Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Getting to Our Primitive Campsite
The drive from St. Paul, MN to the park entrance of the Badlands National Park was just over 7 hours. The main entrance is on the east of the park and they have almost 100 camp sites for rent for ~$25 (Ceder Pass Campground). The site provides water and is within 5 minutes off all the park’s trails. We decided to drive 90 minutes through the park, to the western edge, for their primitive [and free] camp ground (Sage Camp Ground). These are a first come first serve but there was ample space for us to set up. Make sure to bring enough water since you’re almost a 2 hour drive away from any water source.
The park entrance is $20 per vehicle but we purchased an America the Beautiful pass, which permits us unlimited entry to all National Parks and Monuments for an entire year. It only costs $80 and is good for as many people as you can cram into a car.
The last 45 minute drive to the primate campsite was along an unpaved gravel road. Along the drive we stopped at various lookout points, which is common in many US National Parks. We also loved watching the thousands of prairie dogs in the fields. The farther into the park—and closer to our camp site—we drove the more wildlife we came across. There were bighorn sheep by the dozens along the road. Bison grazed everywhere we looked. Sometimes the just stood in the middle of the road looking at us, clearly without a worry in the world. Our primitive campground was a large circle of tents with dozens of prairie dogs and bison within our actual grounds. A few bison got great enjoyment from rubbing their butts atop the wooden posts that were used to prevent cars from driving onto the campground.
That night we invited a few campers to have tea with us. They hadn’t eaten yet and were traveling on a very tight budget of mostly granola and apples so we offered up some of our bounty. I made them tea and hot cocoa and we exchanges tales. They were younger and less experienced so most of the conversation was Sylvie and myself providing travel advice and suggestions. We enjoyed the noises the bison 12 feet to our left was making as it massaged it backside.
The night’s sleep was peaceful and the sky was illuminated with millions of stars. Occasionally we’d hear a handful of coyotes barking at the moon that filled the sky.
Day in the Park
We woke up early (around 5:30) and packed for the day. We managed to watch sunset over the park during our drive back to the east—where all the trails and water are located. We say some coyotes sprint after their morning meals. It was pretty cold and it didn’t really heat up until 11am or so. We hiked 13 miles all through the backcountry of the Badlands and enjoyed the vastness. The hiking is not strenuous and can be completed by mostly anybody with average physical healthy.
We enjoyed a nice lunch after our hike at a diner just out of town. We assumed the restaurant in the park would be overpriced and basic. We were disappointed to learn that the food in the park was healthy, bountiful, and very affordable. We drove back to our camp site after a long day of hiking stopping off to catch a beautiful sunset.
Mount Rushmore, The Black Hills & General Custer National Forest
We drove through the Black Hills and enjoyed the switchbacks up and own the fills providing us ample views. We soon discovered that a trip to Mount Rushmore was only an 8 minute detour so we decided to go see it. We drove by it and stopped for a photo. Pretty impressive!
We were planning on going on a nice challenging hike called “Sunday Gulch Trail” but when we arrived just short of the trailhead we learned we had to pay a $20 entrance fee to enter General Custer National Forest. We decided $20 for a brief hike wasn’t worth it so we tried to find another nearby hike. Without phone service we just opted to drive to our next destination…somewhere in Wyoming. We hoped to find a trail along the way, which we did. A nice 90 minute hike up and down a mountain provided us the much-needed daily activity that constant sitting was making us yearn for.
It is very easy to cover massive amounts of space when the legal speed limit is 80 mph (130 kph). Our Honda Civic reported ¼ tank remaining as I entered a stretch of road that claimed 82 miles until next service. The fuel light went on with 50 miles remaining and the last field gauge bar went out with 27 miles left. Those last 27 miles were exciting to say the least. We were already preparing ourselves for hitchhiking into town, which was where the next street was. We made it to the gas station bone dry and filled up more than I thought was possible for that tiny Civic tank. Did I mention that for 60 of the 82 miles we were without any phone service.
Riverside Park Camp Ground
We drove to a camp site that Sylvie found using the amazing website FreeCampSites.net. The site—Riverside Park Camp Ground—was in the middle of the city of Douglas, WY. We were delighted to find a beautifully manicured lawn, tables, BBQs, hot showers, and running water. All of this for free! Camp sites usually charge between $25 and $35 for shower and water access. Assuming our couch surfer doesn’t fall through for our next few nights we have only paid $4 on lodging during our first 9 nights on the road (44 cents/night to be precise.)