Lake Thompson Recreation Area is a fascinating place with more than 44 miles of shoreline offering plenty of outdoor activities and 97 campsites boasting electrical hookups for your rig. Located eight miles southeast of De Smet, South Dakota, Lake Thompson Recreation Area was created in 1998 with the additional purchase of 2,100 acres of land surrounding Lake Thompson. The glacially-created lake varies in size from year to year based on precipitation and at one point in the 1930s was known as Dry Woods Lake. After heavy rainfall and snowmelt, the lake bed was naturally filled with water throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Today, Lake Thompson is the second largest natural lake in South Dakota with more than 15,000 acres of surface water and 44 miles of shoreline. The lake was designated a U.S. National Natural Landmark in 1975.
Lake Thompson Recreation Area was originally home to numerous Plains Indian Tribes including the Yankton Sioux Tribe. The tribe encountered European fur trappers in the late 1790s and had contact with Lewis and Clarke’s Discovery Expedition. In the 1830s the Fremont Expedition passed through the area which would become heavily dominated by the cattle industry by the 1880s. The most notable person to live in the area is Laura Ingalls Wilder, who is famous for writing Little House on the Prairie.
Today, Lake Thompson Recreation Area is an ideal spot to camp and play outdoors. There are numerous activities throughout the year that includes excellent fishing and hunting, water sports galore, and areas for snowmobiling. Plus, you will have excellent opportunities for bird watching. The campground contains 97 campsites with electric hookups for RVs in a wooded area next to the shoreline of Lake Thompson.
The weather at Lake Thompson Recreation Area is perfect for camping in your rig with summertime temperatures in the mid-80s accompanied by up to three inches of rain per month. Winter time brings up to seven inches of snow per month with temperatures in the 20s.
RVs can access Lake Thompson Recreation Area at the intersection of Flood Club Road and 438th Avenue. Traveling from De Smet, you will navigate east along U.S. Highway 14 which has an undulating prairie landscape with bluffs and buttes along with high winds at times which may prohibit your speed. While you are driving you will encounter a couple of curves that should not pose any problems for people in big rigs.
Once inside the recreation area you will encounter one road that connects the campground and the day use area. You can expect congestion in several areas within the recreation area including at the junction of the campground loops and the day use areas, which includes several parking areas and a boat ramp in the southeast portion of the recreation area. While driving in the recreation area you will encounter pedestrians, bicyclists, and children playing near the campsites. Please adhere to all posted speed limits when driving in the recreation area.
The Lake Thompson Recreation Area Campground is situated along four loops that are connected by one road and contains 97 back-in campsites with electrical hookups for RVs and trailers. The campground is located adjacent to the shoreline and is a short walk to Lake Thompson. Campsites do not offer much shade or privacy between campers. Each campsite is furnished with a fire ring, picnic table, and gravel parking pad which may require leveling. RVs and rigs are limited in size to 65 feet and not all campsites can accommodate larger rigs. There is a dump station near the entrance to the recreation area and you are encouraged to fill you water tank while dumping your holding tank. Other facilities available within the campground include a children’s playground, vault and flush toilets, showers, a fish cleaning station, horseshoe pits, amphitheater, recreation courts, and water spigots. Generators may be used from 8:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. Pets must be retrained by a ten-foot leash at all times. Although the campground is open all year round, there is no water service from October to April each year.
Everyone should have some binoculars in their rig for when they want to watch the wildlife in its natural habitat. Lake Thompson Recreation Area is ideal for birding with hundreds of species of birds visiting the lake on a year round basis. Unique birds you can expect to spot include sanderling, Wilson’s phalarope, snow geese, marbled and Hudsonian godwits, ruddy turnstone, and numerous species of ducks like mallards. In the fall you may even get a glimpse of a rare white-winged scoter or a piping plover too.
Hunters will enjoy the some of the best opportunities for ducks, geese, mourning doves, wild turkeys, and pheasant. Once the prairie grasslands start turn bright orange in color hunters are excited to go on the hunt. Many hunters use the year round campground for their base camp as they explore the adjacent 1,000 acres of vast prairie landscape for migrating water fowl and birds living within one of the many corn fields. Other animal species to hunt for include mule and white-tailed deer. Check the South Dakota hunting regulations for hunting seasons, bag, and size limits. Never hunt on private land without first gaining access from a property owner.
Pack your warm clothes in your camper and enjoy some of the best winter sports around. Snowmobilers make the campground their basecamp while exploring the 159-mile Four Lakes Trail and the 341-mile Coteau des Prairie Trail System. Sledding is also popular during the winter months with plenty of undulating prairie terrain to slide down. Snowshoeing is a fun way to stretch your legs in the winter time and the ice fishing is excellent on Lake Thompson once the ice is thick enough for safety. Always check the depth of ice before attempting to walk on a frozen body of water.
The most popular thing to do in Lake Thompson Recreation Area is indulging in numerous water sport opportunities. There is a superb protected swimming beach that is a short walk from the campground where you can enjoy a hot summer day. You can launch your water craft at the boat ramp located in the southern portion of the recreation area. Once on the water campers can revel in water skiing on the 16,000-acre lake or pulling an inner tube for fun. Other water sport options include kayaking, canoeing, and jet skiing.
Take your hiking boots or your bike along in your camping trailer to explore Lake Thompson Recreation Area. There is a multi-use trail that goes through the campground and along the shoreline of the lake. Hikers will find other small trails to follow along the shoreline where you can stop for an idyllic picnic while watching the shimmering water. Bikers will also find plenty of paved roads within the recreation area that are ideal for getting some exercise while peddling your bike. Always beware of traffic while sharing any road with vehicles within the recreation area.
Fishing at Lake Thompson Recreation Area is a great idea for campers looking to catch multiple species of fish. The lake has more than 44 miles of shoreline for you to find your perfect place to dip your line. Many people take advantage of the boat ramp and use trolling gear at the 16,000-acre lake for northern pike and walleye. Other species you can expect to catch include black bullhead, sunfish, yellow perch, and silver bass. Always check the South Dakota fishing regulations for bag and size limits before throwing your line in the water.