The 5 Best Places to Camp in South Dakota this Summer

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Published: September 28, 2022
© Anh Luu/
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If you are coming to South Dakota this summer to visit Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse and Custer State Park you might want to check out one of the amazing campgrounds in the state. Camping is a popular option when visiting the National and State parks where the bison roam free. Here are the 5 best places to camp in South Dakota this summer.

1. Mount Rushmore KOA Resort at Palmer Gulch

Mount Rushmore National Memorial
One of the best places to camp in South Dakota is right by Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

©Mendenhall Olga/

Around 3 million people visit Mount Rushmore every year to see the presidential head carvings and monument. Can you name all four presidents represented? From left to right they are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. The summer is the most popular time to visit with many guests choosing to camp nearby.

One of the resort-like campgrounds near Mount Rushmore is the KOA Resort at Palmer Gulch, just 10 minutes NW of the park. It really is a vacation by itself with waterslides, splash pad, hot tubs, playground, horseback riding, and even an onsite rodeo! There is everything from tent only camping to Deluxe cabins and everything in between.

Mount Rushmore KOA Resort
Location10 minutes NW of Mount Rushmore
Nearest CityHill City
RV/Tent sites with full hookupsYes, some pull-through, some back-in
RV/Tent sites with electricYes, some pull-through, some back-in
Tent only, no hookupsYes
CabinsYes, variety from basic to deluxe
Picnic Tables at each siteYes
Fire Pit at each siteYes
AmenitiesRestrooms, showers, laundry, camp store, swimming pools,
water slides, hot tubs, planned activities, stables, horse rides, rodeo
Pet FriendlyYes
What makes it one of the bestResort-like campground right near Mount Rushmore!

2. Badlands National Park: Cedar Pass Campground

Best Parks to Visit in July - Badlands National Park
Camping in the Badlands gives you access to many of the hiking trails and wildlife viewing. Keep your distance from the bison that freely roam the park.


American Bison
You can see why you want to keep your distance from one of these guys! Bison can get to be 2,000 pounds or more!

©Grey Mountain Photo/

The Badlands are an area spread out across South Dakota and North Dakota with layered rock formations and unique spires that make for some interesting hiking and photography. It is also home to large bison herds as well as big horn sheep and a few prairie dog towns. You can check out the maps online to find the best wildlife viewing areas. Remember to keep your distance from all wild animals to help keep you safe.

There are two main campgrounds in the Badlands, Cedar Pass and Sage Creek (which is a first come first serve free campground that fills fast). You can also go back-country camping as long as you stay a half mile from any road or trail and are not visible. For camping at Cedar Pass you can make reservations and there are 96 sites. Be ready for some of the darkest night skies for star gazing. Definitely one of the best places to camp in South Dakota this summer!

Cedar Pass Campground
Location70 miles east of Rapid City
Nearest CityWall, SD
RV/Tent sites96 sites
Picnic Tables at each siteYes
Fire Pit at each siteNo, fires are not permitted, camp stoves or charcoal grills are okay
AmenitiesRestrooms, visitor center
Pet FriendlyYes
What makes it one of the bestCamping right in the Badlands!

3. Mitchell South Dakota: Corn Palace, Lake Mitchell Campground

Fire Pit
Pick up some corn on the cob at the Corn Palace to grill up over your campfire.

©Ana Hollan/

You may have heard about the South Dakota Palace made entirely of corn! It is a tourist attraction but it is free so visitors love to stop and get their pictures taken at the “palace”. If you are road tripping from any of the states east of South Dakota, this is a popular stop on the way to Mount Rushmore. After picking up a dozen ears of corn to grill up at your campsite, head to the Lake Mitchell Campground located right on the lake.

The campground has 48 RV sites that have full hookups and 9 tent sites. There is a swimming beach on Lake Mitchell and a boat ramp with rentals for canoes, pedal boats and paddle boards. Fish for crappie and bluegill and maybe catch one big enough to fry up to make some fish tacos! A fun campground on the shores of the lake for some classic camping.

Lake Mitchell Campground
LocationJust north of Mitchell
Nearest CityMitchell
RV sites48 sites, full hookups
Tent sites9 sites, some with electric
Picnic Tables at each siteYes
Fire Pit at each siteYes
AmenitiesRestrooms, showers, laundry, swimming beach, boat rental
Pet FriendlyYes
ReservationsYes, some of the sites can be reserved and there are first
come first serve sites, check the website for availability
What makes it one of the bestLakeside campground with low-key vibe!

4. Custer State Park: Lake Sylvan Campground

Custer State Park
Custer State Park is another park that you will find bison roaming freely. There are also elk, coyotes, hawks and bald eagles. Definitely one of the best places to camp in South Dakota this summer.

©Anh Luu/

Custer State Park is just south of Mount Rushmore and is one of the best places to camp in South Dakota this summer. You can drive on the Needles Highway scenic drive to see the needle-like rock formations. The “Wildlife Loop” is one of the highlights of the park where you most likely will see a herd of bison. There are also elk, coyotes, hawks and bald eagles to keep an eye out for.

For camping in Custer State Park there are 9 campgrounds to choose from. One of the favorites is Lake Sylvan Campground due to its location right by the lake. The campsites are basic with some having electric hookups. This is a campground for smaller RV’s due to the constraints of the Needle’s Highway leading up to the park. You can walk the ¼ mile to the beach for a swim or take out a paddle board. The fishing is pretty good in Lake Sylvan as well. A great place to camp in South Dakota!

Lake Sylvan Campground
LocationSouth of Mount Rushmore
Nearest CityCuster
RV/Tent Sites39 sites
Picnic Tables at each siteYes
Fire Pit at each siteYes
AmenitiesRestrooms, showers, swimming beach
Pet FriendlyYes
What makes it one of the bestSo much wildlife to see in the park!

5. Hot Springs: Hidden Lake Campground and Resort

A trio of woolly mammoths trudges over snow covered hills.
The fossils of wooly mammoths are displayed at the The Mammoth Site in Hot Springs. The Hidden Hills Campground and Resort is just a short drive from the sites in Hot Springs.

©Daniel Eskridge/

After days of hiking, mountain biking and swimming you might want to relax a little so taking a trip to Hot Springs is a great idea. Soak in the crystal clear springs at Evans Plunge Mineral Springs or Moccasin Springs Natural Mineral Spa. Hot Springs is also home to the largest collection of Colombian Mammoths where you can watch paleontologists at work uncovering more fossils. Did you know wooly mammoths were about the same size as our modern day African elephants?

One of the best campgrounds in Hot Springs is the Hidden Lake Campground and Resort. It is in northern Hot Springs right on a small lake that you can swim, fish or paddle in (no motorized boats). A nice trail goes all the way around the lake for an easy hike. Choose from one of the 23 RV sites or the two tent sites which are primitive but right next to the RV sites. There are also 10 cabins, some with a view of the lake. A nice friendly place to camp!

Hidden Lake Campground and Resort
LocationAbout an hour south of Mount Rushmore in Hot Springs
Nearest CityHot Springs
RV sites23 sites, full hookups, some back-in, some pull-through
Tent sites2 primitive with picnic table
Picnic Tables at each siteYes
Fire Pit at each siteYes
AmenitiesRestrooms, shower, laundry, camp store
Pet FriendlyYes
What makes it one of the bestSmall campground with a friendly feel.

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Custer State Park
Custer State Park
© Anh Luu/

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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

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