Canoeing & Kayaking | Black Hills & Badlands - South Dakota

Canoeing & Kayaking

Experience untouched backcountry

Canoeing and kayaking on the waters of the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota is a great way to experience some of the prettiest and untouched back country around.

Canoeing is allowed on most lakes and rivers in South Dakota.

Among the most popular canoeing lakes are Angostura Recreation Area near Hot Springs; Bear Butte Lake near Sturgis; the many lakes in Custer State Park; and Shadehill Recreation Area near Lemmon. Or try Cook Lake near Sundance, Wyoming or Horsethief Lake near Hill City.

Or try a water trek down the Belle Fourche, Cheyenne or White Rivers. These rivers are shallow and slow, with no rapids.

The 290-mile-long Belle Fourche River is popular for canoeing, with its diverse scenery and numerous access points. You can even start at Spearfish Creek if the water is high enough. It merges with the Redwater River and on the other end, the Cheyenne.

White River flows through Badlands, grasslands and crop lands. A favorite stretch begins at the Spring Creek Day School in Todd County and follows a 25-mile segment ending at Ghost Hawk Park, four miles northwest of Rosebud. Picnic and camping facilities are available there.

The best times to canoe are in the spring or early summer, when water flow is at its best. Some rivers, especially during drought years, can become shallow and impassable. Check the river status before heading out.

Be aware that most property along the rivers is privately owned, so check ahead and get permission before entering, especially if you want to camp. Beware of barbed wire fences strung across rivers to confine livestock on privately owned land. Gates on either end of the fences allow access.

If you’re a bit more adventurous but think there are no white water rapids in South Dakota, think again. There are a handful of spots that rank as Class V (violent rapids), according to the American Whitewater Web site ( The site lists a total of nine whitewater paddling spots in the Black Hills, with most ranging from Class 1 (fast-moving water with riffles and small waves) to Class IV (intense, powerful but predictable rapids).

Four runs on American Whitewater's list are along Rapid Creek, making it the place in the Black Hills and Badlands for kayaking. An area between Hisega through Dark Canyon is rated a Class 3 because it includes a 10-foot drop called “Hummer.” Just below Pactola Lake is another challenging kayak run.

Whitewood Creek offers limited days each year when kayaking is possible, but the creek is a rated Class 5, which is pretty extreme. It’s worth your time if you get there.

Check water levels on fast-flowing Spearfish Creek, Spring Creek, Battle Creek, Boulder or Box Elder Creeks. Water in these streams usually is too low for boating … but an inner tube might work.

Canoes and kayaks can be purchased at local sporting goods stores. They can also be rented at some lakeside marinas or B&Bs in the Black Hills, including Sylvan Lake and Sheridan Lake. Call ahead for availability and cost.  Guided kayaking trips are available through Black Hills Adventure Tours.

Other important things to remember: personal flotation devices are required. There’s safety in numbers — bring along a friend or two.

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