Located in central South Dakota, on the banks of the mighty Missouri River, West Bend Recreation Area is an ideal destination for anglers and watersport enthusiasts. The recreation area also contains several prairie fragments that are home to a wide variety of avian and plant species, making it a popular spot for birders and naturalists too.
Once you arrive at the West Bend Recreation Area and set up your rig, you can take in views of the vast grasslands and gently rolling hills that were once home to millions of bison. The area has a rich human history, too, having been home to several branches of the Sioux and Dakota tribes, including the Lower Brule Tribe.
There are plenty of exciting things to do in West Bend Recreation Area besides taking in the scenery. Head out onto the Missouri for a paddle or a jet-ski run, cast a line from the bank or spend a few hours walking along the historic Lewis and Clark Trail, which is loaded with interpretive signs.
West Bend Recreation Area is a favorite to RVers during the summer months when temperatures range from the mid-70s in May to mid-90s in July and August. Winter months bring colder temperatures and plenty of snow, but the park remains open and is a great, quiet spot to enjoy a cross-country ski or a snowshoeing trek. During the fall, the park is also a popular spot for waterfowl hunting.
And though West Bend is certainly a destination in its own right, it's also a great stop-over spot for those traveling along I-90. Just a few hours to the west are several of South Dakota's other natural gems, including Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park, and Badlands National Park.
West Bend has three closely situated campgrounds that together boast over 100 RV-friendly campsites. The park also has four lovely cabins available for rent, year-round. Reservations can be made for either campsites or cabins for up to 90 days in advance.
RVers and larger vehicles will find driving to West Bend Recreation Area quite easy. The surrounding prairie area is generally flat and easy to navigate. West Bend is located about an hour's drive north of I-90, and about 45 minutes to the east of Pierre, SD. The state roads leading to the park are paved but may be a little rough in patches, and the final road leading into the park is somewhat narrow, so be sure to take things slow if you're driving with a big rig.
The park is meant to accommodate fairly large rigs and trailers, though some extra patience may be required if you're pulling an extra vehicle or a boat. Campground One consists of two loops that have tight turns, and Campground Two has one loop which may be particularly hard to maneuver through for some RVers, or if you are pulling large a trailer. Campground Three offers the easiest driving and the widest road. RVers can expect to encounter children playing and bicyclists on the road, though, so take things slow.
Weather-wise, the main hazard in this part of the country is wind. High profile vehicles can be especially vulnerable to the east-bound winds whipping across the largely un-sheltered prairie. Just make sure to check the weather forecast and take things slow while driving, especially when on north-south roads!
Parking should be easy for those with medium or small rigs, though it might require some extra patience from drivers who have larger setups. Most spots here are back-in. Once you are parked, plenty of the park's amenities and attractions are within easy walking distance.
If you're headed for the river, access to the boat ramp is straightforward. Visitors are advised to put your boat in the water as opposed to keeping at your campsite. There is plenty of parking for boat trailers in the boat ramp area.
West Bend Campground Three is set a bit farther inland, but many sites here still have wonderful views of the water. Campground three has one loop with 33 campsites, 22 of which are furnished with 30-amp electric hookups.
Each campsite has a fire ring and picnic table. Campsites have grassy areas with plenty of trees for shade at each site. There are paved parking pads at each campsite which are generally level. The campground has fresh water stations and vault toilets. There are no flush toilets or showers at campground three, though visitors are welcome to use the facilities at the other campgrounds.
RVs and trailers are limited to 50 feet in length. There is a fish cleaning station and dump station situated near the park’s entrance. Generators may be used between 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM. Pets are welcome but must be restrained by a 10-foot leash.
West Bend Recreation Area Campground One is composed of a large loop that sits right beside the Missouri River. Campers here will have great views of the tree-lined banks and the glittering waters that slowly make their way around the rivers' sharp bend.
In total, Campground One sports 57 RV-friendly sites. They are furnished with 50-amp electrical hookups as well as picnic tables and fire rings. There are no water hookups, but water is available at several spigots located throughout both loops. Each campsite has a paved parking area for your RV or trailer which is generally flat, with no need for more than basic leveling devices. The campground area features lush grass which is maintained during the summer season and there are plenty of trees for shade.
Other facilities within the campground include vault toilets (open in the winter months too), and hot showers and flush toilets, which are generally closed during the off-season (October through March). There are playgrounds located between campgrounds one and two. A fish cleaning station and a dump station are located a bit farther away, near the entrance to the park.
RVs and trailers are limited to 50 feet in length. Generators are allowed from 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM. Pets are allowed but must be restrained by a 10-foot leash. Reservations for Campground One (as well as the other two campground loops) can be made online up to 90 days in advance.
Kennebec KOA presents the perfect place to rest and recharge for your next destination. Outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds can find something to love about central South Dakota. Whether you are a hunter, angler, or boater, the nearby Missouri River makes your sporting adventure possible. RV sites can accommodate rigs up to 120 feet and offer 50-amp service along with free cable and Wi-Fi. Campers without RVs are welcome to use a tent site or lodge in a cabin for the evening. Cool off with a swim in the pool and relax and resupply at the general store on the grounds.
West Bend Recreation Area Campground Two, located just a bit north of Campground One, is quite a bit smaller but also features several riverside sides. In total, Campground Two has 27 RV-friendly spots. There is one pull-through site for larger RVs or trailers.
The campground has paved parking areas that are flat with little need for leveling devices. Amenities within the campground include vault toilets (open in the winter too), flush toilets and hot showers. The campsites have a grassy area that features a picnic table and fire ring as well as plenty of shade trees.
RVs and trailers are limited to 50 feet in length. Generators may be used from 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM. Pets are allowed but must be restrained by a 10-foot leash.
Unreserved camping spots can be taken on a first-come, first-served basis. If you're arriving during the peak summer season, however, reservations are highly recommended.
West Bend also has four lovely cabins, which are located in Campground One. The cabins are wooden and feature large, fenced decks, which are a great place to enjoy a warm summer evening while reading a book or soaking in the view.
The rustic cabins have beds and linens and can sleep up to four. They all have AC, electricity, and heating. If you're traveling through during winter - planning on doing some snowmobiling, cross-country skiing or ice-fishing - the cabins are a cozy place to hunker down during the cold South Dakota nights, when sharp winds howl across the plains.
Cabins can be booked over the same online reservation system as normal campsites, and they are open for reservations year-round.
West Bend Recreation Area quiets down during the off-season, but there's still lots to do here. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are both popular pastimes at the park -- they're a great way to take in the stark but beautiful winter landscape while getting some great exercise.
Though winters here may have an occasional dry spell, there's usually plenty of powder on the ground. Nearby Chamberlain, SD, receives about 40 inches of snow yearly. You can always call ahead to the park and ask what conditions are like on the ground.
West Bend does not have any groomed winter trails, but visitors are free to carve their own path across the prairie (so long as they remain in the park!) While you are exploring on your snowshoes or cross-country skis, make sure to keep your eyes open for wildlife such as pronghorn and white-tail deer.
West Bend, sitting at the intersection of river and prairie, is a popular spot for both birds and birders. If you've got a pair of binoculars, make sure to back them in your RV before heading here. The Missouri River hosts all manner of waterfowl, including mallards, blue-winged teals, widgeons, shovelers, and more. Shorebirds, including sandpipers, godwits, and phalaropes, are frequent visitors to the river's sandy margins.
Graceful white pelicans can be seen resting along the Missouri during their north and southward migrations, and you may spot eagles, hawks, or ospreys circling the skies above the water. Farther inland, flitting through patches of prairie, you may catch sight of rose-breasted grosbeaks, black-headed grosbeaks, western meadowlarks, or even burrowing owls.
Hunters tend to flock to West Bend Recreation Area in the fall and winter. If you are hunting, the state park offers an excellent place to make camp. There are plenty of prairie and riparian habitats where you can expect to find duck, pheasant, Canadian geese, and white-tail deer. Hunting dogs are permitted, and the park has several duck blinds. Whatever your game and whatever the season, make sure you're familiar with South Dakota's hunting regulations before heading out.
The prairies found in and around West Bend - mere fragments of the vast grasslands that used to cover the Dakotas - are host to a spectacular diversity of plant life. During the spring and summer months, hikers can see numerous beautiful species of wildflowers blooming. Prairie lilies, scarlet mallow, wild columbines, goldenrod, and dozens more can be spotted among the swaying grasses and sedges. If you're new to the area, you can stop by the Visitor Center and pick up a guide book or pamphlet on native plants. If you do travel off-trail, keep a look out for both cacti and rattlesnakes, which can be easily hidden by the tall vegetation.
When the prairie heat is on, plenty of visitors make a beeline for the water. The Missouri River and Lake Sharpe offer excellent conditions for water and jet skiing when the wind is calm. There is a superb beach area where you can build a sandcastle or even go swimming if the water is not running too high. Water skiers can take advantage of the boat ramp and there is plenty of space on the river for mooring.
Fishing is yet another popular activity at West Bend. You can expect excellent angling conditions on the Missouri River near Lake Sharpe. Species you can expect to catch here include walleye, lake trout, and various types of bass, including large to small mouth. As much of the shore is heavily vegetated, most anglers choose to cast from a boat. Luckily, the park has an easy to access boat ramp.
In June the area hosts the Wessington Fishing Derby, which attracts anglers from around the United States and Canada. Whenever you decide to swing by, make sure that, if you're heading out fishing, you have a valid South Dakota fishing license!