Daniel is a copywriter who has well and truly been bitten alive by the 'travel bug'. After ticking off several North American National Parks and exploring Europe by train, his sights are now set on South East Asia. Usually with at least one camera locked and loaded, you'll find Daniel wherever there are mountains, lakes or beaches.
South Dakota is home to much more than its famed Mount Rushmore. Surrounding Rapid City you’ll find a collection of serene and picturesque lakes, each with a unique appeal and a range of fun activities. So, join us as we take a look at 12 of the best lakes near Rapid City, South Dakota.
Nestled within Custer State Park on the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, Legion Lake is home to an array of outdoor activities. The lake area features campsites, hiking trails, a swimming beach, and a fishing dock. Its clear blue waters reflect the Black Hills pines and rocks, providing excellent photography scenes. Additional offerings include large RV accommodations and mountain bike or watercraft rentals.
Cold Brook Lake
A 58-mile journey south of Rapid City brings you to Cold Brook Lake, a haven for outdoor fun. With a beach, playground, basketball court, and picnic area, it’s an ideal spot for a family day out. Despite its reputation for small catches, the lake is a tranquil fishing spot teeming with largemouth bass, rainbow trout, and bluegill. The nearby campground and surrounding area offer exploration in the summer months but fill up quickly.
Sylvan Lake, located in Custer State Park, 36 miles from Rapid City, is a hub for various outdoor activities. Formed in 1891, the lake today offers picnic spots, rock climbing, boat rentals, swimming, and hiking trails. It’s also a popular starting point for excursions to Black Elk Peak and The Needles. Its early 20th-century hospitality and appearance in Disney’s “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” adds a pinch of history and Hollywood glamour to its shores.
Bear Butte Lake
A little over 30 miles northwest of Rapid City, within the confines of Bear Butte State Park, Bear Butte Lake offers more than just a serene landscape to its visitors. The 215-acre lake, home to a thriving population of abundant fish species including northern pike, white crappie, yellow perch, and yellow bullhead, is perfect for fishing adventures.
Located 15 miles west of Rapid City, Pactola Lake, the deepest and largest reservoir in the Black Hills, provides a host of recreational activities. Since its construction in 1952, it has offered camping, swimming, boating, and hiking across campgrounds, picnic areas, and trails. The lake’s clear waters are a magnet for fishermen and scuba divers, who can explore the vestiges of the submerged town of Pactola.
Just 25 miles west of Rapid City, Deerfield Reservoir sits on Castle Creek, offering a variety of activities year-round. A 400-acre surface and 16-mile shoreline invite visitors for swimming, boating, hiking, and fishing for rainbow trout, brown trout, and rock bass. The area has three campgrounds and a hiking trail around the lake, perfect for an active day out or a peaceful picnic.
Tucked away just three miles southwest of downtown Rapid City, Canyon Lake is a historic reservoir of Rapid Creek. Despite facing significant damage during the 1972 Black Hills Flood, this former site of orchards and vacation cottages has evolved into a favorite 29-acre park. Offering picnic areas and outdoor recreation opportunities, it’s a popular location for trout fishing.
Center Lake, a hidden gem in Custer State Park, is a retreat for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Positioned between Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road, it hosts a seasonal swimming beach, boating, fishing, a picnic area, a playground, and a campground that is especially tent-friendly. While the lake bustles with activity in the summer, its remote location makes winter access more challenging.
Sheridan Lake, 20 miles southwest of Rapid City, is a 375-acre impoundment of Spring Creek nestled within the Black Hills National Forest. The lake, into which Horse Creek flows, has a picnic area and a substantial boat launch, while the south side hosts the largest campground in the national forest, equipped with a second boat ramp. Known for year-round fishing, it offers an array of species including white crappie, yellow perch, northern perch, brown and rainbow trout, and largemouth bass.
About 35 miles from Rapid City, Bismark Lake lies encircled by aspen groves and Ponderosa pine in the Black Hills National Forest. This reservoir provides an idyllic setting for fishing, boasting populations of rainbow and brown trout, sunfish, smallmouth bass, northern pike, and catfish. Non-motorized boating is allowed, and the neighboring Bismark Lake Campground, located near the earthen dam, offers unparalleled lakefront views.
An hour’s drive south of Rapid City lies Angostura Reservoir, an expansive water body created in 1949 on the Cheyenne River. With a surface area of over 4,400 acres, this reservoir is a hub for outdoor enthusiasts, offering boating, summertime swimming, camping, and fishing, with abundant walleye, northern pike, smallmouth bass, and sunfish. You can also enjoy water skiing, wakeboarding, and tubing on the water.
Horse Thief Lake
Located close to Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Horse Thief Lake is a hidden gem offering a range of activities. A go-to ice fishing destination, the lake has recently been dredged to enhance water quality and depth. The lake, covering 16 acres of water and surrounded by verdant evergreens and unique rock formations, also features camping areas along the western shore, offering visitors stunning lakefront views and a calming break from bustling city life.
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