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Guide To Kayaking In South Dakota

Mark Armstrong
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If you’re kayaking or canoeing in SD, there are several spots to choose from. There are options for multi-day paddling trips on mighty rivers, or scenic flatwater journeys on picturesque lakes. There are also many outfitters for kayak rental across the state.

South Dakota is probably best known for being the home of Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills. But you’ll also find some awesome paddling waters, including famous waterways, such as the Missouri River.

There are some fantastic places to go kayaking in South Dakota. Here are just a few of them.

Beautiful landscape from the Sylvan lakePin

7 Best Places To Kayak In South Dakota

1: Missouri River

The Mighty Missouri (or Mighty Mo) is the longest river in the US and can be a fantastic place for an expedition. It has two segments of designated water trail, covering 39 miles and 59 miles.

You can launch at Fort Randall Dam and paddle to Running Water, following along the route of Lewis and Clark. This is a large river with sandbars and chances to see bald eagles.  

Class of Rapids rating:

Up to Class II (easy to moderate)

Where to launch & How to get there:

Toe Road, Pickstown, SD 57367.

2: Angostura Reservoir

Angostura Reservoir features clear water, beautiful sandy beaches and picturesque scenery to the south of the Black Hills. There are creeks and coves to explore and the calm water can be ideal for families and beginners.

The Angostura State Recreation Area features a launch and kayak rentals, as well as restrooms and beaches.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to launch & How to get there:

Recreation Drive, Hot Springs, SD 57747.

3: Split Rock Creek

Split Rock Creek can be an ideal whitewater trip through canyons with connections to the outlaw Jesse James. You can launch at Split Rock Park, where you can rent kayaks and check out the Devils Gulch.

The route takes you through Palisades Park to the take-out at the Highway 11 bridge north of Corson.

Class of Rapids rating:

Up to Class III (moderate)

Where to launch & How to get there:

608 5th Street, Garretson, SD 57030.

4: Lake Vermillion

Lake Vermillion can be a great place for beginners and families, with flatwater and nearby amenities such as campgrounds, restrooms. The lake is actually an impoundment of the East Fork Vermillion River.

Lake Vermillion Recreation Area surrounds the southern portion of the lake and features boat ramps and kayak rentals.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I (easy)

Where to launch & How to get there:

Canistota, SD 57012.

5: Sylvan Lake

Sylvan LakePin
Courtesy: Shelby L. Bell on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Sylvan Lake can be one of the most picturesque places to kayak in South Dakota, surrounded by the Black Hills. Located within the 71,000-acre Custer State Park, the calm lake features fairytale-like rock formations, making you feel like you’ve been transported to another world. The lake is also known for being a filming location for the 2007 movie National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets.

Kayak rentals are available at Sylvan Lake General Store.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to launch & How to get there:

518 SD-87, Custer, SD 57730.

6: Big Sioux River

The Big Sioux River can be a great place for a multi-day trip and the chance to paddle 133 miles along the Jay Heath Kayak Trail from Big Sioux Recreation Area near Sioux Falls to Sioux City, IA. You can launch at the recreation area or the Highway 42 bridge.

There are many launches and take-outs along the route. Kayak rentals are available at various outfitters in Sioux Falls.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I (easy)

Where to launch & How to get there:

Highway 42, Split Rock Township, SD 57110.

7: Pactola Lake

Pactola Lake is the largest reservoir in the Black Hills National Forest and can be a great place for trout fishing.

There are miles of shoreline and inlets to explore, with forests and hills providing a beautiful backdrop for paddling. This can be an ideal spot for beginners because of the calm water. Kayak rentals are available at Pactola Pines Marina.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to launch & How to get there:

Pactola Boat Dock Road, Rapid City, SD 57702.

SD Kayak Laws

US Coast GuardPin

Before paddling around South Dakota you should check the local and state laws. We have included some of the main ones but this is just as a guide and is not legal advice.

  • PFD is required for each person on any vessel..
  • Children under 7 must wear a PFD while on any vessel that’s moving faster than a “slow, no wake” speed.
  • Boating Under the Influence (BUI) of alcohol or drugs is illegal in South Dakota.
  • Registration is required for kayaks more than 12 feet in length and all kayaks with a trolling motor.
  • white light or flashlight is required for all kayaks paddling at night.
  • whistle or similar sound-producing device is required while paddling on SD waters.

Do You Need To Register A Kayak In South Dakota?

Yes, if it’s longer than 12 feet. If you have a motor attached then it must be registered even if it’s less than 12 feet. Non-motorized vessels 12 feet and under do not need to be registered.

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