7+ Best Places for Free Dispersed Camping in South Dakota

South Dakota is a highly underrated state for dispersed camping – but there are a ton of awesome spots if you know where to look.

Today, I’m going to share my personal favorite free campsites in the Mount Rushmore State for dispersed camping and boondocking, including spots near popular attractions like the Black Hills, Badlands National Park, and more.

Get ready to discover 7 of my all-time favorite South Dakota free campsites to help plan your next trip!

Related Post: My Favorite Free Campsites in North Dakota

Please always follow the Leave No Trace principles when dispersed camping, especially packing out all of your trash, including human waste.

Best Free Campsites in South Dakota

Jump down to the free campsite you want to learn more about:

Or, use our South Dakota free camping map to find a campsite near your destination.

My Favorite Dispersed Campsites in South Dakota 

After several road trips through South Dakota, the following 7 free dispersed campsites stick out as my very favorite in the state.

North Pole Road (Black Hills National Forest)

Near Custer

North Pole Road (Forest Road 287) makes a convenient homebase for exploring many of southwestern South Dakota’s most popular attractions.

In addition to its location smackdab in the middle of the Black Hills, these dispersed campsites are less than an hour drive to Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore, Rapid City, and Wind Cave National Park.

Getting here is easy thanks to the well-maintained, mostly gravel, access roads. Many of the campsites here are suitable for boondocking in RVs and trailers, even in big rigs. 

The coordinates listed below are a great place to start your search, although these spots tend to fill up quickly. Countless other dispersed campsites are available in the surrounding hills on connected forest service roads.  

Just make sure you’re in Black Hills National Forest before setting up camp as the area is interspersed with private property. It’s mostly clearly marked and pretty obvious what’s private property, but an app with national forest overlay maps like FreeRoam or Gaia GPS is helpful in this regard. 

What I Like:

The campsites at the listed coordinates are quite peaceful with a mixture of grassy meadows (great for solar) and forested spots (perfect for shade). The access road is well-maintained and the area is suitable for RVs and trailers of all sizes.

What I Don’t Like:

There’s not much privacy at the listed coordinates. Luckily, there’s a ton of room to spread out if you continue up North Pole Road and explore the various side roads. The hilltop campsites with the best views can get very windy, but there are more shielded campsites tucked away nearby.

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

Bear Mountain Lookout Road (43.869889, -103.74444) is another notable spot nearby (albeit much farther in). But, seriously, there are so many campsites in Black Hills National Forest you’ll almost certainly find an awesome spot to set up camp simply by exploring the surrounding forest service roads in person.

More Info:

North Pole Road is part of Black Hills National Forest

Dispersed camping is allowed for up to 14 days at a time.

Call the Hell Canyon Ranger District: (605) 673-9200

GPS: 43.766750, -103.726167

Badlands Overlook (Buffalo Gap National Grassland)

Near Badlands National Park

Badlands Overlook is almost certainly South Dakota’s most famous dispersed camping destination.

Less than 15 minutes south of Wall (home to Wall Drug) and just 5 minutes north of the Badlands Pinnacle Entrance to Badlands National Park, it’s not only the awesome location that makes this free campsite so special – it’s also the incredible views.

Simply put, the dispersed campsites at Badlands Overlook boast some of the best views of any campsite (free or paid) in the state. You literally camp on the rim of the badlands. 

That said, this area has become extremely popular over the past few years. Although there’s enough room for pretty much everyone (you’ll almost certainly find a spot to set up camp), you should expect crowds and minimal privacy.

Although the unpaved access road can be a little bumpy, potholed, and rutted, it’s generally well-maintained. Thanks to the wide open space, this is an excellent boondocking spot for RVs and trailers of all sizes, including big rigs. 

* Badlands Overlook is also commonly called Nomad View, Buffalo Gap, Wall Dispersed Camping, and Badlands Boondocking among countless other names.

What I Like:

Absolutely incredible views from the rim of the badlands below. Some of the best sunsets and sunrises you’ll ever see. Just 15 minutes from I-90 and 5 minutes to the national park. Sheriff and rangers regularly patrol the area in the summer.

What I Don’t Like:

Often extremely windy (tent campers take note). Very popular so little if any privacy. Exposed to the weather (both sun and thunderstorms). 

Other Free Campsites Nearby: 

The Baja Motorized Use Area, also part of Buffalo Gap National Grassland, is a great alternative to Badlands Overlook. It’s not as scenic, but is much less crowded. It’s located just 10 minutes to the Interior Entrance to Badlands National Park.

More Info:

Badlands Overlook is part of Buffalo Gap National Grassland

Dispersed camping is allowed for up to 14 days at a time.

Call the Wall Ranger District: (605) 279-2126

GPS: 43.907571, -102.228403

Belle Fourche Reservoir (Bureau of Reclamation) 

Near Belle Fourche

Belle Fourche Reservoir is home to some very scenic lakeside boondocking.

This very well-maintained free dispersed camping area is run in conjunction with the Belle Fourche Dam & Reservoir by the Bureau of Reclamation. 

It consists of several small gravel loops each with a places to camp. Established campsites have picnic tables and fire rings. But, I believe you’re allowed to dispersed camp almost anywhere. Many of the campsites here are located right on the shores of the reservoir itself.

Belle Fourche Reservoir is an excellent spot for RVs and trailers. Most of the campsites are large enough to accommodate even the biggest rigs. The gravel access road is quite smooth aside from minor washboarding. 

Access this free campground by turning north off Highway 212 onto Fishermans Road. Look for the turn off onto Susie Peak Road just before the entrance to Rocky Point State Recreation Area

From here, it’s just under 2 miles to the entrance to the Bureau of Reclamation run free camping area. A sign for “Belle Fourche Dam and Reservoir” will let you know you’ve arrived in the correct spot. 

What I Like:

Free camping right on the water! Spectacular views of the reservoir. Great birdwatching. The town of Belle Fourche is just a short drive away. Spearfish and Deadwood are a quick drive while driving to Rapid City takes under an hour. Even Devils Tower across the border in Wyoming takes just over an hour to reach. 

What I Don’t Like:

Not much to complain about here. It’s not the most private camping spot if that’s what’s important to you. Most campsites are also quite exposed to the elements, including strong winds.

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

Dispersed camping is allowed in a handful of other places around the reservoir. On the other side of the reservoir, just off Owl Creek Road, for example, are an abundance of dispersed campsites right on the lake itself. These are located at roughly these coordinates: 44.725219, -103.679989.

More Info:

Belle Fourche Reservoir is managed by the Bureau of Reclamation.

Dispersed camping is allowed for up to 14 days at a time.

Call the Dakota Areas Office: (701) 250-4242

GPS: 44.730694, -103.729194

Related Post: My Favorite Free Campsites in Wyoming

Richland Dam Recreation Area (Fort Pierre National Grassland)

Near Fort Pierre

Richland Dam Recreation Area is an overlooked gem in the heart of South Dakota.

Located roughly halfway between Rapid City and Sioux falls, less than a half hour north of I-90, this undeveloped camping area is super remote and extremely beautiful.

Dispersed camping is the name of the game here with a handful of places to set up camp, although most people set up camp in the grassy field near the first dirt loop.

The access roads are well-maintained and passable by all vehicles, including the longest RVs and trailers – just keep an eye on the weather. The road quickly becomes difficult to navigate after heavy rains.

The lake (Richland Reservoir) is small but beautiful. It’s perfect for kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding. Fishing is also popular.

What I Like:

Well-maintained access roads and very clean vault toilets. Extremely quiet and peaceful with beautiful views of the lake. Great spot for dispersed camping as well as boondocking in RVs and trailers. 

What I Don’t Like:

These campsites are quite exposed to the elements. Wind is a concern for tent campers. And, heavy rains quickly turn the access road into a muddy, rutted mess. Mosquitos are also abundant during the summer.

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

Dispersed camping is allowed throughout most of Fort Pierre National Grassland, including near several other small lakes. However, the national grassland is interspersed with quite a bit of private property, so it’s important to avoid camping where private property and no trespassing signs are posted. 

More Info:

Richland Dam Recreation Area is part of Fort Pierre National Grassland.

Dispersed camping is allowed for up to 14 days at a time.

Call the Fort Pierre Ranger District: (605) 224-5517

GPS: 44.146920, -100.407309

Little White River Recreation Area (Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge)

Near Martin

Little White River Recreation Area is one of my favorite free campsites in southern South Dakota.

This primitive free campground is part of the LaCreek National Wildlife Refuge and is the only part of the refuge where camping and overnight parking are allowed. 

The campsites are set near the stunning Little White River Reservoir with a few campsites just steps from the lake itself. In addition to incredible sunsets and sunrises, this is a fantastic place to see wildlife, especially birds. 

Any passenger vehicle should be able to make the drive, although parts of the dirt road can be potholed and rutted, so take it slow. This is a good spot for RVs and trailers with room for all but the biggest rigs. 

What I Like:

Tranquil and peaceful atmosphere surrounded by farmland. Very few other overnight visitors. Good spot for boondocking in RVs and trailers. Great fishing, swimming, and boating on the reservoir.

What I Don’t Like:

Gets busy during bird hunting season, although most hunters don’t camp. Mosquitos can be a problem during the summer months. 

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

There are a handful of free city park campgrounds nearby. The closest are Brooks Memorial Park in Vetal and Hodson Memorial Park in Martin. White River City Park is another option slightly farther away in White River. 

More Info:

Little White River Recreation Area is part of Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge.

Free camping is allowed for up to 14 days at a time.

Call the LaCreek National Wildlife Refuge: (605) 685-6508 

GPS: 43.163609, -101.546347

Related Post: My Favorite Free Campsites in Nebraska

Byre Lake Recreation Area (City of Kennebec)

Near Kennebec

Byre Lake Recreation Area is a convenient spot for boondocking near Kennebec. 

Also known as Byre Lake Park, this primitive camping area is little more than a large grassy field set near the small titular lake.

I believe you’re supposed to stay in one of about a dozen campsites, although these are marked with little more than metal or rock fire rings. Some also have picnic tables. 

Although dry camping is free, a handful of campsites (I think six in total) have electric hookups available for $20 per night. You must call the City of Kennebec at least a day in advance to reserve these campsites and to acquire a key to unlock the electric boxes. 

Byre Lake Park is just 10 minutes from I-90. It’s located roughly halfway between Rapid City and Sioux Falls. The access roads are well-maintained and there’s enough room for RVs and trailers of all sizes. 

What I Like:

The grass is mowed regularly and kept short. The entire premises, including the vault toilets, are clean and well-maintained. Super convenient place to stop for a night when traveling through South Dakota on Interstate 90. Sandy beach with swimming area plus a fishing pier. 

What I Don’t Like:

Not a whole lot of privacy from other campers. Gets quite busy and noisy with day-use visitors, but quiets down at night. Some noise and dust from agricultural work in nearby fields. Mosquitos are abundant in the summer.

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

Oacoma Flats is about a half hour east of Byre Lake. It’s often mislabeled as part of Oacoma City Park, but it’s actually separate from the park (no camping is allowed within the city park itself). 

Free dispersed camping is allowed for up to 7 nights at a time and is suitable for all rigs, including the biggest RVs and trailers. Many of the campsites are right on the banks of the Missouri River. 

More Info:

Byre Lake Recreation Area is jointly managed by the City of Kennebec and South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks

Free camping is allowed for up to 5 nights at a time.

Call the City of Kennebec: (605) 869-2263

GPS: 43.929556, -99.836889

Picnic Spring Campground (Custer Gallatin National Forest)

Northwest South Dakota

Picnic Spring Campground is located in the remote northwestern corner of South Dakota.

A primitive free campground with eight total campsites and a vault toilet, it makes an excellent stopover on the drive to or from North Dakota.

But the real highlight of camping here is the surprising beauty. Picnic Spring Campground is situated high atop a bluff with amazing views. Expect to see sandstone cliffs rising from thick forest surrounded by open pastureland.

There’s enough room here for even the largest RVs and trailers, although only a couple of the campsites are level enough for anything over about 30 feet.

What I Like:

Extremely remote and peaceful. Beautiful hilly scenery with great views. Gets very dark at night with excellent stargazing. The campsites are spaced quite far apart for plenty of privacy.

What I Don’t Like:

All eight campsites tend to fill up on summer weekends. The area is also popular with hunters during hunting season. There are several steep cliff drop offs within a short walk of the campground – so keep children and pets close at all times.

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

Turn left just before entering the campground to access an expansive network of forest roads with dispersed campsites galore. 

More Info:

Picnic Spring Campground is part of Custer Gallatin National Forest.

Free camping is allowed for up to 14 days at a time.

Call the Sioux District Office: (605) 797-442

GPS: 45.873192, -103.485270

Related Post: My Favorite Free Campsites in Montana

An Option for Eastern South Dakota: City Park Campgrounds

As you might’ve noticed, all of my favorite free campsites in South Dakota are located in the western half of the state.

Western South Dakota is home to most of the state’s public lands, including Black Hills National Forest and Buffalo Gap National Grassland as well as Fort Pierre National Grassland, several national wildlife refuges, and even a chunk of BLM land.

The eastern half of the state, on the other hand, has minimal public lands which means almost zero dispersed camping opportunities and minimal free camping opportunities. 

Luckily, countless small to medium sized towns across South Dakota, including its eastern half, offer cheap – occasionally, even free – camping in their city parks.

These city parks typically welcome campers for around $10 per night (although this varies from town to town) for dry camping (i.e. boondocking). Occasionally, RV hookups and dump stations are available.

Most city park campgrounds I’ve stayed at in the Midwest are quite peaceful with few other campers. The grounds are typically well-maintained and bathrooms are usually available (occasionally with hot showers).

Unfortunately, I’m unaware of a specific database for such campgrounds. Both FreeCampsites.net, iOverlander, and Campendium list many such city parks, but there’s no way to search specifically for them.

My recommendation is to simply do a Google search for “city park camping” in the small towns near where you plan to camp in South Dakota. Often, there will be basic info on the town’s official website.

Lion’s Park Campground in Vermillion (free for 2 nights, including campsites with free RV hookups), Hieb Memorial Park in Marion ($15 per night with electrical hookups available), and Tulare City Park ($10 per night with electrical hookups) are a handful of suggestions to help start your search.

Related Post: My Favorite Free Campsites in Minnesota

How to Find Even More Free Camping in South Dakota

Sunset overlooking the badlands in Badlands National Park in South Dakota.

The 7 dispersed campsites described above are just the tip of the iceberg for what’s available in South Dakota. Here are a few tips to find even more free campsites: 

  • Ranger Stations – Call or visit the nearest ranger station for the most current info on road conditions and campsite suggestions. Paper MVUMs are usually available here as well. 

Additional methods of free camping include blacktop boondocking (i.e. sleeping in a Walmart parking lot), casino camping, and even stealth camping

Related Post: My Go-To Apps to Find Dispersed Campsites

South Dakota Dispersed Camping Rules and Regulations

Herd of buffalo in open field near Badlands National Park in South Dakota.

Please follow the 7 Leave No Trace principles when dispersed camping on public land.

Perhaps most importantly, always pack out all of your trash and always properly dispose of human waste (using a cat hole is often allowed but we strongly encourage you to pack it out). 

It’s also important to stay in previously-used campsites whenever possible, avoid restricted areas, respect any campfire bans, and abide by all stay limits (usually 14 days in national forests and on BLM land). 

Our public lands are busier than ever before – and it’s up to all of us to treat them with respect to ensure they remain open for all to enjoy.

Related Post: How to Find Free Campsites Near You

Have More Questions?

Still unsure about where to go dispersed camping in South Dakota?

Feel free to reach out with your dispersed camping questions or if you’d like additional free campsite suggestions!

More Info: jake@campnado.com

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Post written by Jake Heller, the founder of Campnado. Read all Jake's posts. Or reach out to him directly: jake@campnado.com

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