When the dog days of summer hit and the July heat feels heavy, it’s time to pack up and head to one of northeast South Dakota’s plentiful lakes. For many Aberdonians, sweltering summer days and lake time go hand-in-hand. With more than 120 glacial lakes dotting the area, you don’t have to drive far to find a refreshing place to boat, fish, or swim.
With so many options, where should you head this summer? Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly swim beach, a perfectly shaded lakeside camping site, or calm fishing spot, we’ve got you covered with a guide to a few favorites.
Best Lakeside Campgrounds
If you’re looking to get away for the weekend, there’s no shortage of lakeside camping options within a few hours’ drive from Aberdeen. For William Collingnon, regional park supervisor for SD Game, Fish and Parks, it’s hard to choose a favorite – but he has some recommendations for spots with a family feel to them, including Pickerel Lake Recreation Area, Pelican Lake Recreation Area, and Oakwood Lakes State Park.
“They just have that busy buzz of young families, great trails, access to lakes, playgrounds and other recreation activities,” Collingnon said. “These parks also have a pretty well-developed educational programming schedule set up to get users involved in the outdoors.”
Other standout options:
● Roy Lake State Park
Roy Lake State Park has two large campgrounds to choose from, each with its own charm. The west campground is the bigger of the two, with kid-friendly amenities including a large sandy swim beach, multiple playground areas and a 9-hole disc golf course. Venture across the floating bridge to Roy Island, a prime spot for catching northern pike, and keep a lookout for painted turtles and beavers as you walk the ⅓-mile trail around the island.
The campground offers sites to accommodate nearly any kind of camper, whether you’re bringing a tent or setting up an RV. You can also rent one of the modern cabins on site.
● Lake Poinsett Recreation Area
Like Roy Lake, Lake Poinsett has two state-maintained campgrounds. The west campground is the largest, with a number of waterfront electric sites available, perfect for families wanting easy beach access.
Stretch your legs on a number of groomed hiking trails, including the 1/2-mile Woodland Trail and 2.4-mile Vista Trail. If rain forces the family indoors, stop over at the Lake Poinsett Visitor Center and Museum for a historical look at the area’s development over time.
● Hartford Beach State Park
On the shores of Big Stone Lake, Hartford Beach State Park has two campgrounds, which are heavily shaded in a native wooded forest along the lakeshore. While the sandy swimming beach is a hike or short drive away from the campground, an abundance of hiking trails and a disc golf course keep families entertained. A variety of equipment is available to borrow, including discs, fishing poles, horseshoes, lawn games and volleyballs.
Best Lake Lodges/Waterfront Dining
After a day on the water, nothing beats good food and cold beverages. These lakeside restaurants serve up all that and more, with an atmosphere that keeps lake lovers coming back time and again.
● Wakeside Bar & Grill, Mina Lake
Wakeside has been growing a steady reputation since it opened a decade ago, offering delicious food, cold drinks, and a fun atmosphere on Mina Lake. Their menu ranges from crowd pleasing appetizers to pizza and burgers, and larger plate options like pan-seared walleye or grilled shrimp. If you’re getting an early start on the water, don’t miss their breakfast menu, where the Mina Hash is a classic.
Wakeside also hosts a summer concert series, with live music that draws a large crowd.
● Boathouse Bar & Grill, Lake Poinsett
The Boathouse is a quintessential summer lake stop, with family-friendly food (the kids’ menu items all come with warm chocolate chip cookies for dessert), a great drink selection, and a wide sandy beach. Grab a Boathouse Bloody Mary or Grown-Up Root Beer Float and play a game of sand volleyball or cornhole while waiting for your meal.
● Pickerel Lake Lodge
This lodge’s claim to fame is Pickerel Lake Tea, a green cocktail so popular that you can buy it by the jug. One Yelp review goes so far as to say the iconic drink “tastes like an angel landed on your tongue.” The restaurant comes alive on the weekends, with live music events and plenty of classic Midwestern fare on the menu like breaded pickle chips and chislic.
Best Swim Beaches
When the heat gets to be too much, it’s time to blow up the floaties and pack the towels for a lakeside beach day.
“Almost every one of our State Parks and Recreation Areas have designated swimming beaches with sand and buoyed spaces free from boat traffic for children to play in the water,” said Collingnon. “Everyone will have their personal favorites, but parks with great beaches and good water are Sandy Shore Recreation Area in Watertown and Mina Lake Recreation Area near Aberdeen.”
Other recommended spots for a beautiful beach day:
● Lake Cochrane Recreation Area
Head to this clear, spring-fed lake for a day of swimming and sandcastle building. Lake Cochrane has an even, sandy bottom with no major drop-offs, making it ideal for kids. This lesser-known gem also has smaller crowds than some of the other area lakes, giving your crew more space to play.
● Wylie Lake
Don’t overlook the closest option, right within Aberdeen city limits. Wylie Lake has a large sandy beach and shallow entry, with close parking that doesn’t require a long walk to get to the sand. If your crew gets tired of swimming, rent a fun cycle or surrey from Roll-Out Bike Rentals and cruise around the lake on the bike path, or try a round of mini-golf at Thunder Road.
Best Lakes for Motorized Water Sports
Spend a day on the pontoon, cruising the lake or pulling riders on a tube. There are many larger lakes nearby with fewer obstructions that allow boaters to spread out and have some space for water sports.
● Richmond Lake
Weekend afternoons can get crowded at Richmond Lake, as the closest option to Aberdeen for boating. But if you can head out early or on a weekday, you’ll find plenty of room to ski, tube, or wakeboard on the winding 1,000-acre lake.
● Lake Kampeska
For a little more space, head south to Lake Kampeska. At more than 5,000 acres, the wide lake is one of the largest residentially developed lakes in the state. Put in at any of the lake’s six boat ramps and spend the day pulling riders.
Best Lakes for Non-Motorized Water Sports
Whether you’re looking to kayak, canoe, or paddle board, a short drive can get you to plenty of smaller bodies of water with great bays and portaging options:
● Lake Louise
Lake Louise is perfect for a canoe or kayak adventure, with clear waters, multiple sandy beaches for launching, and an average water depth of less than 10 feet. Canoe and kayak rentals are available.
● Roy Lake
Roy Lake, Bullhead Lake, and Four Mile Lake make up a complex of waterways, with a five-mile canoe trail that makes for a full-day adventure. This scenic area is generally quieter with less motorized traffic, making it ideal for a canoe or kayak adventure. The route crosses between several wooded islands, where you can spot loons and osprey. Canoe, kayak, and paddleboard rentals are available.
Best Fishing Spots for Casual Anglers
With an abundance of glacial lakes in the area, many of them undeveloped, northeast South Dakota is an angler’s dream.
“When you think of the area, it’s hard not to think of fishing,” Collingon said. “We manage 180 designated boat ramps and fishing access sites, and on any given day a hot bite could blow up on any one or dozen of them. My recommendation is to find a piece of open public shoreline, throw out a line with a hook and worm hanging from a bobber and let the fish come to you.”
Whether you’re shore fishing or heading out in a boat, nearly any body of water is a good place to start.
● Bitter Lake
Bitter Lake is one of the area’s best walleye and yellow perch lakes. Multiple boat ramps with access for fishermen to get their boat on the water. Before the 1990s, the area was a small slough, but frequent flooding has increased the water depth and overall area of the lake over time, creating a diverse habitat for fishing. Stop into the Bitter Lake Lodge to stock up on provisions before putting in at either of the lake’s two public boat ramps. Shore fishing is not recommended at Bitter Lake.
● Big Stone Lake
It’s not uncommon to catch a 20-inch or larger walleye on Big Stone Lake. Named for the large boulders and rocks that line the lake bottom, Big Stone covers more than 12,000 acres. With more than 60 miles of shoreline, there are plenty of places to shore fish or head out in a boat. In addition to walleye, you’ll find plenty of bass, pike, and perch.
Pro tip: For up-to-date reports on where the fish are biting, check out sdglaciallakes.com before you head out. //