North Wheeler Recreation Area
Guide

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Introduction

Located on the shores of Lake Francis Case, one of the country’s largest reservoirs, North Wheeler State Recreation Area in South Dakota is an angler’s paradise. The 102,000-acre lake is populated by a wide range of fish species, including smallmouth bass, carp, sunfish, catfish, and walleye. There’s a boat launch right next to the campground that makes it easy to get out onto the water, and a fish cleaning table so that you can prep dinner.

Lake Francis Case is also an excellent location for boating. With 540 miles of shoreline, you’ll never run out of water to cover as you canoe or kayak. You can also water ski and jet ski on the spacious lake. As you explore the lake, you’ll be able to spot dozens of bird species as they move through the park, including bald eagles in the winter, when they come to the park with their chicks.

The campground is open to tents, RVs, and trailers. It's located right on the shores of the lake, giving you waterfront views at every site. All of the sites in the campground have electrical hookups as well, so you can camp with modern comforts. Dogs are also welcome, as long as they stay on a leash.

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Transportation in North Wheeler Recreation Area

Driving

Northern Wheeler State Recreation Area is located in southeastern South Dakota, just a short drive from Sioux Falls, Pierre, and Omaha. The park is small and easy to navigate, so you should have no issues getting your RV to the campground. As the park is close to the water, there is occasional flooding on the roads.

If you are driving from Sioux Falls, take SD-44 west from the city and you’ll get to the park in a little under three hours. From Pierre, take I-90 east and you’ll arrive in around two and a half hours. Coming from Omaha, take I-29 north to SD-50 and you’ll reach the park in a little over four and a half hours.

There is only one road in the park, and it’ll take you straight to the campground. There are few hazards that RV campers need worry about, although there may be flooding after storms.

Parking

Public Transport

Campgrounds and parking in North Wheeler Recreation Area

Campsites in North Wheeler Recreation Area

Reservations camping

First-come first-served

North Wheeler State Recreation Area Campground

Although the park is small, you’ll find 25 sites in the campground, all of which have electrical hookups. The sites are located along the shore of Lake Francis Case, giving you great views of the water. There are vault toilets in the campground, as well as multiple access points for drinking water. Pets are allowed, although all dogs must be kept on a leash.

The campground is within walking distance of the boat launch, and is a short drive from the park’s picnic areas across the lake. There is also a fish cleaning table on the edge of the campground.

All of the sites are first-come, first-served throughout the year. Although the campground stays open during the winter, the water may be shut off to keep the pipes from freezing. The park is popular in the summer, and the campground often fills up completely. You can call the park in advance to see if any spots are open. You should also try to get to the park as early in the day is possible to get a spot.

Alternate camping

Seasonal activities in North Wheeler Recreation Area

In-Season

Water Skiing

The lake is also great for activities such as water and jet skiing. Lake Francis Case has an area of over 102,000 acres, making it one of the largest reservoirs in the country. That means you’ll have plenty of room for high speed jet skiing.

The boat launch is wide enough that you should be able to easily get medium-sized vessels out onto the lake. The park does not rent boats, so you’ll have to bring your own.

Boating

Lake Francis Case is also a great area for boating. The large reservoir gives you miles of water to explore by canoe or kayak. In total, the lake has over 100,000 acres of water, with 540 miles of shoreline taking you along the Missouri River. The lake is home to a wide range of waterfowl species, and you can also spot bald eagles during the winter.

The boat launch is right next to the campground, so it’s easy to get out onto the water. The park does not rent any boats or gear, so make sure you bring everything you’ll need along with your rig.

Swimming

The cool waters of Lake Francis Case make for perfect summertime swimming. The RV campground is just steps away from the water, and there are multiple areas throughout the park where you can jump in the water.

There is no swimming beach in the park. However, the grassy lawns leading up to the water are perfect for picnics and for relaxing in the sun. There are also two picnic areas where you can sit and enjoy lunch.

Off-Season

Birdwatching

The park is an excellent destination for any RV camper interested in birdwatching. Lake Francis Case is home to a wide variety of bird species, including rare varieties like Clark’s grebe and eared grebe.

The park is home to wintering bald eagles, and they are commonly spotted flying over Lake Francis Case. South Dakota has a number of excellent audubon societies that produce field guides and bird checklists. Head to their websites and you can find more educational information on the birds in the area.

Wildlife Viewing

Don't forget to bring your binoculars in your camper or trailer. The long shaded shorelines around the lake also make for excellent wildlife viewing. You’ll find a variety of animal species in the fields and hills surrounding the park, including red foxes, deer, coyotes, and bobcats.

The open grasslands make for excellent landscape portraits as well. If you visit during the spring, you can see the park’s wildflowers bloom, a truly special sight.

Fishing

The park is a popular local destination for fishing, and for good reason. You’ll find some of the best fishing in the region, with species such as walleye, carp, sauger, sunfish, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, and black bullhead.

Fishing tends to pick up starting in mid spring and is excellent throughout summer and early fall. You can fish from the shore, or use the boat ramp located just south of the campground. There is also a fish cleaning table located next to the boat launch. Make sure you pack your fishing gear in your campervan.

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