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Camping in North/South Dakota

North and South Dakota offer unique camping opportunities, stunning terrain, historical and cultural experiences, and exciting outdoor activities that will make any trip memorable.

However, knowing where to stay and what to do when visiting the Dakotas can seem daunting with the vast land the two states cover. That’s why we offer this guide highlighting the best North and South Dakota campgrounds, so you can efficiently plan a trip.

The Dakotas have so much to offer outdoor enthusiasts, such as hiking the 140-mile long Maah Daah Hey Trail in North Dakota, visiting Mt. Rushmore, or exploring the state capital by camping in Pierre SD. If you plan to put the Dakotas on your travel list, check out this guide, so you don’t miss a thing!

Camping in North Dakota vs Camping in South Dakota

Any new visitor to the Dakotas may wonder if one state is better than the other, especially for camping.

The answer depends on what scenery and attractions you want to be part of on your vacation. Here are some differences camping in South Dakota vs. North Dakota:

North Dakota Camping Offers:

  • Flatter terrain that is mostly prairie so hiking or exploring is less strenuous
  • The Badlands and Medora on the western edge of the state
  • More sightings of wildlife such as Bighorn sheep, moose, elk, and bison
  • Less population (775,000) means more serene camping locations and experiences
  • Summer temperatures are warm but rarely overbearingly hot
  • Wonderful state park campgrounds, rivers and lakes, and local sites

South Dakota Camping Offers:

  • Flat terrain on the eastern side, and forested and mountainous terrain in the Black Hills on the western side
  • More major cities and attractions such as Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse Monument, Badlands, Deadwood, Sturgis, and Sioux Falls
  • The population is slightly higher than in North Dakota, but more tourists visit the state, so density increases heavily near the major attractions
  • Great spring and fall temperatures and a less harsh winter camping climate, but summer can get hot
  • Plentiful national and state park campgrounds, along with dispersed camping options

Both Dakotas have a healthy Native American population and private Reservations with museums and local opportunities to learn more about their culture and sacred lands. Sacred Stone Camp North Dakota is found about 45 miles southeast of Bismark and is the center of resistance of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other Native Americans against big oil.

Camp Grafton North Dakota is the training center for the state’s National Guard, while other military installations, such as Ellsworth Air Force Base, are in South Dakota.

The biggest thing to note about the Dakotas is that once you get away from the major cities in each state (Sioux Falls and Rapid City in South Dakota – Fargo and Bismark in North Dakota), there are few inhabitants.

5 Best Campgrounds in North Dakota

If you’re looking for the best camping locations in North Dakota, here are our top picks:

1. Theodore Roosevelt National Park Campgrounds

Open: Peak Season May 1 – October 31 but open all year weather permitting
Campsites: 75 between 3 campgrounds
Nightly Rate: $7-$40

Amenities:

  • Toilets
  • Drinking water
  • Picnic tables

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a favorite camping location because it offers primitive tent and RV camping at the Juniper, Cottonwood, or Roundup Group Horse Campground. Many sites are quite large and can fit bigger RVs, but call to confirm specific site lengths.

The scenery is unbelievable, with wildlife to watch, various landscapes to enjoy, hundreds of incredible miles of trails to explore, and the North Dakota sunset hour a time to reflect on the wonders of nature.

Unfortunately, no hookups or dump stations are available, but there are potable water stations.

Attractions Near Theodore Roosevelt National Park:

  • Painted Canyon Overlook
  • Petrified Forest Loop
  • Peaceful Valley
  • Medora Musical Show
  • North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame
  • The Buffalo Gap Gift Shop

2. Nokota Horse Preservation Ranch

Open: Year-round
Campsites: Ranch house or teepee rental, primitive RV and tent sites
Nightly Rate & Amenities: Call for updated information but hiking and fishing are allowed onsite

The Nokota Horse Preservation Ranch covers over 1,000 acres in Linton, North Dakota, and welcomes tent and RV campers to set up in the fields where you can watch the horses roam freely. With tours, talks, and up-close horse interactions and rides, this unusual camping experience may be one of the best of your life.

Attractions Near Nokota Horse Preservation Ranch:

  • Beaver Creek Recreation Area
  • A Touch of Honey/Llerenas Apiaries/
  • Emmons County Museum

3. Lake Metigoshe State Park

Open: Year-round
Campsites: 124 primitive or elec/water hookup RV or tent, plus 7 cabin and yurt rentals
Nightly Rate: RV/tent campsites $17-$25 – Cabin/yurt $60-$115

Amenities:

  • Boat ramp
  • Dog park
  • Dump station
  • Showers and toilets
  • Lake Metigoshe Outdoor Learning Center
  • Boating, swimming, fishing
  • Winter snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, sledding, ice fishing
  • 12 miles of hiking trails

Lake Metigoshe State Park Campground offers the most stunning scenery of all the North Dakota public parks. With camping available all year, you can choose from a rental cabin or primitive RV or tent sites or some with partial hookups.

Paddle the lake in a kayak or fish for your dinner in this location near the Canadian border.

Attractions Near Lake Metigoshe State Park:

  • Knife River Indian Villages
  • Pembina State Museum
  • Club de Skinautique Water Show
  • Railroad Museum

4. Cabins of Amidon Campground and Lodging

Open: Year-round
Campsites: FHU RV and tent sites, plus cabin rentals
Nightly Rate: $20 tent/$40 RV/$95 cabin

Amenities:

  • Bathhouse with tubs, toilets, and showers
  • Onsite tavern serving food and drinks

The Cabins of Amidon Campground and Lodging provide a fun and unique camping adventure if you’re visiting southwestern North Dakota.

There’s plenty of wildlife to watch or try your hand at fishing or hunting on the nearby grounds. Hike the butte or cross the rolling hills and prairie to gain a new perspective on the area’s beauty. Stop off at Mo’s Bunker Bar for a drink and a bite to eat.

Attractions Near Amidon Campground and Lodging:

  • White Butte
  • Pioneer Trails Regional Museum
  • Lake SakaKawea
  • Fort Mandan
  • Double Ditch Indian Village Historic Area
  • Maah Daah Hey Trail

5. Sheyenne National Grassland Campgrounds

Open: Year-round
Campsites: 11 tent or RV, plus cabin rentals
Nightly Rate: $10 RV/tent

Amenities:

  • Drinking water from hand pump
  • Vault toilets
  • Hiking
  • Hunting and fishing
  • Horseback riding

The Sheyenne National Grassland campground will provide you with some of the best stargazing opportunities in the country as well as the ability to keep watch over the bison and other wildlife as they roam across the vast open grasslands. This area includes about 135,000 acres of private and public lands as part of the US Forest Service.

Two campgrounds take reservations through Recreation.gov – the CCC Campground and the Buffalo Gap Campground. All other dispersed campsites and campgrounds are first-come, first-served.

Attractions Near Sheyenne National Grasslands:

  • Owego Pioneer Cemetery
  • Fargo Scavenger Hunt
  • McLeod Museum Complex
  • Fort Ransom State Park

Free Camping North Dakota

If you’re looking for a budget-friendly way to camp in North Dakota, check out these free camping options:

Scoria Pit Dispersed Camping in the Grasslands.

Michigan City Park has four RV or tent sites with 30-amp service.

Gascoyne Lake Campground provides free primitive camping.

Sheep Creek Dam offers five consecutive nights of free RV or tent camping with some electric hookup sites.

5. Best Campgrounds in South Dakota

These are the top South Dakota campgrounds, with details on price and amenities:

1. Camp Dakota

Open: Year-round
Campsites: 75 for RVs and Tents
Nightly Rate: $20-$40

Amenities:

  • Wi-Fi
  • Bathhouses with hot showers
  • Dump Station
  • Picnic tables and fire rings
  • Horseshoes, volleyball, basketball
  • Playground

Camp Dakota is a modern RV park near the northeastern border with Minnesota and offers wonderfully flat, spacious, shady campsites that will fit all sizes of recreational vehicles. With 30 lakes in the surrounding 30 miles of land, you’re also in a paradise if you love to fish or birdwatch.

An unusual draw for this campground is for those who come to engage in Camp Dakota paintball events held through Dacotah Blue Sky Paintball right there in Sisseton.

Attractions Near Camp Dakota:

  • Annual Sisseton Trail Ride (1st weekend in June)
  • Nicollet Tower
  • Fort Sisseton Historic State Park
  • With the Wind Vineyard & Winery
  • Dakota Magic Casino

2. Rafter J Bar Ranch South Dakota

Open: Year-round
Campsites: Over 150 FHU RV and tents plus 26 Cabins
Nightly Rate: $20-$40

Amenities:

  • Swimming pool and hot tub
  • Ranch store
  • Laundry
  • Bathhouses with hot showers
  • Dump Station
  • Volleyball, basketball
  • Playground

The Rafter J Bar Ranch sits amongst the Black Hills and is next to the George Mickelson Hiking and Biking Trail for super convenient access for long rides or walks. The ranch is under ten miles from Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments and offers South Dakota camping cabins.

The campground has six sections, making the entire park feel less crowded and very relaxing. Each camping loop offers a different experience if you’re looking for shade or want to be close to the pool.

Attractions Near Rafter J Bar Ranch

  • Mt. Rushmore
  • Crazy Horse Memorial
  • Hill City
  • 1880 Train
  • Mickelson Trail

3. Custer State Park – Sylvan Lake Campground

Open: May 17 – September 30
Campsites: 39 for RVs and Tents (size restrictions apply)
Nightly Rate: $15-$30

Amenities:

  • Flush and vault toilets
  • Bathhouses with showers
  • Picnic tables and fire rings
  • Drinking water
  • Onsite camp host

Of all the campgrounds within Custer State Park, the https://gfp.sd.gov/csp-campgrounds/ gets top marks for being the highest elevation in the park at 6,200 feet, so the views of the Black Hills are lovely from the wooded campsites.

Many sites are very private, but all are limited in size. For example, no RVs over 27 feet are allowed, and even large tents may have issues fitting onto some sites.

Attractions Near Sylvan Lake Campground:

  • Needles Eye Tunnel and Needles Highway
  • Mt. Rushmore
  • Crazy Horse Memorial
  • The Museum @ Black Hills Institute
  • Black Hills Balloons
  • Sylvan Rocks Climbing School and Guide Service

4. Wolf Camp Keystone

Open: Year-round
Campsites: 30 FHU
Nightly Rate: $30-$50 RV/Tent – $90 Cabin

Amenities:

  • Toilets and showers (May 15th – October 1st depending on weather)
  • Wold Camp Cafe
  • Camp store and gift shop

The Wolf Camp South Dakota Campground is in an excellent base camp to explore the entire Black Hills region. A trail from camp leads directly to an abandoned gold mine, or kick back on the deck and take in the views.

This campground is older and is known to have a more “party” atmosphere at times of local rallies or other events, so book accordingly.

Attractions Near Wolf Camp Keystone:

  • Sturgis Rally
  • Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial
  • Deadwood
  • South Dakota Air and Space Museum
  • Custer State Park

5. Picnic Spring Campground

Open: Open all year weather permitting
Campsites: 8 first come, first served primitive campsites
Nightly Rate: Free

Amenities:

  • Toilets

Picnic Spring Campground is in the state’s northwest corner near Camp Crook South Dakota. This Forest Service land in the North Cave Hills Unit, Sioux Ranger District is a remote and relaxing camping location that gives you direct access to amazing trail hikes and scenery.

There is a spring for water, but it’s not potable, so plan accordingly. This area of the state is lightly traveled, giving you a quiet chance to explore the Custer Gallatin National Forest and nearby attractions at your leisure.

Attractions Near Picnic Spring Campground:

  • Carter County Museum
  • High Plains Western Heritage Center
  • Medicine Rocks State Park
  • Stoneville Saloon

Free Camping Near Sioux Falls SD

When you want to keep your camping budget under control, check out these free or cheap campsites near Sioux Falls:

Sioux Falls Walmart and Flying J Travel Center allow you to boondock for free but don’t set up camp, please.

Dude Ranch Lakeside Use Area is in a fantastic location and charges $11 a night.

Hieb Memorial Park was once free but now charges $15 nightly for their campsites.

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Dakota Camping Wrap Up

The Dakotas are a less-traveled camping destination, with many exciting places to explore after visiting Mt. Rushmore or a big city like Sioux Falls. Wide-open spaces give you time to enjoy a stunning South Dakota sunset or watch herds of bison graze without the crush of tourists often found in more popular campground locations.

We hope you use this guide to plan a camping trip a bit off the beaten path, see the Dakotas, and enjoy everything they offer!

QUOTE:
"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt."
-- John Muir
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