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17 Best Lakes in South Dakota for a Delightful Holiday

By | Last Updated : 20th July 2021

A holiday in nature’s abode with lush greenery, lakes, and mountains alongside some fun time might sound like a dream come true. You can consider visiting South Dakota if planning for a relaxing vacation in nature’s lap. Most of the lakes occupy the Blue Hills area, providing a scenic backdrop. Moreover, with several state parks and recreational areas surrounding the pristine lakes, you can indulge in various fun activities the whole day.

Lakes in South Dakota

1. Lake Oahe

Lake Oahe

The state’s largest and the nation’s fourth-largest, Lake Oahe boasts a shoreline of about 2250 miles. Its vast size and various recreational opportunities attract millions of visitors every year.

With 50 state parks positioned around the lake, you can have a fun time here. Nature lovers and birdwatchers can visit the Oahe Downstream Recreation Area to see the various colorful butterflies and pollinators in the Prairie Butterfly Garden area. You can also spot several bald eagles nesting on treetops here in winter. If you enjoy hiking and wildlife viewing, you’ll find many trails and wildlife species like deer, wild turkeys, beavers, and raccoons in Indian Creek Recreational Area.

Fishing: An excellent stock of various fish species is available in this lake, like walleye, northern pike, smallmouth bass, white bass, channel catfish, and chinook salmon. You can rent fishing boats or pontoon boats from the Bridge City Marina located in Mobridge.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, canoeing, kayaking, water skiing, hiking, camping, picnicking, wildlife watching, hiking, biking, bird-watching, wildlife viewing

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2. Lake Poinsett

Lake Poinsett in South Dakota

Lake Poinsett, one of the largest and most popular lakes in the United States, is an abode of recreational activities. You can head to Arlington Beach to have fun swimming and splashing waters or relax by soaking up the sun. Picnicking with your loved ones near the lake or playing a game of golf are also some sought-after activities here. Apart from additional recreation in the Lake Poinsett State Park, you’ll also find two campgrounds and 112 campsites here to spend the night. Also, cabins are available in Arlington Beach Resort. You can also check out The Lake Poinsett Visitor Center and Museum to know more about the area’s history.

Fishing:  Anglers can catch many fish varieties, including walleye, crappie, northern pike, white bass, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, perch, and crap.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, paddleboarding, kayaking, canoeing, camping, picnicking, golfing, biking

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3. Lake Thompson

Lake Thompson in South Dakota

Earlier known by the name of Dry Woods Lake by American Indians, Lake Thompson is one of South Dakota’s largest natural lakes. The Lake Thompson Recreation Area sits on its northeast side, open to public use throughout the year. It features a beach, numerous campsites, a playground and so on. You can enjoy the lake views and picnic in the picnic areas found along the 45 miles shoreline. Hiking the nearby scenic trails is a great way to explore the natural surroundings.

Fishing: This lake is best for fishing walleye, yellow perch, northern pike, sunfish, black bullhead, and common carp.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, canoeing, kayaking, water-skiing, bird-watching, biking, camping, picnicking

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4. Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake in South Dakota

Known to be the state’s cleanest, Sylvan Lake flows in the Black Hills and is the main attraction of Custer State Park. Visitors love to sit back and enjoy the surrounding scenic vistas here. You can also explore the quaint waters and take in the lovely scenery while having a boat ride. Rented boats are available at Sylvan Lake Lodge beside the waterfront.  However, only non-motor boats are permissible, making it a peaceful place. Apart from elevating the lake’s beauty, the encompassing granite walls also provide opportunities for rock-climbing. If you love hiking, there are two trailheads of Sunday Gulch Trail and Black Elk Peak Hiking Trail near the lake. While experienced hikers can take the Sunday Gulch Trail, the rest can opt for the latter. Though strenuous, both of them offer breathtaking panoramic views.

Fishing: If you are carrying a South Dakota fishing license, you can take the pleasure of fishing in this lake for northern pike, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, white perch, and muskellunge.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, paddleboarding, canoeing, hiking, rock climbing, camping, picnicking, nature-gazing

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5. Big Stone Lake

Big Stone Lake in South Dakota

This scenic freshwater lake flows along the South Dakota and Minnesota borders. In this part of the state, you can easily access it at Hartford Beach State Park.  The picturesque rocky bluffs and timber-lined shoreline surrounding the beach are a treat to the eye. In addition, you’ll find many short hiking trails providing scenic vistas and gorgeous lake views from the hills. The campgrounds here are clean and well-maintained.

Fishing: This lake is an angler’s paradise as it supports a wide variety of fish, including walleye, northern pike, largemouth bass, bluegill, white crappie, green sunfish, white bass, channel catfish, and yellow perch.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, canoeing, kayaking, picnicking, bird-watching, wildlife viewing, cross country skiing, snowmobiling, golfing, hunting,

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6. Lake Hanson

Lake Hanson in South Dakota

Lake Hanson in Hanson County is a little reservoir with Pierre Creek joining it from the east side and exiting at a spillway on the western end. It is less visited by tourists and is ideal for having a peaceful time here. Lake Hanson Recreation Area lies on its northern side, where you can enjoy water activities. There is a beach here where you can relax under the sun. With two launching ramps on the north and western sides, you can enjoy a kayak ride for a tranquil experience. Bring your binoculars to spot the various birds flying over its underdeveloped shorelines.

Fishing: The lake supports various fish species, including bluegill, northern pike, largemouth bass, white crappie, and yellow perch.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, bird-watching, picnicking, wildlife viewing

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7. Pactola Lake

Pactola Lake in South Dakota

This crystal-clear lake is the biggest and deepest in the Blue Hills National Forest area. Visitors find it an awe-inspiring sight with the scenic surroundings of dense flora and towering mountains. Apart from observing the vistas, boating and picnicking are sought-after activities. In addition, scuba diving here allows you to explore the wonders underwater. The cliffs on the lake’s western side provide the opportunity to go cliff-diving into the pristine waters for the daring ones. You can also check out the visitor center to see the various exhibits and enjoy the beautiful lake views.

Fishing: You can enjoy fishing here for lake trout, rainbow trout, brown trout, largemouth bass, northern pike, crappie, bluegill, and kokanee salmon.

Other Activities: Swimming, sunbathing, boating, canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding, camping, hiking, cliff-diving, water-skiing, wildlife viewing, scuba diving

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8. Iron Creek Lake

Iron Creek Lake in South Dakota

Located on the west side of Spearfish Canyon in the Blue Hills, Iron Creek Lake is an unspoiled beauty. With not many people around and no motorboats in the waters, you can enjoy a peaceful time here. There are many cabins located nearby to spend overnight and enjoy the scenic views. Hikers can explore the Old Baldy Trail at its southern side and Big Hills Trail at its northern side.

Fishing: Fish species like yellow perch, rainbow trout, and brown trout are mainly available here.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding, camping, picnicking, hiking, bird-watching

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9. Lake Alvin

Lake Alvin in South Dakota

Lake Alvin in the state’s southeast edge is a part of Lake Alvin Recreation Area b. A swimming beach occupies the northern shoreline, where you can enjoy some in and out of the water activities. As the lake is a designated area for no-wake boating, you can spend time kayaking or paddle boating in it. In addition, the lake also features some hiking trails that you can explore.

Fishing: Rent a boat or bring one to enjoy fishing for walleye, crappie, bullhead, perch, northern pike, and sunfish.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding, picnicking, hiking

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10. Lake Vermillion

Lake Vermillion in South Dakota

Lake Vermillion is a human-made reservoir having a recreation area of the same name at its southern end. You can keep yourself engaged the whole day in the various pleasurable activities. There is also a ski beach where speed lovers can enjoy water skiing. The swim beach attracts visitors to cool off the summer heat in its clean waters. You can also bring your dogs to have a fun outing here.

Fishing: Anglers can expect to catch several fish species, including bluegill, walleye, northern pike, largemouth bass, white crappie, yellow bullhead, channel catfish, and yellow perch.

Other Activities: Swimming, tubing, boating, canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding, picnicking, bird-watching, biking, camping

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11. Angostura Reservoir

Angostura Reservoir in South Dakota

Angostura Reservoir is a well-known lake with the stunning picturesque backdrop of the Blue Hills. Its pristine waters are a paradise for those who enjoy water activities. Surrounded by Angostura Recreation Area on its eastern shoreline, Sheps Canyon Recreation Area on the west, and Bailey Recreation Area on the south, the ake serves as an ideal vacation spot. The underdeveloped area of the western shoreline provides ample bird-watching opportunities.

Fishing: walleye, smallmouth bass, northern pike, perch, largemouth bass, and catfish

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, water skiing, paddleboarding, camping, hiking, biking

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12. Sheridan Lake

Sheridan Lake in South Dakota

Sheridan Lake in Blue Hills offers a serene experience along with breathtaking mountain and lush green forest views. You’ll find a marina on its northern side to access the waters with your boat and a swimming beach to spend a relaxing afternoon. Cliff-jumping from the neighboring cliffs into the lake is also a favorite among many. If you want to stay on land and enjoy some additional splendid views, you can hike the Dakota Point Trail from the lake’s northern side.

For an overnight stay, Sheridan Lake South Shore Campground offers about 129 campsites where you can enjoy close access to the lake.

Fishing: This lake is famous for walleye, crappie, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, northern pike, rainbow trout, and largemouth bass.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, canoeing, kayaking, camping, hiking, cliff diving, bird-watching

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13. Pickerel Lake

Pickerel Lake in South Dakota

This spring-fed lake is also one of the state’s deepest natural lakes, formed after glacial retreat thousands of years ago. It is now a part of the Pickerel Lake Recreation Area, where you can take the pleasure of many water-based activities. In addition, you’ll find two campgrounds- the East Unit and the West Unit featuring 77 campsites and six cabins. All of them are in closer proximity to the lake, offering gorgeous scenic vistas.

The lake’s name comes from an Indian American word, translated as “where you spear long fish.”, perhaps justifying its popularity as a fishing destination.

Fishing:  Fish species like walleye, yellow perch, smallmouth bass, bluegill, northern pike, rock bass, and white bass populate the lake.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, canoeing, paddleboarding, kayaking, camping, nature-gazing

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14. Horse Thief Lake

Horse Thief Lake in South Dakota

Dotted with ponderosa pines and a mountainous backdrop, this small lake in Big Hills is ideal for a peaceful getaway. Visitors heading to the nearby famous monument, Mount Rushmore, often stop by here to admire the lake views. Adventure lovers can hike the George S. Mickelson Trail or climb the steep trail of Wrinkled Rock. If you want to spend overnight in nature’s abode, Horsethief Lake Campground offers campsites with forest settings.

The lake got its name as it was an operating site for a gang of horse thieves.

Fishing:  Anglers mainly catch smallmouth bass, rainbow trout, and yellow perch. Other fish found here are walleye, common carp, and bluegill.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, canoeing, kayaking, sailing, bird-watching, jet skiing, hiking, picnicking, horseback riding

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15. Lewis and Clark Lake

Lewis and Clark Lake in South Dakota

Sitting along the borders of South Dakota and Nebraska, this enormous lake flows on the Missouri River, thronged by millions of visitors coming here annually. With five recreational areas on the South Dakota side, you will surely lose track of time. If you haven’t brought your boat, you can rent one from the marina or Lakeside Fun Rentals in Yankton, which also rents bicycles. Also, for an overnight stay, you can choose from the campgrounds and cabins dotting the lake’s shoreline.

Fishing: This lake provides excellent opportunities to catch several fish species like flathead and channel catfish, largemouth and smallmouth bass, white bass, crappie, bluegill, and northern pike. You can even rent a pontoon boat at the marina.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, canoeing, kayaking, sailing, bird-watching, jet skiing, hiking, picnicking, horseback riding

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16. Lake Francis Case

Lake Francis Case in South Dakota

This 100 miles long artificial reservoir, impounded by Fort Randall Dam, flows in the southeastern part of South Dakota. You can spot migratory birds like bald eagles and golden eagles soaring over the dam area in winters. Head to the visitor center at the lake’s southern end to get beautiful panoramic views of the lake and the dam. You can also rent a boat of your choice from Fort Randall Marina and take pleasure in the waters. Nineteen recreational areas around the lake feature several campgrounds ranging from primitive to modern ones.

Fishing: A variety of fish are available here, such as smallmouth bass, walleye, channel catfish, northern pike, and many more.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, canoeing, kayaking, water skiing, paddle boarding, bird-watching, hunting, hiking, biking

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17. Lake Traverse

Lake Traverse in South Dakota

Lake Traverse shares its waters with South Dakota and Minnesota and is Hudson Bay’s southernmost body of water. Along with the various recreational activities, you can also enjoy the quiet environment. Families enjoy a great outing here and have a picnic by the lake. You can rent a cabin here to stay by the lakeside during your vacation.

Fishing: Anglers will have a great time fishing for various fish like walleye, channel catfish, bluegill, northern pike, yellow bullhead, white crappie, and yellow perch.

Other Activities: Swimming, tubing, canoeing, kayaking, camping, picnicking

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Best Lakes for Fishing: Lake Oahe, Lake Poinsett, Big Stone Lake

Best Lakes for Boating: Lake Poinsett, Pactola Lake, Lake Alvin

Best Lakes for Camping: Lake Thompson, Big Stone Lake, Sheridan Lake

Best Lakes Live On: Lewis and Clark Lake, Lake Oahe, Sylvan Lake

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