The 8 Best South Dakota Lakes for Swimming

Brent Coulter/

Written by Patrick Sather

Updated: June 5, 2023

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South Dakota is known for its national monuments, rich Native American culture, and agricultural production. The state boasts incredible natural beauty, from the Black Hills to the Dissected Till Plains. It also features its fair share of lakes, most of which are situated in the eastern half of the state. During the heat of summer, many of these lakes turn into popular swimming holes for residents and tourists alike. Here’s a list of eight of the best South Dakota lakes for swimming. 

1. Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake resides in the Black Hills just 5 miles southwest of Mount Rushmore. Created in 1891 due to the building of the Sylvan Lake Water Dam on Sunday Gulch Creek, the lake now serves as the crown jewel of Custer State Lake Park. 

Sylvan Lake’s proximity to so many activities makes it a popular tourist destination. Visitors to the lake come to hike, fish, and boat or to make excursions to local sites such as Mount Rushmore, the Needles, or Black Elk Peak. 

The 17.3-acre lake features a sandy beach where visitors can go swimming. The cool, clear water feels great in the summer, and it is definitely one of the best South Dakota lakes for swimming. There are also plenty of rocks around the lake that you can jump off of and amenities such as picnic benches and a general store where you can rent boating equipment or buy snacks and drinks. 

Beautiful Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park, South Dakota.

2. Angostura Reservoir

Angostura Reservoir ranks as one of the few major reservoirs in the southwestern part of South Dakota. This 4,407-acre reservoir boasts 36 miles of shoreline. It dates back to 1949 when the Bureau of Reclamation constructed the Angostura Dam across the Cheyenne River. 

On average, Angostura Reservoir measures around 29 feet deep and has a maximum depth of 75 feet. The lake attracts anglers thanks to its thriving gamefish population, which includes bass, walleye, crappie, and pike

Many people flock to the reservoir every year to soak up the sun on one of Angostura Reservoir’s several sandy beaches. The reservoir features some of the best beaches in the state, such as Breakers Beach, as well as cool, clear water. That said, even in summer, the water measures around 66 degrees Fahrenheit, making it a fairly cold swim. 

3. Pactola Lake

At 800 acres and up to 150 feet deep, Pactola Lake ranks as the largest reservoir in the Black Hills. The lake lies approximately 15 miles west of Rapid City and dates back to 1952. The Bureau of Reclamation built the lake to provide water to Rapid City and nearby communities. 

Pactola Lake is popular amongst anglers and scuba divers, who come to catch trout, perch, and bass or explore the submerged ruins of the town of Pactola, respectively. The Pactola Point Swim Beach on the reservoir’s southern shore also attracts visitors who come to the lake to swim or relax on the sandy beach.  

The beach can get fairly crowded on weekends, so plan accordingly. Nearby amenities include the Marina Store and Pactola Point Picnic Area. 

Pactola Lake

15 miles west of Rapid City is where you’ll find Pactola Reservoir.

4. Lewis and Clark Lake

Named for the famed explorers, Lewis and Clark Lake straddle the border of Nebraska and South Dakota. At 31,400 acres, this man-made reservoir ranks as the 4th largest lake in the entire state. The lake lies on the Missouri River and is impounded by Gavins Point Dam.

Over 1 million people visit Lewis and Clark Lake every year. Popular activities at the lake include camping, hiking, hunting, fishing, sightseeing, and swimming. There are numerous recreation areas around the lake, including the Lewis and Clark Recreation Area.  

The swimming beach at Lewis and Clark Recreation Area is well worth a visit during the summer. Just off the beach, you can find numerous amenities, including restrooms, showers, volleyball courts, a disc golf course, and an archery range. 

Lewis and Clark Lake Sunrise / Sunset in South Dakota. Te water looks dark and the sky is orange.

Named for the famed explorers, Lewis and Clark Lake straddle the border of Nebraska and South Dakota.

5. Lake Vermillion

Lake Vermillion is a man-made lake situated in McCook County, around 6 miles east of the city of Canistota. This 512-acre lake lies along the East Fork of the Vermillion River in the southeastern part of the state.

Many visitors come to the lake to boat and fish. The lake is well stocked with fish, including walleye, crappie, and bluegill

In addition to fishing and boating, the lake also functions as a popular swimming hole. There is a designated swimming area just across from the west campground of the Lake Vermillion Recreation Area. Moreover, the swimming area is ADA-accessible. 

Lake Vermillion lies along the East Fork of the Vermillion River in the southeastern part of the state.

6. Ravine Lake

Situated in downtown Huron, Ravine Lake lies within the 32-acre Ravine Lake Park. While small, this little lake is a hidden gem, as it features clear waters and picturesque views of the town and surrounding landscape.  

The Lake features a designated swim area complete with a sand beach. Along with swimming, the beach also offers visitors the chance to engage in watersports, including kayaking, paddle boating, and tubing. There is also an ice cream shop right off the beach that sells sweet treats to help visitors stay cool in and out of the water.

7. Mina Lake

Mina Lake shares its name with the small, unincorporated community of Mina, which rests on its shores. The lake and city are situated in the northeastern corner of South Dakota. The lake dates back to the 1930s and ranks as one of the oldest man-made lakes in the state. 

Trees line the shores of Mina Lake, which measures less than one square mile. The Mina Recreation Area rests on the northern shore of the U-shaped lake. In fact, the lake’s original name, Shake Maza, comes from the Lakota language and means “shaped like a horseshoe.” 

Visitors come to the lake to partake in various recreation activities, including fishing, boating, and swimming. The lake also boasts a large campground, a hiking trail, and several areas where you can picnic with your family or friends. 

8. Stockade Lake

Stockade Lake ranks as the largest of the five lakes in Custer State Park. Despite its size, many visitors state that it draws fewer crowds than nearby Sylvan Lake. 

Unlike most of the lakes in Custer State Park, Stockade Lake accommodates nearly any kind of boat. This makes the lack particularly attractive for boaters and sailors as well as anglers and water sports. The lake also boasts the most amenities for campers between its three campgrounds. 

While not as scenic as some other lakes in Custer State Park, the lake is still a great place to take a dip to escape the summer heat. There are several swimming areas along its shore, and the lake’s quiet and serene atmosphere makes it a pleasure for anyone wishing to take a relaxing swim.  

Beautiful view of Stockade Lake at Custer State Park in South Dakota.

Summary of The 8 Best South Dakota Lakes for Swimming

1Sylvan LakeIn the Black Hills just 5 miles southwest of Mount Rushmore
2Angostura ReservoirFall River County near Hot Springs
3Pactola Lake15 miles west of Rapid City
4Lewis and Clark LakeBon Homme and Yankton Counties
5Lake Vermillion6 miles east of the city of Canistota
6Ravine LakeWithin Ravine Lake Park near Huron
7Mina LakeThe unincorporated community of Mina in the northeastern corner of the state
8Stockade LakeCuster State Park

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