Pickerel Lake, with 955 acres of spring-fed clear water and at 43 feet deep, is one of the deepest lakes in the state of South Dakota. The glacier-built lake once had an American Indian name, Lake Tamahe, that means “where you can spear long fish.” It is still known for its large fish such as catfish, perch, bass, pike, and the pickerel, from which the lake got its name. Until the early 1900s, you could still see excursion boats on the lake as the Dakota Sioux as well as the early European settlers found the area bountiful for all types of hunting and fishing, so they stayed around for a while.
Today, Pickerel Lake Recreation Area is known for its awesome campgrounds boasting 77 sites in two different campgrounds. No matter how large your RV or camper is, there is a spot for you at Pickerel Lake. Each campground has its own beach, playground, hiking trails, showers, and restrooms. Many of the park’s visitors also enjoy boating, kayaking, or canoeing as well as other lake sports like rafting and wakeboarding. And check out the picnic areas while you are here as they have BBQ pits, picnic tables, and plenty of room to run around and play games like frisbee and volleyball.
Located 10 miles north of Waubay off U.S. Highway 12, Pickerel Lake Recreation Area in northeastern South Dakota is easy to get to from just about anywhere. You will find some steep climbs and narrow roads once you get off the highway and the smaller the roads, the curvier they get. Take it easy if you are driving a big RV or if you are pulling a trailer. Just go slow and you should be fine. It is best to take it slow on these roads off the beaten path anyway because you don’t want to miss any of the wild critters along the roadside. In fact, some of them tend to wander onto the road so keep an eye out for that.
The park has two sections, the West and the East Areas. They each have their own campground, trail, and beach and they both have amenities such as restrooms, playgrounds, and water access. Since they are small, it is best to park your rig at the campsite and walk to where you want to go so you don’t have any trouble maneuvering a big rig on the small gravel roads. You can even walk to the park office/store where you can get supplies or other items you may need.
The East Campground has 29 campsites with electricity and pads that range from 55 to 85 feet long. The playground is located in the middle of the campground by campsite 66 and there is potable water access near campsites 48 and 63. There are flush toilets by the camp host at campsite 43 and vault toilets by campsite 54 and 64. All campsites have a table, fire ring, and a lantern post. Also, dogs are welcome as long as they are kept on a leash or restrained at all times.
West Campground has 38 sites with electricity and pads ranging from 40 to 100 feet long. There is a playground for the kids by the restrooms near the camp host at site 23. The ADA-accessible campsite is number 25, which is near the vault toilet and the camp host. If you need the RV dump site, it can be found past campsite 40 and there is potable water available by campsite 33. Campsites 27 through 36 are right on the shoreline if you would like to be close by the beach. However, this area can be noisy during the summertime. All campsites have a table, fire ring, and a lantern post. Also, dogs are welcome as long as they are kept on a leash or restrained at all times.
All sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis if they are not previously reserved. However, this is up to the camp host or park ranger. Check with a park employee before unpacking or follow the instructions on the vacancy card by the site.
There is a picnic shelter on the west side of the park by the West Campground that you can use for a large gathering. It is right by the playground and has access to restrooms and vault toilets, water, and is ADA-accessible. The boat dock is also nearby as well as the beach where you can go fishing since it is too cold to go swimming. The fish bite all year long so you may even be able to catch something to cook up for dinner on one of the BBQ grills.
There are two hiking trails for you to explore so don’t just sit around the RV at the campsite the whole time. The Glacial Mounds Trail starts across from the East Campground. It is about three-quarters of a mile and takes you through native prairies, rocky areas, and a bluff view that cannot be described here. The Ponderosa Trail is across from the comfort station at the West Campground and is about one mile long. You will be sure to enjoy this peaceful walk through the Ponderosa Pine Trees that leads back to the West Campground.
Don’t worry if you forgot to pack your fishing pole in the camper before heading to the park because this park will loan you one of theirs. Just go to the park office/store and fill out a short form and you can be fishing in no time. You can also get lures or live bait there so you can be ready for anything. Whether you are fishing from the bank, dock, or in a boat on the water, you are sure to catch something in Pickerel Lake because they stock it regularly.
There are two boat ramps so don’t forget to attach the boat trailer to the RV. If you did not bring the boat, don’t worry, you can rent canoes or kayaks at the park office/store, which is located at the entrance to the park. Whether you have a big party cruiser or a tiny paddle boat, everything is welcome on Pickerel Lake and there is plenty of room for everyone. The cool, spring-fed water is perfect for cooling off on a hot day so don’t forget your swimsuit.
Make sure you pack your water toys in the camper before heading to the park because Pickerel Lake has two swimming beaches to enjoy. The one on the east side of the lake is the largest and is at the East Campground and the one at the West Campground is a bit smaller but has just as much water fun to enjoy. However, there is no lifeguard at either beach so you will be swimming at your own risk. Pack a lunch and spend the day at the beach before heading back to the campsite for the night.
Leave the rig at the campsite and head over to one of the beaches for some fun summer games. If you like to play in the sand, challenge your family or friends to a sandcastle building contest or gather the group for a volleyball game. No net? No problem. Use your imagination or try using two tent poles or long sticks with some long towels tied to them. You could also play a game of frisbee, badminton, or just toss the beach ball around. If you did not bring any games, you can rent some from the park office/store. No matter what you do, it is liable to be fun because everything is fun at the beach.