cedar Pass Lodge
- GPS Coordinates: 43.74506507623202, -101.94841778531416
- Sage Creek Campground: 22 free rustic first-come, first-served sites. RVs over 18 feet are prohibited. No generators allowed
- GPS Coordinates: 43.895, -102.4134
As an additional note, Badlands National Park is an open hike park, which means you are free to explore and backcountry camp anywhere in the park, as long as you are 0.5 miles from any trail or road and out of sight. Great news for backpackers!
You can read more about backcountry camping in Badlands National Park from the NPS here.
Local Potable Water Filling
Boondocking means you are responsible for your own water and proper dumping of your RV’s black and gray water tanks. When boondocking near Badlands National Park, your best bet is to plan ahead.
Below are some local potable water options and dump stations:
- There is a free water spigot just inside the Pinnacles Entrance Station to Badlands National Park nearest to the Nomad View dispersed camping area where you can fill your water jugs. This spigot is NOT threaded for use with a traditional hose, so don’t try to bring your entire RV into the park to fill, as it will not work. This is a good place to bring individual jugs or a water bladder
- GPS: 43.87980, -102.23892
- Wasta Water ($5 self-fill) – west on I-90 before reaching the park
- GPS: 44.06856, -102.44918
- Sleepy Hollow RV Park in Wall has also been known to allow non-registered guests to fill and dump tanks for a fee (only a few miles from Nomad View)
Local Dump Stations
- White Lake, Eastbound & Westbound Rest Areas (East of Badlands National Park)
- I-90 Milemarker 301 (eastbound)
- Cost: FREE
- Loves – Travel Stops & Country Stores 602 (West of Badlands National Park)
- Box Elder, South Dakota, USA, 57719
- I-90 Exit 67 B; minutes East of Rapid City by Ellsworth Air Force Base
- Cost: $10.00
- Pilot Flying J Travel Plazas #931 (West of Badlands National Park)
- 4200 North I-90 Service Road, Rapid City, South Dakota, USA, 57701
- I-90 Exit 61
- Cost: Free
Make it a Complete Dakotas Roadtrip
South Dakota and North Dakota both have dramatic, out-of-this-world landscapes with plenty of free camping and boondocking options. During our first year-long RV road trip we made our way through North and South Dakota, exploring the following destinations:
- Medora, North Dakota: Exploring Theodore Roosevelt Nationa Park
- Custer, South Dakota: Exploring Custer State Park, The Black Hills National Forest, Wind Cave National Park, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and Jewel Cave National Monument
- Wall, South Dakota: Exploring Badlands National Park, Wall Drug, the Buffalo Gap National Grassland, and Minute Man Missile National Historic Site
If you love boondocking and are looking for inspiration for your next getaway, check out our favorite boondocking and free camping spots
Helpful RV Boondocking Tips & Resources
Some helpful tips and equipment based on what we have learned boondocking and dry camping throughout North America in our fifth wheel since 2021:
- Water Bladder
- Water Filtration System (such as a Berkey or Clearsource)
- Water Pump
- Portable Waste Tank
- Generator (we love our 3300 watt Generac portable inverter generator as it is quiet and lightweight)
- Solar Panels, Inverter, & Lithium Batteries (not required, but can be a nice upgrade…see our RV power guide for a deeper dive into off-grid power and inverters)
- Hitch Lock (we use this ing pin lock for our fifth wheel) and/or SimpliSafe System for added security
- Leveling blocks (site will be unlevel)
- RV Life GPS (see our complete guide to RV LIFE for more information)
- Campendium & iOverlander to find dispersed and dry camping spots
- Harvest Hosts for overnight dry camping
- RV Rentals: If you are looking to get closer to nature but don’t have an RV, consider renting one through RV Share. We used this service when renting out our Casita and found them to be high quality and easy to use!
View our entire list of apps we have found most helpful for RV travel and camping.