Camp with Wild Bison - Bison Badlands National Park

I Wish Someone Had Told Me… You Can Camp with Wild Bison!

Summer of 2016 was all about camping for Tom and myself. After finding a smoking deal on an incredible tent, we pulled the trigger and started a new hobby together. First adventure on the list was camping with wild bison!

The first night we camped by Mount Rushmore and it was freezing! My mother had just bought me a new sleeping pad which I just assumed it was the right size. Well it wasn’t. It was kid sized. So Tom and I tried to share his mat. We huddled together and somehow got a little bit of sleep. We woke up really early and just drove around with the heat blasting. Aside: Check your shit people! And the weather. I’m a Moron.

We got coffee as soon as coffee opened and drove through Custer State Park. Afterwards, we drove to Badlands National Park. The Badlands are insane for multiple reasons. The formations look like they formed on another planet and aliens brought them here. There are plenty of hiking trails, filled with cactus and possibly hidden rattle snakes. But if you’re looking to camp with bison, coyotes and some prairie dogs – plan a trip to Sage Creek Campground within the Badlands. It’s free to camp there (other than the entrance fee of the park) and is first come first serve.

Shortly After Arriving
Shortly after setting up our tent.

We made sure we got there early since there are only about 10 sites and no one was getting in the way of me camping with a herd of bison! After we set up camp, we went to the visitor center which was like a half an hour away. Horrible idea. We should’ve sat there at our table and spot the whole day. When we came back it was literally like God damn We Fest had popped up at the campground. (We Fest is a drunken country festival with multiple campgrounds for people to stumble back to after the concerts. If you’re a fan of We Fest and drunken festivals I apologize. I’m all for festivities just not when I’m trying to lure in herds of wild animals.) About 20 extra cars and tents had arrived.

After Returning from the Visitor Center
After returning from the visitor center…

I was irate. Did these people not read the rules?? It specifically said first come first serve. Not “Eh, pop your tent up 5 feet from the next guy.” It was not my fault these people failed to plan! Lastly, as a result of the additional individuals there was the constantly revolving bathroom door – slamming in the prairie. There were two outhouse type of bathrooms. Aka only 2 compost toilets for what would be over 100 people to share.

We were never going to see any bison in this condition!!!

My dreams were shattered. I had planned this and looked forward to it for so long! Then this massive group of morons came out of the wood-work – stole our picnic table, set up tents all around ours and let their barking dogs roam.

Even though I was bitter and disappointed – some bison did come into the campground. They don’t give a fuck. They own the land. Respect. Now it wasn’t a massive herd. The most we saw was probably 6 at a time but it was enough to satisfy my see-a-badass-mammal craving.

Evening Hike
We climbed up on a hill and took this picture. Not pictured: 20 additional tents.

We went into the tent fairly early and played cards. I could not fake nice anymore. I was exhausted. The camp site was loud; people were running their cars, slamming the bathroom door, honking their car horns and yelling/giggling obnoxiously.

As soon as the coyotes started howling though everyone went dead silent. I closed my eyes and listened. They sounded like they had the campground surrounded and I pictured them coming into to rip people tents apart and slash tires with little shivs. I was then happy.

Morning Time

I was really excited to wake up in the morning because I had heard that just the night before a herd of about 200 bison were in the campground in the am. I unzipped the tent slowly and peered my head out first to look around for the massive mammals.

There were a couple of them across the way but nothing close – so I got out and started packing up the site. Petty me decided I didn’t care if I was loud – it was 5am. As we were packing up though two bison came wondering right through the crowd of tents. People stepped to the side and made slow movements.

Except for this one guy. Back story: He was the guy who left his car running for 20 minutes the night before and had it running in the morning as well. (I don’t know if it’s because I’m a tree hugging hippy or the fact that I come out into nature not to listen to fucking engine noise that really pissed me off.)

Him (let’s call him Thing1) and his girlfriend (Thing2) were packing up their site when this bison came to graze about 5 feet from their tent. Now most people would stop packing up their tent and wait for the one ton bison to leave. But not these people! Oh no!

At first Thing1 and Thing2 got uncomfortably close and took photos with the bison and then they continued to take down the tent. However, this bison was over their entitled shit. He was growling at them and huffing. Did they move away? Nope, not these people! Thing1 continued to take down his tent and at one point shook out the rain fly. For those who aren’t into camping – rain fly’s are loud when shook. They are like a massive pair of wind pants for your tent and make an equally obnoxious sound. When the bison looked over at him and growled once more, Thing1 responded with, “Oh calm down” and then looked at his girlfriend and laughed. Yeah you really told him. Psych! That bison had had enough of his bullshit and tucked his head and ran at him. Thing1 dropped the rain fly and ran. The bison charged for just a few feet and then went back to grazing.

Babe, I am so done. I’m so done babe. Babe, let’s just leave him alone. I’m done babe. I’m done,” said Thing2. At that moment another intellect came walking through the scene shouting, “I lied bae! I don’t want to pet one. They stink bae!” I faced palmed and took many deep breathes.

All in all, it was fun. If I went again, I’d try to go during the week and camp out at my spot. Also, I would check my gear first so I could get a good night of sleep and not be so crabby.

If you go – please follow the guidelines set out by the National Park Service and please stay away from the bison. Admire from a distance and stay safe. Thing1 was lucky and Bae girl was too… because I didn’t hit her with my car. Haha!

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