Lakes of Custer State Park, South Dakota, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - Midwest - South Dakota - Black Hills, Badlands & Lakes Region -

Also known as:  Stockade Lake, Bismarck Lake, Legion Lake, Sylvan Lake, Center Lake

Recreational travelers in South Dakota’s Black Hills, Badlands and Lakes Region will find the vacationland of their dreams among the five lakes dotted around Custer State Park. All of the lakes – Bismarck Lake, Legion Lake, Stockade Lake, Center Lake and Sylvan Lake – are small, with Stockade Lake the largest at 120 acres. Bismarck Lake, just below the Stockade Lake Dam, is technically not within the state park but in the Black Hills National Forest. Most are ‘no wake’ lakes, and several restrict boats to electric motors only. Trout are the catch of the day and cool shade, grassy campsites and numerous walking trails are bound to keep the entire family occupied when they aren’t off visiting Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Crazy Horse Monument, Wind Cave National Park, driving the Wildlife Loop Road or Scenic Needles Highway. And no one can resist viewing some of the 1,300 bison that inhabit the park.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) constructed buildings, bridges, campgrounds, and dams throughout Custer State Park during the Great Depression, including the dams for Stockade, Center and Legion Lakes. The dam creating Sylvan Lake dates back to 1881. Many of these buildings are still in use today, such as the visitor center, education center, and fire tower. The 71,000-acre Custer State Park holds several scenic drives, a wealth of walking trails and plenty of accessible paths for mountain biking and horseback riding. The Custer State Park office, Visitor Centers and entrance stations all have maps of trails available for each activity. All of the lakes hold a small campground, several with no utilities at the sites. The small pristine lakes are the perfect place for a leisurely paddle in early morning to catch a glimpse of the profusion of wildlife in the area. And no visitor to the area can resist a drive along the famous 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road, where the park’s resident bison, elk, pronghorn, mountain goats, bighorn sheep and wild burros roam freely beside the road.

Legion Lake holds historic Legion Lake Lodge, a water’s-edge lodge remaining from 1913 when the area was a game preserve in the Custer State Forest and the site leased by the American Legion. A restaurant/dining room serves visitors who rent the family-size cabins nestled in the surrounding woods. A swim area, row boat, kayak, canoe, hydro-bike and paddleboat rentals allow everyone to enjoy the water. The 10-acre lake is open for fishing with proper license, which can be purchased at the Lodge grocery store. The campground can access drinking water, flush toilets and showers, and the playground and fishing dock are favorites among the young. Or, visitors can rent a mountain bike to cycle the nearby trails. The Badger Clark Historic Trail and the Centennial Trail are only moments away from the lodge.

Sylvan Lake Lodge is considered the crown jewel of Custer State Park. The newly-renovated lodge was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright and sits among tall evergreens overlooking the 18-acre lake. The lodge holds 35 guest rooms, with another 32 cabins on the grounds. The Sylvan Lake Lodge Auditorium is popular for family reunions, wedding receptions and corporate events. A restaurant, grocery store and swimming beach make the lodge a popular stay for those wishing the ease of modern accommodations such as air conditioning. The usual self-propelled watercraft are rented here, and fishing for brown trout and rainbow trout is always on the agenda. Other lodges within the State Park are also operated by the Park Service but are not on the lakes. Sylvan Lake Campground has about 40 campsites and offers flush and vault toilets, drinking water and showers.

Twenty-seven-acre Center Lake has a large, non-electric campground overlooking the water. A fishing dock and swimming beach make this the perfect hide-away in the shade of towering pines. Drinking water, showers and vault toilets are located in the campground. Most sites are suitable only for tents or smaller RVs. A youth group camping area is available near the Day Use portion of the shoreline. Center Lake is a no-wake lake and has no actual boat ramp. Small rowboats, canoes and kayaks are easily launched from shore. Again, brown trout and rainbow trout are the usual target of anglers, but the lake also holds sunfish, smallmouth bass, northern pike and catfish.

With 120 acres, Stockade Lake is large enough to sport two separate camping areas. Stockade North has drinking water, flush toilets, showers and a playground. Stockade Lake South also has 13 camping cabins available by reservation. Although not as luxurious as those located at Legion Lake Lodge, the cabins have electricity, heating and air conditioning. Two other picnic areas are located along the southern shore of the lake. Fishing is good at Stockade Lake, and a boat ramp is located along the east shore opposite Stockade Day Use Area. Gasoline motors are allowed on Stockade Lake. This lake has the widest variety of catch-able fish and is open for ice fishing in winter.

Nearby, the replica Gordon Stockade recreates the rough stockade fort built by the first gold seekers to illegally enter what was then clearly Native American land. Within a few months, the group was evicted by the US Calvary, but the rush was on and the Black Hills were overrun by illegal gold seekers. The reconstructed site is open daily, and interpretive signage tells the story of these first illegal settlers. Reservations are accepted for sites in these campgrounds.

Just outside the State Park boundaries, Bismarck Lake covers 27 acres and offers a beautiful little campground that is sometimes overlooked by the many visitors who arrive each summer. The lake is within the Black Hills National Forest at the foot of the Stockade Lake Dam. This campground was also developed by the CCC and offers shaded sites located away from the lake. No boat ramp is available, but small craft are easily launched from shore. The lake holds the same variety of fish as Stockade Lake. Operated by the Forest Service, the small campground has flush toilets and drinking water. Often when campgrounds within Custer State Park are full, space can be found here at this out-of-the-way lake.

Park roads are usually open in winter, but most camping areas are closed. Custer State Park and its lakes are a favored vacation area for those who enjoy the history and legends of the American West. Located only a few miles east of the city of Custer, the park is in close proximity to many of South Dakota’s most iconic locations. Both Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Monument are located nearby, as are Wounded Knee and Badlands National Park. Cavers will love visiting Jewel Cave National Monument and Wind Cave National Monument. The City of Custer has a variety of choices for lodgings including hotels, bed & breakfasts, guest cabins and campgrounds. Unique shops join unusual activities such as wagon train rides and helicopter tours. Everything here will remind you that you’ve found the remnants of the wild, wild West. So come visit the lakes of Custer State Park. Bring the fly rod -and watch out for the bison!

* Statistics listed are for Stockade Lake only.

Things to do at Lakes of Custer State Park

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Picnicking
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • State Park
  • State Forest
  • National Park
  • National Forest
  • Playground

Fish species found at Lakes of Custer State Park

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Brown Trout
  • Catfish
  • Northern Pike
  • Pike
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Sunfish
  • Trout

Lakes of Custer State Park Photo Gallery

Lakes of Custer State Park Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

Water Level Control: South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks

Surface Area: 120 acres

Shoreline Length: 4 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 5,177 feet

Maximum Depth: 16 feet

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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