Campground Review: Badlands / White River KOA

Have you ever feared showing up at a full campground, only to find out your reservations weren’t actually placed? That happened to us on our visit to the Badlands.

Thanks to the Internet, I had seen lovely pictures of other campers staying at the Cedar Pass Campground in the Badlands National Park and wanted to do the same when planning our trip to the Badlands. I imagined us leaving Birdy in the evening and walking to the edge of the park, where we would watch the walls of the Badlands glow in the golden hour.

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In April, when I made the reservations at Cedar Pass, unfortunately, there was a computer glitch. I was charged for the reservation, but never received a confirmation. I emailed the park and thought the reservations were made, and so we arrived at the Cedar Pass campground, tired and hungry.

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As we pulled in, we spoke to the young men at the booth, who told us they didn’t see our name anywhere on the reservation list. Upon double checking the confirmation I had received, I realized the lady who helped me had actually made the reservation for the night she emailed me, instead of the night we would be arriving. My heart sank!

Though the sign said the park was full, the young men told us to go ahead to a certain spot. When we pulled around to that spot, it was full. Feeling desperate, we decided we better head out of the park immediately in hopes of finding another spot for the night.

We remembered the Badlands/White River KOA sat just south the park, and we hurried there. I was very relieved to find out they had empty spots and could accommodate us for the night. Not only would we have a place to stay, we would discover the Badlands KOA was a really nice park.

Sites

As we pulled into the Badlands KOA, we discovered it was a shady oasis in the Badlands. This was in sharp contrast to the Cedar Pass Campground, which had little to no shade (see photos above). After working up a sweat playing in the park, we were ready to cool off and were thankful for the arching trees.

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The sites were very standard KOA sites. Not too large, but sufficient for a night’s stay. If I remember correctly, our site was level.

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The white stuff along the edge of the grass is cotton from the cottonwood trees. It looked like it snowed.

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Amenities & Activities

After unhooking the trailer, we headed back into the park for dinner and more exploration. Since we were heading out early the next morning, we didn’t spend a lot of time in the park, but we were impressed with what we saw.

This KOA has a pool, which would have been a treat on the warm day we were there; unfortunately, the park was making repairs, so the pool wasn’t opened.

We did find a nice playground with a play set for little ones.

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We also found some play equipment for the bigger kids (tether ball and an old-school merry-go-round). Here, my older son is having some fun on springy horse. You never know what will entertain the teens and tweens….

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The park has a nice patio for meals they serve. We enjoyed a pancake breakfast in the morning. Dinner options are also available. This was a nice place to relax while someone else did the cooking.

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The shower house passed my inspection, and the laundry room was clean and functioning.

Mini golf, crafts, bike rentals, a dog run, and more are also available. They even have a spot for making motorcycle repairs, which is definitely a unique feature. Alas, we didn’t have time to check out any of these other amenities. I must say, the workers were all very nice. We truly felt welcomed in the park.

Local Area

This park is located about 5-10 minutes south of the Badlands in a town called Interior. From what we saw, there wasn’t much in town. I’m not sure how far you would have to travel to get to more amenities, but you’ll want to take that into consideration if you stay here.

We headed back into the park for dinner at Cedar Pass Restaurant. We all ordered the Indian Tacos, which were amazing. For $10, you get a pillowy piece of Sioux fry bread, topped with beans, savory buffalo meat, lettuce, tomatoes, and salsa. Since I had never had buffalo meat, I was nervous and ordered the vegetarian option, which was topped with black beans instead. Turns out, there was nothing to fear about the buffalo meat, but I can confirm the tastiness of the vegetarian option, too.

We thoroughly enjoyed our meal. Apparently, I didn’t take a picture of our delicious tacos, but I did get a boring picture of the outside of the restaurant for you to check out. The rest of the menu looked a little overpriced, so I definitely recommend the tacos and can’t speak for anything else.

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Just up the road from the Badlands, you’ll find several great roadside attractions to explore. We had a lot of fun feeding prairie dogs at the Badlands Ranch Store, and we loved exploring the wacky Wall Drug. For a more educational stop, be sure to visit the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. You can learn more about these three roadside attractions HERE.

KOA Versus Cedar Pass Campground

If we were to return to the Badlands, it would be hard to decide which campground to use. The KOA has larger sites, more shade, free showers, and more amenities and activities. At Cedar Pass, the sites are all pull-offs on the roadside, with no shade. They seemed a little crowded and busy. Also, Cedar Pass doesn’t offer free showers. I had read that the showers are clean but offer no hooks for towels or clothes, making them inconvenient.

Despite the drawbacks to the Cedar Pass Campground, you really can’t beat the location. You do get a nice view of the Badlands from the campground. We ended up driving back into the park, though, to enjoy the sunset. Ultimately, it’s a toss up!

As a side note, I later emailed Cedar Pass for a refund, and the worker was very apologetic for the mistake with our reservation and refunded the cost. We had a fine ending to our tale of woe!

Just the Facts

Name & Website: Badlands/White River KOA

Location: In Interior, South Dakota, just south of Badlands National Park

Rate: Around $40-50

Sites: A mix of FHU and WE sites, plus tent sites and cabins

Bathhouse: Clean

Amenities: Playground, pool, bike rentals, mini-golf, meals served on patio, and more.

Bottom line: This park is a shady oasis near the Badlands, chock full of great amenities and activities.

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2 Comments on "Campground Review: Badlands / White River KOA"

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Kristin
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Great info! We drove in from Rafter J to see the Badlands, and it was quite a haul–if we ever go back, we’ll have to check out the KOA because the shade alone is awesome! 🙂

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