12 Top-Rated Campgrounds in South Dakota

Nov 28, 2017

With scenic lakes, beautiful buttes, colorful woodlands, and swaying prairies, South Dakota provides plenty of landscapes to explore and many campgrounds to use as a base. Choosing between state parks, national parks, forests, and private campgrounds depends on the experience you're seeking. For an RV adventure, the Horse Thief Lake Campground and RV Resort can get you fully plugged into the Black Hills. For a more primitive tent-camping experience, the Sage Creek Campground in Badlands National Park can have you sleeping near the native buffalo. Whatever adventure you're looking for, from the rolling prairies in the east to the mountainous west, South Dakota's many campgrounds can deliver a great night's sleep after a full day's adventure.

1 Sylvan Lake Campground, Custer State Park

Hiker at Sylvan Lake
Hiker at Sylvan Lake | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

As one of the largest state parks in the country and one of the best state parks in South Dakota, Custer State Park has a wide array of overnight options to choose from. One of the most popular and sought-after camping spots in Custer is on the north end of the park in the Sylvan Lake Campground. With access to flush toilets and showers and proximity to the Sylvan Lake Lodge, which features a restaurant, cafeteria, and gift store, it's not necessarily the 39 campsites that draw all the attention, it's everything nearby that keeps these campsites full. That's including the "Crown Jewel" of Custer State Park, Sylvan Lake, and the mile-long shoreline that is a must-do for any Custer State Park visit.

Address: 13329 U.S. 16A, Custer, South Dakota

2 Editor's Choice Sage Creek Campground, Badlands National Park

Sage Creek Campground, Badlands National Park
Sage Creek Campground, Badlands National Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

While there are plenty of best campgrounds in Badlands National Park to choose from, the greatest overnight experience can be found at the Sage Creek Campground located on the west side of the park's North Unit. The Sage Creek Campground resembles a cul-de-sac, with the primitive camping area encircled at the end by the road and parking area. This is best suited for tent camping and small camper units, as the unpaved Sage Creek Rim Road can be difficult for larger recreation vehicles to navigate.

Camping is free at Sage Creek, and comes with few amenities besides a small number of semi-covered picnic tables and vault toilets. That means campers looking to spend the night at Sage Creek need to pack in everything they need, including water, and are welcome to pitch a tent anywhere in the large space available. Sage Creek is also a popular place for the park's resident buffalo to roam, adding to the stark and eye-catching surroundings of the campground, and delivering an authentic visit and stay within the Badlands of South Dakota.

3 Spearfish City Campground

Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway
Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Home to Black Hills State University, and just north of the Black Hills National Forest, the city of Spearfish is a laid-back, outdoor oriented town full of adventure. With the culturally aware community and abundant natural space surrounding the city, including the always impressive Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway, the best way to experience all that Spearfish has to offer is to hunker down at the Spearfish City Campground.

Located within walking distance from downtown Spearfish, the Spearfish City Campground also lends access to Spearfish City Park and the bordering Spearfish Creek, which is noted to have some of the best trout fishing in the state. The campground itself contains 61 electric sites that can be reserved, and more than 100 primitive campsites on a first-come, first-served basis for tent camping. All overnight users share restroom and shower facilities and quick access to either the city or the great outdoors.

Address: 404 S Canyon Street, Spearfish, South Dakota

4 Pactola Campground

Pactola Campground
Pactola Campground Aaron Vowels / photo modified

Owned and operated by the U.S. Forest Service, the Pactola Campground sits alongside the shores of the massive Pactola Lake, which with 14 miles of shoreline to explore, is the largest reservoir in the Black Hills. Water and land activities are abundant at the Pactola Campground and surrounding reservoir complex, with popular activities including boating, scuba diving, and hiking the two-mile Osprey Trail. Not far from the shores, the campground also lends access to many nearby Black Hills attractions, bolstering Pactola's status as one of the best campgrounds around Mount Rushmore.

With their prime location and many things to do nearby, the 80 plus non-electric sites of Pactola Campground tend to fill up quickly during the summer and can accommodate vehicles up to 35 feet in length. All overnight users and day visitors have access to vault toilets and potable water, as well as a full-service marina, where you can rent boats, grab a bite to eat, or simply enjoy the water set against the Black Hills.

5 Gavin's Point Campground, Lewis and Clark Recreation Area

Gavin's Point Campground, Lewis and Clark Recreation Area
Gavin's Point Campground, Lewis and Clark Recreation Area U.S. Army Corps of Engineers / photo modified

Separating the states of South Dakota and Nebraska, the impoundment of the Missouri River, known as Lewis and Clark Lake, is a popular spot for people all over the Midwest to enjoy. Comprised of three different campground areas and more than 400 sites, the Lewis and Clark Recreation Area is also a popular place to spend the night. While there are no bad camping spots at this recreation area, the Gavin's Point section on the area's west end is worth noting.

Comprising nearly 90 RV sites and 10 cabins, Gavin's Point Campground also features running-water restroom facilities, playgrounds, and a bike path that spans the scenic area. The biggest draw is the Gavin's Point Dam, which holds back the entire Missouri River to create this massive reservoir and recreation area.

Address: 43349 SD-52, Yankton, South Dakota

6 Horse Thief Campground and RV Resort

Crazy Horse Memorial, near Horse Thief Campground and RV Resort
Crazy Horse Memorial, near Horse Thief Campground and RV Resort | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Nestled between Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial, the Horse Thief Campground and RV Resort provides plenty of overnight options to enjoy your Black Hills camping experience. Ranging from non-electric tent sites to fully furnished three-person cottages, including a plethora of RV sites, the privately-owned Horse Thief Campground also delivers on a prime location. With close proximity to the Black Hills' best attractions, including Custer State Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, and the previously mentioned Mount Rushmore, Horse Thief Lake Campground is the perfect home base for exploring. A tiled bathhouse is available for anyone staying at the Horse Thief Campground, as well as wireless internet and a small store that sells snacks, firewood, and ice.

Address: 24391 SD-87, Hill City, South Dakota

7 Lake Vermillion Recreation Area Campgrounds

Lake Vermillion Recreation Area Campgrounds
Lake Vermillion Recreation Area Campgrounds | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Comprised of more than 500 acres of water, Lake Vermillion in eastern South Dakota is popular for fishing, boating, and swimming in the summer. With 94 electric campsites spread between three different campgrounds, the Lake Vermillion Recreation Area is also a popular place to spend the night. Visitors to Lake Vermillion are encouraged to bring their own vessel and use the boat ramp to access the water, and those without watercraft can rent canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards from a concessionaire. All campsites at Lake Vermillion can accommodate any camping unit, and each campground contains a restroom and shower facility. For perhaps the best outlook, the camping cabins in the West Campground offer waterfront views from their front porches.

Address: 26140 451st Ave, Canistota, South Dakota

8 Blue Bell Campground, Custer State Park

Buffalo on the Wilderness Loop Road near the Blue Bell Campground
Buffalo on the Wilderness Loop Road near the Blue Bell Campground | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

With nine different campgrounds throughout the 71,000 acres of Custer State Park, it can be hard to decide which one to stay at if you only have a few nights. While all the campgrounds in Custer could top the list, the key is not choosing where to stay, but what you want to do on your next visit. If wildlife spotting is high on your list, the Blue Bell Campground is a great choice as it lends quick access to the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road at the southern end of the park.

Featuring 31 campsites for tents or RVs, as well as 23 camping cabins, the Blue Bell Campground is situated among a tranquil pinewood setting, and comes complete with shared restroom facilities that include warm showers. All overnight options at Blue Bell Campground make it easy to get an early morning start on the Wilderness Loop Road, which is the best time to see the native buffalo, big-horn sheep, and prairie-dogs.

Address: 13329 U.S. 16A, Custer, South Dakota

9 Roubaix Lake Campground

Roubaix Lake Campground
Roubaix Lake Campground | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Located in the heart of the Black Hills National Forest and approximately 13 miles south of the Wild West inspired city of Deadwood, Roubaix Lake Campground is operated by the U.S. Forest Service and offers 56 sites to choose from. Featuring one of the best swimming and fishing holes found in the Black Hills, the four loops of the Roubaix Lake Campground tend to fill up quickly during the summer. Other popular activities at Roubaix Lake include non-motorized boating, hiking, and exploring the vast Black Hills National Forest that surrounds the campgrounds. Fresh drinking water is available at Roubaix Lake, and all campers and visitors share communal vault toilets.

10 Palisades State Park Campground

A hiker near the Palisades State Park Campground
A hiker near the Palisades State Park Campground | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Defined by the towering pink Sioux Quartzite jutting along the shores of Split Rock Creek, Palisades State Park provides a unique environment to explore in eastern South Dakota. Visitors to Palisades State Park enjoy hiking the creekside trails that expose the rocky environment, and for those with the right gear and experience, participating in some of the best rock climbing on the eastern side of the state. For those looking to spend the night, Palisades offers 37 campsites split between non-electric and electric and ranging from tent-only to RV-accessible. All campsites, as well as the six cabins available to rent, have communal access to flushing toilets and running water, as well as proximity to the state park's many natural attractions.

Address: 25495 485th Ave, Garretson, South Dakota

11 Lake Park Campground & Cottages

Located four miles southwest of Rapid City, and serving as a gateway into the Black Hills National Forest, the Lake Park Campground and Cottages offer every level of camping experience you could ask for. Whether it's a tent site or place to park an RV, Lake Park also features fantastic cottages ranging from studios to deluxe two-bedrooms, all with access to fresh drinking water and full-service restroom facilities. Wherever you stay at Lake Park, overnight users are encouraged to partake in one of the campground's many on-location attractions, including exploring the seven-mile bike path, fishing in Rapid Creek, or renting a non-motorized boat to enjoy the adjoining Canyon Lake.

Address: 2850 Chapel Lane, Rapid City, South Dakota

12 Big Sioux Recreation Area Campground

Big Sioux Recreation Area Campground
Big Sioux Recreation Area Campground | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Located 10 miles east of Sioux Falls on the banks of the Big Sioux River, the Big Sioux Recreation Area gives residents of South Dakota's biggest city a quick outlet for adventure. Featuring an 18-hole disc golf course, five miles of woodland trails, and an environment unique to southeastern South Dakota, Big Sioux Recreation Area also lends easy access to the Big Sioux River, including the Jay Heath Canoe & Kayak Trail. The majority of the 50 campsites in the Big Sioux Campground can accommodate RVs, with 50-amp service, while a few campsites are designated as non-electric and tent-only. All campsites have access to potable water spigots and share a comfort station complete with flushing toilets and warm showers.

Address: 410 W Park Street, Brandon, South Dakota

More Camping and Outdoor Adventures in South Dakota

Where you want to stay in South Dakota really depends on what you want to do. For a good idea of South Dakota's sprawling natural spaces and the adventures they behold, be sure to read our Best State and National Parks in South Dakota article.

While there are plenty of awesome wilderness areas in South Dakota, both the Badlands and Black Hills provide true highlights of South Dakota scenery. In our Best Campgrounds in Badlands National Park and Best Campgrounds around Mount Rushmore articles, you can find many spots to spend the night in these two stunning areas.

If modern attractions grab your attention, the cities of Sioux Falls and Deadwood should be on the top of your list.

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