Badlands National Park and Custer State Park: Game Lodge Campground

Custer State Park is filled with things to see and do. We wanted to camp on both sides of the park, so we changed campgrounds to Game Lodge, a campground within walking distance of a new visitors center and a bike trail that leads to a store and restaurant. There is one dump station located near the entrance of the game trail loop (near this campground), but this campground also has a dump station.

Game Lodge Campground site in the back loop close to the creek.
Creek across from campsite. Campsites are also available along the creek.

At the entrance to this paved, relatively level campground is a small pond and playground that always attracted a small number of children. Mowed, green grass surrounds most sites with some sites being on the creek. Sites are evenly spaced with trees of various sizes. Sites closer to the highway have fewer (if any) large trees, while those closer to the creek can enjoy towering trees. As always, there were fire pits and picnic tables at each site. Flush toilets and showers were also available here. We had an electric site across from the creek. It was a back-in site, though they also have several pull-through spots.

Back of loop in Game Lodge Campground is shaded with large oak trees. Front of campground, closer to road, is open with few trees.
Peter Norbeck Visitor and Outdoor Education Center.

The visitors center was closed due to COVID, but we have been to this newer visitors center in the past and it is well worth the stop. Picnic tables with new structures also dot the visitors center lawn for those looking to enjoy the area for a day. A paved bike or walking trail links this campground to the visitors center and also with the lodge, a restaurant and store that sold ice cream.

Small lake at entrance of Game Lodge Campground. A small beach and playground are on the campground side.

While staying on this side of the park, we took a day trip to Badlands National Park. This drive displays the rapid change in scenery, from the evergreens and mountains in Custer State Park to the open prairies outside of Rapid City. On our way to the Badlands, we stopped at Wall Drug, a tourist attraction that has grown into a large complex of indoor shops and a restaurant that caters to tourists.

Wall Drug Store in Wall, South Dakota.

When we arrived, they had just recently opened after being closed for COVID. Few people were inside and we were often the only people in any store. We got ice cream and enjoyed it outside on their patio with the larger-than-life jackalope statue. Wall Drug began in the 1930s and provides ample opportunities to spend money on jewelry, clothes, moccasins, western-wear, food, or carnival-style contraptions such as a “fortune teller”.

Inside of Wall Drug. The “store” is actually several stores in a large block.

After enjoying our ice cream and being some of the few tourists here, we headed toward the west entrance of Badlands National Park, just a few miles down the highway. After entering the park, we stopped at several overlooks to enjoy the views of these rock formations.

Near the west entrance of Badlands National Park.

Some portions of the park were filled with rock of all colors while other sections looked like the moon. Grasses were growing in parts of the park and created a colorful contrast.

Beautiful colors of rock and a meandering creek.

We saw mountain goats and birds in the park, though there are several animals here at different times of the year and parts of the day.

Mountain goats blend into the rock formations.

We packed a picnic lunch and enjoyed it at one of several pull-outs on the drive through the park. The area is constantly eroding and becoming a different looking park over decades, but it remains fascinating. Fossils, rock layers and odd formations are everywhere. We stopped at the visitors center and store, though at the time, the building was closed and they were instead at a tent outside.

Well-photographed rock near the eastern entrance of Badlands National Park.

We did a short hike where you walk around a rock formation and are greeted with a view out of this world. While the park was somewhat busy, it was enjoyable and there was plenty of room to stop, hike, and relax in this different scenery.

Hike near the eastern entrance leads through this rough, dry earth and feels more like a different planet than Earth.

At the east end of this loop (or entrance to the park), stands the Minuteman Missile Visitors Center, part of the Minuteman Missile Historic Site managed by the National Park Service. It was closed, but I would recommend adding this spot to any itinerary to this area. The new museum provides information and interesting stories about the 1,000 hidden missile sites located across the United States. Further west on the highway, Delta-09 and Delta-01 are also open for tours and information as part of this visitors center.

Open roads in Badlands National Park.

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