The Legality of Car Sleeping in South Dakota: What You Need to Know

South Dakota, the land of majestic mountains, sprawling prairies, and unforgettable monuments, beckons travelers with its wide-open spaces and rich history. Whether you’re captivated by the dramatic scenery of the Badlands National Park or yearn to explore the Black Hills, a South Dakota adventure awaits. For budget-conscious travelers, car sleeping emerges as an attractive option. Cruising the open road with the freedom to pull over and rest whenever needed offers an undeniable sense of liberation. But before you hit the road and convert your car into a temporary bedroom, it’s crucial to understand the legalities and safety considerations of car sleeping in South Dakota.

Car Sleeping Laws in South Dakota

The good news for car sleepers in South Dakota is the absence of a statewide law prohibiting the practice. Unlike some states where car sleeping comes with restrictions, South Dakota offers more flexibility. This translates to the freedom to catch some shut-eye in your car within reason, provided you adhere to local ordinances and prioritize safety.

However, there are a few key points to remember:

  • Temporary Rest Stops: These designated areas along highways serve as a haven for weary travelers, including car sleepers. South Dakota law (§ 31-7-17) allows for “temporary resting” in vehicles at rest areas, with a time limit of three consecutive hours for regular drivers and ten hours for commercial vehicle drivers. So, if you need to recharge after a long drive, rest areas provide a legal and convenient option for a short nap.
  • Understanding Time Restrictions: While rest areas offer a designated space for car sleeping, the three-hour time limit is crucial to remember. Exceeding this limit could raise suspicion and potentially lead to questioning by law enforcement.

Finding Safe Spots for Car Sleeping in South Dakota

Now that you understand the legalities, let’s explore some safe and comfortable spots for car sleeping in South Dakota:

  • State and National Parks: Imagine drifting off to sleep under a canopy of stars with the ethereal beauty of the South Dakota landscape as your backdrop. State and National Parks offer designated campsites, some with minimal fees, perfect for pitching a tent or car camping.
    • Badlands National Park: This dramatic landscape, sculpted by millions of years of erosion, offers a unique and unforgettable experience. Designated campgrounds within the park provide safe and scenic spots for car sleeping, allowing you to wake up to breathtaking views.
    • Custer State Park: Home to roaming bison herds and stunning granite peaks, Custer State Park caters to all types of campers. Established campgrounds with varying amenities offer a safe and comfortable environment for car sleepers, with the added bonus of potential wildlife sightings.
  • Rest Areas: While not ideal for a full night’s sleep due to time restrictions, rest areas provide a convenient option for a quick nap or catching some rest during the day. Look for well-lit areas with minimal traffic noise for a more peaceful experience. Remember to be discreet and adhere to the posted time limits.
  • Walmarts and Truck Stops: With the permission of the store manager, some Walmarts and truck stops allow car sleeping in their parking lots. This option offers a sense of security with well-lit areas and security personnel present.
  • Public Camping Areas: South Dakota boasts numerous public camping areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the US Forest Service. These areas offer a budget-friendly alternative to established campgrounds, often with free campsites or minimal fees. While amenities might be limited compared to state or national parks, public camping areas provide a secluded and peaceful environment for car sleeping.

Safety Tips for Car Sleepers in South Dakota

A successful car sleeping adventure hinges on prioritizing safety. Here are some essential tips to keep in mind:

  • Location, Location, Location: Choosing the right spot is paramount. Opt for well-lit areas with minimal traffic noise. Avoid isolated locations or streets with a reputation for criminal activity. Look for parking lots with security cameras or near populated areas for added peace of mind.
  • Vehicle Security: Don’t underestimate the importance of securing your vehicle. Lock all doors and windows before turning in for the night. Consider using window shades for privacy and to deter potential thieves from peeking inside. If you have valuables, store them out of sight in the trunk or a locked glove compartment.
  • Discreet Discretion: While car sleeping is legal in South Dakota, attracting unwanted attention is never ideal. Avoid drawing unnecessary attention by keeping your car organized and minimizing clutter inside. Park in designated spots and refrain from setting up elaborate sleeping arrangements that might raise suspicion.
  • Be Prepared for the Elements: South Dakota’s weather can be unpredictable. Pack for all weather conditions, including comfortable bedding, blankets, and pillows. Consider having a rainproof tarp or window shades handy in case of unexpected showers. During winter, ensure you have sufficient blankets and warm clothing to stay comfortable through the night.

Alternatives to Car Sleeping in South Dakota

Car sleeping offers a budget-friendly way to explore South Dakota, but it’s not the only option. Here are some alternatives to consider:

  • Hostels: These social accommodation options provide a comfortable bed in a shared dorm room at a fraction of the cost of a hotel room. Hostels often have communal areas to relax and meet fellow travelers, making them a great choice for budget-conscious adventurers seeking a social experience.
  • Campgrounds: Immersing yourself in nature is another fantastic alternative. Campgrounds offer a range of amenities, from basic campsites to those with showers, laundry facilities, and even swimming pools. The cost varies depending on the amenities offered, but campgrounds generally provide a more comfortable and social environment compared to car sleeping.
  • Budget-friendly Motels: While hotels might seem like a luxury on a tight budget, there are affordable options available, especially outside peak season. Consider searching for motels on the outskirts of towns or cities, which often offer lower rates compared to those located in central locations.


South Dakota, with its wide-open spaces and stunning natural beauty, welcomes car sleepers with more flexibility compared to some states. However, responsible car sleeping requires understanding the legalities, prioritizing safety, and choosing suitable locations. By following the tips outlined above, you can embark on a memorable South Dakota adventure while ensuring a safe and comfortable sleep under the stars.

Remember, car sleeping comes with a responsibility to respect the environment. Practice “Leave No Trace” principles by disposing of waste properly and avoiding disturbing the natural surroundings. With a little planning and preparation, car sleeping in South Dakota can be a safe, affordable, and unforgettable way to experience the wonders of this captivating state.

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MBS Staff
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