Pelican Lake Recreation Area
Guide

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Introduction

Pelican Lake State Recreation Area is one of the best aquatic retreats for RV campers in eastern South Dakota. The lake is home to a number of different fish species, including bluegill, channel catfish, and walleye, making it an excellent destination for anglers. Motorized boats are also allowed, so you can water ski and jet ski, in addition to excellent kayaking and canoeing.

Out of the water, you’ll find an extensive network of hiking trails that cut through the prairieland surrounding the lake. There is also an observation tower that overlooks the lake and gives you beautiful panoramas of the surrounding area. The park is known for its waterfowl, with large numbers of geese and ducks resting in the lake as they make their way south in the fall. Visiting during the winter, you’ll find a well-maintained cross-country skiing course, as well as trails that are open for snowshoeing.

The large campground within the park has 76 electrical sites to choose from for your RV, as well as separate sites for horse camping. Most of the campervan sites are right on the water, giving you beautiful views of Pelican Lake.

RV Rentals in Pelican Lake Recreation Area

Transportation in Pelican Lake Recreation Area

Driving

Located near South Dakota’s eastern border with Minnesota, Pelican Lake State Park can be reached from cities such as Omaha and Minneapolis. The park has few roads, and it’s easy to get to the campground straight from the main entrance.

If you are coming from Minneapolis, take MN-7 and US-212 and you will get to the park in just under four hours. From Omaha, take I-29 north from the city and you’ll arrive in just over four and a half hours.

The park has one main road that takes you directly to the campsites, so you should have few problems with large RVs. However, the park’s roads will often get snow and ice during the winter months. If you are visiting during a cold period or after a winter storm, you may want to consider bringing snow chains.

Parking

Public Transport

Campgrounds and parking in Pelican Lake Recreation Area

Campsites in Pelican Lake Recreation Area

Reservations camping

Pelican Lake State Recreation Area Campground

There are 76 campsites in the campground, all of which come with electrical hookups. The campground has modern restrooms with showers, as well as several vault toilets. There are multiple access points for drinking water located throughout the campground. Dogs are welcome, but you must keep them on a leash at all times. The campground is located next to the park’s main swimming area. You can also connect directly to Pelican Prairie trail, as well as Native Flower Observation Tower trail.

There are also a few horse camping sites located in the middle of the campground. You’ll have access to all of the same areas from these sites as you would staying at the main campground.

All of the sites can be booked in advance online. The park is extremely popular during the summer, and often fills up months in advance. If you plan on visiting during peak season, book as soon as possible to reserve your spot.

First-come first-served

Alternate camping

Seasonal activities in Pelican Lake Recreation Area

In-Season

Boating

Pelican Lake is a popular destination for boating, with acres of open water that are perfect for kayaking, canoeing, sailing, and water and jet skiing.

Motorized boats are allowed out on the lake, so you can enjoy water and jet skiing during the summer. If you visit during the fall, you can take a kayak and canoe out onto the lake as ducks and geese migrate south. The park’s boat launch is located just outside of the campground.

Fishing

Pelican Lake is known for its fishing so don't forget to pack your fishing lures in your camper. You’ll find a wide range of species in the waters, including northern pike, channel catfish, walleye, white bass, crappie, yellow bass, and bluegill.

There is a boat launch located just to the west of the campground. It’s wide enough that you should be able to easily get large boats out onto the water. Fishing from the shore is also allowed, so you won’t have to leave the RV campground to cast a line.

Hiking

Pelican Lake Recreation Area has plenty to keep you busy on dry land. You’ll find miles of hiking trails that circle around the lake and take you through the gorgeous prairies.

Pelican Prairie Trail is open to horseback riding and biking in addition to hiking. It leads you across the open fields surrounding the park, and is at its best in spring, when the wildflowers are in bloom.

You can also take the Native Flower Observation Tower Trail, which guides you through some of the park’s wildlife highlights on the way to an observation tower that gives you panoramic views of the lake.

Off-Season

Cross-Country Skiing

RV campers who visit during the winter should make sure they pack a pair of skis. The park has a well maintained cross-country skiing course that follows the shore of Pelican Lake, making for beautiful treks along the frozen waters. You’ll see plenty of wildlife in the snowy woods and prairies, including deer, red foxes, and coyotes.

The park does not rent ski gear, so make sure you pack everything you need in your campervan. The trails are often groomed, but may not be after heavy storms. The terrain is mostly flat, so skiers of all levels should be comfortable on the trails.

Ice Fishing

Wintertime visitors to the park should feel free to bring rod and reel in your rig. When the lake freezes over, the fish stay active, making it a great spot for ice fishing. The walleye in particular make for excellent ice fishing, although you’ll find a number of species in the winter.

Park officials do not guarantee the safety of the ice, so you head out onto the frozen waters at your own peril. Check the ice conditions right before you head out, as ice thickness can change quickly.

Birdwatching

Like many areas in South Dakota, Pelican Lake Recreation Area stands out for its wide range of bird species. There is also an observation tower that gives you an excellent aerial view of the park and its birds.

If you visit the park in the fall, you can catch ducks and geese as they migrate south, stopping for a rest at Pelican Lake. And of course, the park is known for the large number of white pelicans that visit the lake. Make sure you pack your binoculars in your camper trailer before you head out.

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