When photographing the Badlands National Park, the best time of day is later in the evening at sunset and early in the morning at sunrise so we knew we wanted to camp overnight!
You can camp anywhere in the Badlands as long as you are .5 miles away from a road or trail and not visible from the trail or road. There is also a paid campsite and a free campsite but we wanted to backcountry camp away from people and light.
We decided to only camp here for one night and then stay at hotels for the rest of our trip. So we only had to pack extra warm clothes for sleeping, sleeping bags, tent, sleeping pads, hand warmers, headlamps, lantern, toilet paper, something to eat for dinner and water. We also had our camera bags with all our equipment so we had to carry two packs. Since we were only going .5 miles away we thought we could handle carrying two packs. Everything you pack in you have to pack out.
It was pretty windy so we knew we wanted to find a spot tucked into the rock formations out of the wind. We drove to a couple spots that I had looked at on you tube videos but we ended up going to a site that the park ranger recommended. At the start of the trail there was a bathroom and more of a designated parking lot so we chose that site. There were a few cars there when we arrived.
Everything got packed in our bags and we headed out to the trail which had a backcountry registration box to fill out our names and information in case they needed to know who was out there.
As the sun went down it definitely got colder. The first thing we did was pick out our spot and get the tent set up and sleeping pads and sleeping bags ready to go while it was still light out. Everything was set up and then we got our cameras out and went to explore the landscape more and took some photos. We had our sandwiches that we packed and then got our nighttime photography gear set up.
We went inside the tent to warm up until it got dark enough to see the stars and milky way. Luckily the sun set fairly early and the milky way was visible early on so we didn’t have to be up at midnight or 2 am. We heard the coyotes that were distant at first and appeared to be getting closer as the night went on. It was pretty cold so we got some shots and then decided to call it a night and crawled into the tent.
I did not sleep well because it was cold and there wasn’t a ton of room once we put everything in our tent. I just tried to envision the hotel bed that we would be in the next night. It seemed like the night lasted forever. It was really cold when we woke up and the tent walls were wet from condensation since it was warmer inside and so cold outside the tent. It did not rain but it felt like it did due to the morning dew and condensation.
We packed everything up and headed back to the car. It was really cloudy so there wasn’t much of a sunrise but the formations were pretty with the soft morning light. We were the only car in the parking lot and the only ones that camped there overnight.
It was a fun experience to backcountry camp in the Badlands and here is what I learned and would do differently the next time.
Get a sleeping bag that attaches to the sleeping pad because every time I moved, my sleeping bag got all twisted and it was really uncomfortable.
We went for a lighter tent that was for 2 people. It fit the two of us just fine but there was not a lot of room for us and our bags so I would look at a bigger tent. It was really light though so maybe each have a tent?
I would take what I needed for that night out of my camera bag so I only had to carry one bigger pack.
For the first time camping in the Badlands I think we did a great job and prepared well. It was not my first time packing in everything to go camping so that helped to know what I needed.
I would have picked a warmer evening as it was on the colder side. It got down to 40 degrees with the feel like temp at 35 degrees. We did pick the warmest evening of the 3 we had but maybe try going in September rather than October.
We had plenty of water with us which was important because there is no water source there.
I would recommend you try camping at least one night here as it was a really neat experience as long as you are prepared.