Set in the heart of America’s breadbasket, Oakwood Lakes State Park offers visitors a natural oasis of sparkling lakes and rich woodlands. Eight lakes, the remnants of glacial retreat thousands of years ago, intermingle with oaky forests and grasslands. Campers can take advantage of a wide range of activities offered at the park. Water activities - paddling, fishing and swimming - are perhaps the most popular, and with good reason; there are many acres of water and miles of scenic shoreline to explore. There’s also a modest trail network, which allows hikers, bikers and trail riders to stretch their legs (or their horses’ legs) and take in some of the terrestrial beauty the park has to offer.
The park also boasts a lovely disc golf course, a visitor center with excellent archaeological and historical exhibits, an amphitheater where interpretive events are hosted and an original settler cabin, built in the 1860s. Even when the winds of winter are sweeping over the plains, there’s still plenty to do. Ice-fishing and cross-country skiing are popular past-times at Oakwood Lakes.
Oakwood Lake’s campground has 130 RV camping sites, plus a handful of equestrian camping sites. South Dakota’s Game, Fish & Parks Department lists Oakwood Lakes as one of its high-use parks, having 90%+ occupancy rates during peak season - so be sure to reserve a spot in advance!
Oakwood Lakes is located in the far eastern portion of South Dakota, fairly near the border with Minnesota. The main road running into and through the park is 202nd street. 202nd can be accessed from several directions, though most visitors will probably approach from I-29 or US-14, which run to the east and the south of the park, respectively. The routes into and within the park are flat, paved and lacking in any sharp turns, so driving should be a snap, even for larger rigs.
If you need basic supplies, you can head to the nearby town of Bruce, just a few miles east of the park. Brookings, a much larger, full-service town and home to South Dakota State University, is just a 25-minute drive away.
The campground’s large loops and spacious sites make maneuvering fairly straightforward. The vast majority of sites are back-in, but as long as you’ve checked on your site's length when making your reservation, you should not run into any parking problems or surprises. Just about everything at the park is within reasonable walking distance from the campground, but, if you’d like to drive, there’s additional parking available at the day use area, swim beach and Tetonkaha trailhead.
The campground at Oakwood Lakes features bucolic, tree-lined sites with easy access to the water, trails and more. In total, the park sports 130 RV-friendly sites and six equestrian sites. The campground is broken up into three sections: Campground #1, Campground #2 and the Horse Camp, all of which are within walking distance of each other. Campgrounds 1 and 2 are the RV portions and are near mirror images of each other; both have sites offering 50-amp electric hookups but no water or sewage hookups (a dump station is available at the park, though). Both campgrounds also have water spigots interspersed throughout, as well as modern restrooms with showers and small playgrounds. The park’s rental cabins, shop and amphitheater are located on the northern edge of Campground #2.
The Horse Camp, with just six equestrian sites, is much smaller, and the sites here are fully primitive, with no electric. The camp’s sites offer easy access to the park’s horse-friendly trails.
Though a few sites can accommodate very large rigs, visitors should note that most sites have a length of 55 ft. or less (and none of the Horse Camp’s sites are longer than 50 ft.) All sites are reservable, and reservations are accepted up to 90 days in advance.
Perhaps the best way to enjoy Oakwood’s glacial lakes is to head out onto them. Summer brings striking blue skies and a riot of avian activity, as birds patrol the shores and dive for fish. Paddlers can watch turtles bask on logs or follow dragonflies as they weave through tall shoreline vegetation. A boat launch located just between the two camping loops offers access to Johnson and Tetonkaha lake, and a concessionaire at the park rents out kayaks and canoes.
June, July and August can see high temps reaching the 80s and beyond at Oakwood, which drives many visitors towards the cool waters of the park’s lakes. The day use area at Oakwoods northwest corner features a lovely swim beach on the shores of Johnson Lake. Swimmers can watch passing canoes and kayaks or just watch the clouds lazily float across a summer sky. After a refreshing swim, you can head to the nearby picnic shelters to enjoy lunch or dinner with a great view.
The fishing at Oakwood Lakes drew native Americans for centuries, and it continues to draw anglers today. With so many lakes and sloughs, there’s plenty enough water for everyone to find a quiet spot to themselves. A fishing pier is located on Lake Tetonkaha, and miles of shoreline can be accessed via hiking trails. Casting your line from a canoe or kayak is also a great option. Northern pike, yellow perch, bullhead and walleye are among the fish species that anglers can pull from the park’s waters.
When the Great Plains winter arrives, it brings ample snow; Oakwood Lakes averages about three feet of snowfall over the winter months. Fluffy powder transforms hiking trails into excellent cross-country skiing routes. Visitors can sail along the banks of frozen lakes, over gently rolling prairies and through leafless woodlands. The Tetonhanka trail takes skiers out onto Scout’s Island, which during winter becomes a frozen wonderland - filled with snow-clad trees and offering views of two icy, sparkling lakes.
On a spit of forested land jutting into Mortimer Slough, visitors can find the Oakleaf Challenge, a lovely nine-hold disc golf course. Woodland and shrubs line the grassy fairways, and players at Oakleaf have great views of the waters just beyond the edge of the course. Several picnic shelters can be found along the way, offering peaceful spots for a scenic lunch break. And since the park is open year-round, so is the Challenge - spring fall both bring mild weather and a respite from summer bugs.
Visitors to Oakwood Lakes may notice several features named for Samuel Mortimer, a settler who came to farm on the area’s rich soil in the 1860s. His cabin, now 150 years old, still stands within the park. Oakwood’s fascinating history extends far beyond the last century and a half, however; the fish-rich series of glacial lakes made the area a popular summering spot for nomadic tribes of Plains Native Americans. Exhibits at the park’s lovely visitor center show and contextualize some of the many archaeological relics found in and around the park.