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South Dakota's Lakes & Rivers

It’s virtually impossible to visit South Dakota and not be awestruck by the majesty of its water reservoirs. The state is marked by an expansive network of scenic lakes and rivers. In addition to adding an undeniable aesthetic appeal, they serve as primary contributors to the region’s farming, energy, and recreational industries.

South Dakota Rivers

Big SiouxRugged and majestic, the rivers of South Dakota evoke the long-ago waterways traveled by the region’s earliest settlers and explorers. It’s impossible to visit the shores of any of the state’s rivers and not imagine the challenging currents and rocky routes faced by those first pioneers. Sometimes raging, at other times placid, but always lovely to behold, each serves as a stately reminder of the state’s rich heritage and history.

The primary body of water in South Dakota is indisputably the Missouri River, which crosses the state in a sweeping southeastward arc. To help prevent flooding and to harvest water for irrigation and electricity, several substantial dams—including Fort Randall, Gavins Point, Oahe, and Big Bend—have been constructed throughout the South Dakotan portion of the river.

In addition to the Missouri, there are several prominent rivers that meander throughout the state:

  • The breathtaking Cheyenne River, located in the western portion of the state, comprises 300 miles of scenic nature, making it one of South Dakota’s most revered bodies of water.
  • Feeding into the Missouri River from the west, Grand River boasts a rich pioneering history.
  • Named for the prominent city of Sioux Falls, the Big Sioux River meanders through the eastern portion of South Dakota.
  • The fierce ruggedness of the James River, located in the eastern portion of South Dakota, makes it a hearty challenge for enterprising boaters and water explorers.

South Dakota Lakes

The lakes of South Dakota are renowned for their beauty, their contributions to local industry, and their fostering of water-based recreation. Residents and tourists alike enjoy bountiful fishing, camping, swimming, jetskiing, and boating in and along the state’s network of lakes.

  • Lake Thompson is the most substantial natural lake in the state, located in east-central South Dakota.
  • Another large South Dakotan lake, Traverse Lake is located in the northeastern portion of the state.
  • Also in northeastern South Dakota, Big Stone Lake is home to two state parks.
  • Lake Thompson boasts more than 100 shore side campsites.
  • A fisherman’s delight, Waubay Lake is stocked with plentiful walleye.
  • The substantially sized Lake Francis is a popular destination for water lovers.

There are an abundance of smaller lakes and bodies of water throughout the state, most notably the ones created by the man-made dams of the Missouri River.


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