5-Day Campervan Trip to Badlands National Park - Native Campervans
5-Day Campervan Trip to Badlands National Park
The Badlands National Park in South Dakota is known for its geologic rock formations that create dramatic landscapes. Home to steep canyons, towering spikes, bighorn sheep, and bison, the Badlands NP is an outdoor adventurer’s dream with access to miles and miles of hiking trails. We’ve compiled a killer itinerary so that you can make the most out of your Badlands National Park Campervan Rental. This route may look familiar to you if you’ve seen the movie Nomadland; shout out to Wall Drug!
Distance: 1.5 hours, 100 miles Highlights: Curt Gowdy State Park
You’ve picked up your campervan rental from Native Campervan headquarters in Denver, CO, and you’re ready to hit the road to the Badlands National Park in South Dakota (make sure you’ve purchased your national parks pass!) The first stop on your excursion should be Cheyenne, Wyoming. Cheyenne is home to Curt Gowdy State Park.
There are 35 miles of trails available in Curt Gowdy, ranging from easy to difficult. For the more experienced hiker, Mo’ Rocka is a highly rated 1.7-mile hike with surreal rock formations that keep the hike interesting and unique. For those Native Campervanners looking for an easy out and back, choose the Shoreline trail. The Shoreline trail is 2.6 miles around the Granite Springs Reservoir.
After you’ve finished your hike, head into downtown Cheyenne for a brewery tour to 1) celebrate, you’re on vacation after all, and 2) to get a taste of local Wyoming beers. We’ve compiled a brewer tour for you; these breweries are all within walking distance from each other. Park the van and get your tour on! Check out these breweries on the Native Campervan Brew Tour:
Distance: 4.5 hours, 275 miles Highlights: Stargazing, Sunset chasing, and Outdoor Activities
It’s day two, get in your campervan and head to the Badlands! Head out on the road early to maximize your time in the park. Park your campervan rental at Cedar Pass Campground. Cedar Pass Campground is located smack dab in the middle of the Badlands National Park and has picturesque views and easy access to hiking and mountain biking trails. Fiery sunrises and excellent stargazing are the hallmarks of this campground!
Stop at the Wagon Wheel Bar & Grill and say hi to Dean, the friendly bartender. Wagon Wheel is only 2.6 miles from the Cedar Pass Campground and is known for its American-style food: burgers, pizza, French fries, and beer. You’ll get a taste of the local flavor before heading to your camp spot.
After the Wagon Wheel, stop at the local grocery store and load up your van with food and drinks for the next few days. If you haven’t planned anything, do not worry. Our friends at Two Wandering Soles have nine great recipes that are tasty and easy to cook in your Native Campervan.
Distance: All-Day, 50 miles Highlights: Notch Trail, Badlands Loop Road
So, you’ve woken up to a glorious sunrise shining through the window of your van rental. The coffee is brewing, and that sweet, sweet smell of morning coffee surrounds you as you slowly wake up and get ready for your day. One of the best things about Cedar Pass Campground is that you have direct access to a ton of hiking and biking trails.
Pack up a lunch and head out to the Notch Trail trailhead. Notch Trail is a moderate 1.5-mile hike that takes you up a log ladder to a cliff’s edge. Talk about views! Are you looking for something a little slower-paced? Then, Cliff Shelf Nature Trail is the trail for you. It’s .5 miles round trip and is a mixture of boardwalks, stairs, and gravel paths. There are so many great trails in the Badlands – you can’t go wrong with whatever trail you choose.
Head back to the campervan and cook up a delicious dinner and watch the day fade away around a campfire. If you want to experience some serious stargazing, head back out into the park and drive to the Sheep Mountain Table trailhead. Sheep Mountain is a pretty low clearance area, so park the van and walk out on foot; you’ll experience the most insane stargazing you’ve ever seen in your life.
If you brought your bikes along, check out the Badlands Loop Road, or if you’re more of an adventure seeker, try the Northeast-Big Foot Loop. The Northeast-Big Foot Loop is 27 miles and dumps you out on the Badlands Loop Road – it’s the best of both worlds! Oh, and watch out for bison!
End your day with a drive around Badlands Loop Road. Badlands Loop has spectacular views and is home to the park’s bighorn sheep. The Pinnacle Overlook is located on the loop and is said to be one of the best sunset-watching spots in the park (we’d imagine it’s excellent for sunrises too.)
Distance: 1.5 hours, 77 miles Highlights: Wall Drug, Mount Rushmore
NOw that you saw the Badlands, pack up your campervan and hit the road; it’s time to make your way back to Denver. We still have a few more spots to hit before turning down the road back home (otherwise known as US-85 S). Let’s go to Mount Rushmore! First, though, program your GPS for “Wall Drug Store” you won’t be disappointed. Wall Drug is a wacky 76,000 sqft roadside attraction. Movie buffs will recognize this pharmacy/gift shop/restaurant/donut palace from the blockbuster Nomadland.
Spend a few hours exploring the many aisles and attractions inside Wall Drug. Before you head out (with a souvenir in hand), grab a Wall donut as a van-ride snack. You’re officially off to Mount Rushmore! Queue up an awesome playlist; you have an hour and a half of open road in front of you.
When you arrive, take a few minutes to see Mount Rushmore from the visitor’s center. Then, make your way to the Presidential Trail trailhead. The Presidential Trail is a short hike that loops you right in front of the carvings. The trail is only .6 miles long. Fair warning, there are many steps and a steep incline towards the end.
Make a stop at Sherpa’s Kitchen for lunch. Sherpa is a beloved Indian and Nepali restaurant located only a few miles from Mount Rushmore. Not to mention, Sherpa has a fabulous patio and a five-star yelp review. Nothing beats good food and a good patio!
After a sweet hike, lunch, and a patio hang, park your van at Horsethief Lake. This campground is just 2 miles from Mount Rushmore and is surrounded by the giant pines and ponderosa that make up the Black Hills National Forest. Take a break and start a campfire; you have a long drive ahead of you tomorrow!
Where to Camp: Horsethief Lake Campground (Book Here)
Day 5: Head back to Denver
Distance: 6 hours, 360 miles
It’s time to head back to Denver. We hope that you had the best campervan trip to the Badlands National Park. We pride ourselves on making sure your experience is the easiest and most fun trip you’ve ever had. Can’t wait to hear about all the adventures you had in your Native Campervan!