Backcountry Camp off the Fossil Trailhead, Badlands NP

South Dakota Fossil Exhibit Trailhead

  • Activities:

    Camping, Photography, Backpacking

  • Skill Level:

    Beginner

  • Season:

    Summer, Autumn

  • Trail Type:

    Out-and-Back

  • RT Distance:

    1.2 Miles

Bathrooms
Easy Parking
Scenic
Wildlife

Visiting or driving through Badlands National Park and have time to spend a night? If you are equipped, do yourself a favor and hike 0.5 mile off this trail and witness one of the most stunning starscapes in the United States while being surrounded by canyons that drown out all sound.

Backcountry camping at Badlands National Park is very easy. While it is recommended that you contact a staff member at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center or Pinnacles Entrance Station, it is not required. As long as you follow the rules, you can camp anywhere in the park at any time. If you do have any questions, visit or stop in at the visitor's center.

There are a few rules to follow - campfires are not allowed under any circumstances. Use a backpacking stove. Pets are not permitted on trails, in backcountry, or wilderness areas. The location of your campsite must be at least 0.5 miles from a road or trail and must not be visible from a roadway. Finally, follow the Leave No Trace Principles.

When you get to the parking lot at the Fossil Exhibit Trailhead, get onto the Fossil Exhibit Trail. It is actually a boardwalk that is rather heavily populated with visitors depending on the time of year. Once you get to the part of the boardwalk furthest from the parking lot, hop off and start the backcountry hike. Don't worry if people look at you funny, it is totally kosher to explore the land.

Where you are starting is the mouth of a large, sharp-peaked canyon. You will hike as far as you can into the canyon to get 0.5 mile away from where you started.

If you have a GPS, the coordinates of the destination are 43.774645, -102.006392.

Pro Tip:Since it is a short hike, you may have time to set up camp, walk back to your car and do some additional exploring. A fantastic, nearby spot to watch the sunset is just south on the main road (Hwy 240) around the corner. There is a pull-off to park and some enormous spines you can walk around on and explore. Warning: there will be a lot of photographers - but for good reason.

Pack List

  • Tent (or chair if just stargazing)
  • Sleeping Bag (and pad)
  • Water/beverages (there is virtually no potable water in the park)
  • Food
  • Camera
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Reviews

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Amazing time. Perfect campsite. Was completely alone in my own canyon ! Highly Highly recommend. I also recommend not driving right through the badlands. Spend some time there it's a hidden gem.

2 days ago
2 days ago

Absolutely breath taking and worth every second

10 months ago
10 months ago

Out of this world night views. Gets pretty windy at night, but awesome and quiet spot to camp.

about 1 year ago
about 1 year ago

Cameron Cech

Science-minded, outdoors-oriented, photography-driven.
 
 Feel free to contact me if you want additional details about any of my adventures.

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