Getty Images Four presidents carved into a cliff face.

Early experiences in the Dakotas provided valuable inspiration for the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. That inspiration drove his desire to form the National Park Service, and you can easily imagine why he took up the cause at five national parks destinations to visit in the Dakotas. 

Four of these parks are within two hours of each other in South Dakota. The fifth — Theodore Roosevelt National Park — is roughly five hours away in North Dakota. So you can reasonably hit all five on your next RV trip through the Dakotas. 

Here’s your guide to these five national parks in the Dakotas, with nearby camping options for each: 

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

The park named after our 26th President is a great location to start or end your national park road trip in the Dakotas. Because it’s a little separated from the other four, hit it on your way to South Dakota or on your way home. 

Fog hangs over river valleys.

The Little Missouri River. Getty Images

The park is broken into northern and southern units. The southern unit is much more popular and easily accessed off Interstate 94 in the town of Medora. The northern unit is a good option for boondockers and those seeking a more remote experience, as it’s about an hour north and closer to Watford City. 

Bison grazing in a meadow.

Bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Getty Images

A healthy grazing population of American bison — the largest land mammal in North America — is a major attraction at Teddy’s park. They tend to graze in roadside meadows and, occasionally, halt traffic as they cross. 

A group of prairie dogs gather

Prairie Dogs standing over a hole. Getty Images

The park is also home to feral horses, pronghorn, elk, prairie dogs, white-tail and mule deer, and more than 186 types of birds. Whether you just enjoy the 36 Mile Scenic Drive or come for the Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival, this park offers plenty to do and see.  

Campgrounds Nearby

Badlands National Park

If you somehow miss the bison at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, you’ll get another chance to spot one in the Badlands. Along with bison, bighorn sheep and pronghorn can regularly be spotted from the park’s many roadside overlooks. 

The park’s multi-colored landscape is especially attractive to photographers at sunrise and sunset. But there are many pull-outs along the main park road for you to capture the landscape from a unique perspective. 

Cougar and kits in rocks in the badlands.

Cougar family in the Badlands. Getty Images

The best times to visit the Badlands are spring and fall. Summer temperatures in the park can be sweltering, and winter weather can be quite chilly on the Dakota plains. There’s plenty of RV camping in the park, but there’s also a large boondocking area for free RV and tent camping just outside the north entrance station. 

If it’s your first time at the park, be sure to check out the Fossil Exhibit Trail and the Fossil Preparation Lab. The Badlands has been an epicenter for fossil discovery for decades, and there’s a lot to learn about the area’s prehistoric inhabitants from scientists still conducting research at the lab.

Panarama of the Eroded Mountains

Badlands National Park. Getty Images

For more info, check out our complete guide to RVing Badlands National Park

Good Sam Campgrounds Nearby

Wind Cave National Park

Rock formations deep in a natural cave.

Rock Formations inside Wind Cave. National Park. © NarrowWindowPhotography, Getty Images

One of America’s oldest parks is also one of its lesser-known. And just like the way this park has flown under the radar, its main attractions are actually located underground. Wind Cave National Park is home to one of the longest and most complex cave systems in the world. 

Daily guided tours take visitors down to various parts of the caves and explain how such a system has developed over the centuries. Many tours last more than an hour and require walking anywhere from 150 to 450 stairs. There is no cave access outside of the guided tours. 

Tour schedules change throughout the year, depending on weather, park construction and visitation. Tours often sell out during the spring, summer and fall, but reservations can be made up to 120 days in advance. 

Bridge over river chasm in rugged forest environment.

Wind Cave National Park. Getty Images

On the surface, there’s plenty to see in this park as well. Hiking trails through the park’s rugged terrain offer an excellent chance to see wildlife and explore the landscape. If you’re lucky, you may even catch a newborn bison taking its first steps on the plains above this vast cave system. 

For RV camping tips, read our full guide to RVing Wind Cave National Park.

Good Sam Campgrounds Nearby

Jewel Cave National Monument

A cluster of jewel-like minerals on the ceiling of a cave.

Calcite crystal in Jewel Cave. Photo: NPS

Jewel Cave is another fascinating national monument nestled into the Black Hills of South Dakota. Containing the third-longest cave in the world, it’s another great location for those interested in exploring underground. 

The benefit of underground exploration on a summer national park visit is cooler temperatures. Even when temperatures are uncomfortable on the surface, you may need a sweatshirt once you descend into the park’s cave system, which remains 49 degrees year-round. 

The scientific wealth of the park’s 210 miles of caves may still be undiscovered, but visitors can indeed discover some of the cave systems on daily guided tours. Like Wind Cave, you must be registered for a guided tour to explore the caves. 

A snowflake-like shape embedded in a crystal.

Patterns in Calcite Crystal in Jewel Cave. Photo: NPS

The Roof Trail and the Canyons Trail are your two options for hiking through the park on the surface. They’re both easy-to-moderate hikes, but there are plenty of strenuous options available in the surrounding Black Hills National Forest. 

Good Sam Campgrounds Nearby

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Your Dakotas national park trip wouldn’t be complete without seeing Mount Rushmore in person. While the rest of the parks are a testament to nature’s creation, Mount Rushmore offers an ode to human engineering and persistence. 

A corridor of state flags leading to Mount Rushmore.

State flags at Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Getty Images

If it’s your first visit, you can quiz yourself on facts surrounding the four presidents enshrined on the hillside before you step into the information center. Enjoy the short hiking trail from the visitor center along the base of the monument to see the carvings from multiple angles. 

When you do go inside, there’s a lot to learn about how this miracle of human engineering and construction came to be. From the many hurdles that had to be overcome to the techniques used to create the memorial, the informational exhibits are truly fascinating. 

A closeup of a stone face of a president.

Close up of George Washington at Mount Rushmore. Getty Images

If you want to pick the brain of a park ranger, there are five unique guided tours to choose from. All of these guided programs are free of charge and last anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes. You can also rent a multimedia device to learn the history of Mount Rushmore on a self-guided tour.

Good Sam Campgrounds Nearby

Planning a national park RV road trip takes a lot of preparation. But if you target these five parks, you can check five amazing parks off your bucket list without a ton of driving in between!