Eastern Region State Parks

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Glacial sculpting, breathtaking geological formations, a rich history, beautiful lakes, and the flowing Missouri River characterize the Eastern Region of South Dakota. With the beautiful scenery, rich history, and bevy of outdoor activities the Eastern Region and its state parks has become a favorite spot for vacationers.

State Parks in the Area


The Lewis and Clark Recreation Area, near Yankton, South Dakota, is visited by nearly 1 million visitors each year.  Lewis and Clark Lake is a reservoir of the Missouri River, formed by the Gavins Point Dam.  Sailing, swimming, and fishing are all popular activities, as well as hiking and mountain biking.

Another popular park in the Eastern Region is Newton Hills State Park, part of the Coteau des Prairies, formed by glacial movement during the last Ice Age.  Lewis and Clark visited the area in the 1800s, and called it “High land covered with wood, called mountain of the prairie.”  Before Lewis and Clark, Woodland Indians inhabited the area, as evidenced by burial mounds and artifacts.

More than 200 species of bird have been identified at Newton Hills State Park, and hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails are also popular.  During designated seasons, deer and turkey archery hunting are allowed, and anglers will appreciate the fishing in the Big Sioux River.

Lake Thompson is South Dakota’s largest natural lake, located near De Smet, South Dakota, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder homestead.  Lake Thompson, known as Twin Lakes by Wilder, was mentioned in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books “By the Shores of the Silver Lake” and “The Long Winter.”  In addition to being the backdrop for the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, Lake Thompson has a unique history and story.

The lake has gone through cyclical filling and drying for eighty years.  In the 1930s the lake was completely dry and used as pasture land, and in the early 1980s, the area was a 9,000 acre marsh. In the mid to late 1980s, heavy rain and melting snow filled the lake to over twenty feet in depth and 18,000 acres in area.

Due to its shallow depth, Lake Thompson today is an excellent lake for fishing. The emerging weeds and tree-lined shore, combined with the richness of spawning carp, make Lake Thompson a haven for walleye, perch, and northern pike. In the shallow water of Lake Thompson, sport fish put up a lateral fight rather than diving deep, which enhances the excitement of the catch.

Lake Thompson is also a major waterway for migratory birds, and is one of the best waterfowl huntingsites in the United States. Canadian geese, snow geese, and northern duck can be found at Lake Thompson.

If you’re looking for a more adventurous sense of history, you’ll want to check out Palisades State Park, the site where Jesse James leaped over Devil’s Gulch.  Palisades State Park is also one of the few places in the nation that contains catlinite, also called pipestone, a mineral used by Native Americans to create peace pipes.  The park contains several pipestone quarries.

Hiking and canoeing are popular activities in the Palisades State Park, as well as rock climbing on the rock outcroppings.

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