Cottonwood (Ne)

Yankton, South Dakota

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Cottonwood Recreation Area is located just downstream of Gavins Point Dam and Lewis & Clark Lake along the western shore of Lake Yankton. The numerous outdoor recreational opportunities attract more than 2 million visitors annually to the Lewis & Clark Lake area, making it one of the more popular recreational destinations in the Upper Great Plains.  

Gavins Point Dam, which impounds the 31,400-acre Lewis & Clark Lake, was authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1944, commonly called the Pick-Sloan Plan. Ground was broken at the damsite on May 18, 1952, in a ceremony attended by Lieutenant General Lewis Pick, then Chief of Engineers, and the Governors of South Dakota and Nebraska. Construction began immediately and in September 1956 the Powerplant began producing electricity for customers. The total cost of the dam totaled just under $50 million. Yearly benefits from the dam are estimated at $35 million dollars.  

For more information, visit the Gavins Point Project / Lewis & Clark Lake Website here or call the Lewis & Clark Visitor Center at 402-667-2546.


Cottonwood Recreation Area is conveniently located between Lewis and Clark Lake and Lake Yankton. Lewis and Clark Lake is known for great boating, sailing, swimming and other water-based recreation activities. Lake Yankton is popular with families as a popular fishing spot along with the excellent kayaking, canoeing and paddling opportunities. Numerous paved, multi-use trails connect the area with the additional numerous recreation areas located along Lewis and Clark Lake, Lake Yankton and the Missouri River. Lewis and Clark Lake attracts more than 2 million visitors each year to its shores. Recreation opportunities around the lake include camping, fishing, hunting, hiking, boating, sailing, swimming, bird-watching, and photography.

For the biking and hiking enthusiasts, three trails are available in the area. They include a paved trail that runs from Yankton to the Gavins Point area, a multi-use trail in the Gavins Point area and the Calumet Bluff hiking trail located near the visitor center. Wintertime activities include ice fishing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and sledding.

Developed public parks and recreation areas surround the lake above and below Gavins Point Dam. Camping facilities provided by the Corps and the States of South Dakota and Nebraska include marinas, boat ramps, trails, campsites with electricity, modern restrooms, playground equipment and trailer dump stations.


All 77 campsites have electric hookups, and all sites are reservable. Two modern shower houses with flush toilets are available for campers. A playground, horseshoe pits and picnic shelter are available within the campground and the adjacent Day-Use Area has a large reservable picnic shelter, picnic area, accessible fishing dock, disc golf course and a boat ramp for access to Lake Yankton. Nearby Training Dike Day-Use Area has a popular swimming beach on Lake Yankton along with access to the Missouri River downstream of Gavins Point Dam. A RV dump station is located just north of Cottonwood Campground off of Toe Road. 

Natural Features

Cottonwood Recreation Area is located in the in the lush golden chalkstone-lined Missouri River Valley. Many visitors to the lake area prefer to stay at Cottonwood because of the calmer, quieter waters of Lake Yankton, a much smaller lake of approximately 250-acres in size - versus the much larger Lewis and Clark Lake upstream of the dam.  

Lake Yankton provides excellent habitat for a variety of waterfowl and other bird species. The area abounds with wildlife including Whitetail Deer, turkeys, and other game species. Bald Eagles and other birds of prey are spotted by visitors regularly due to the great fishing opportunities available year-round. 

Nearby Attractions

  • The Lewis and Clark Visitor Center (Physical Address: 55245 NE Hwy 121, Crofton, NE 68730) is located on the south side of the Missouri River off Nebraska State Highway 121 atop Calumet Bluff just downstream from the Gavins Point Powerplant. The visitor center provides a spectacular view of Lewis and Clark Lake, Gavins Point Dam and the Missouri River. Exhibits in the center include information and displays about the development of the entire Missouri River Basin as well as the geology, exploration, early navigation, settlement and natural history of the Missouri River region. The Calumet Bluff Theater programs highlight construction of Gavins Point Dam, the Lewis and Clark Expedition and wildflowers. A bookstore offers books about Lewis and Clark, Native Americans, pioneers, river travel and natural history. The Dorian Prairie Garden located outside the visitor center depicts common prairie plants and explains their uses by Native Americans. Stop by the Lewis and Clark wayside exhibits adjacent to the parking area to learn about the travels of the Lewis and Clark Expedition through this area. For more information, please contact the visitor center at 402-667-2546. 
  • Gavins Point Dam Powerhouse Tours are available on weekends from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend. On this walking tour you will see the generator floor, cable spreading room, a view of the control room and many other points of interest. There is lots of walking and several flights of stairs on the tours, but an elevator is available. Tours last 30-45 minutes.For more information, contact the Lewis and Clark Visitor Center at 402-667-2546. 
  • Located just downstream of Gavins Point Dam, is the city of Yankton, South Dakota which was the first territorial capital of the Dakota Territory from 1861 to 1883 and was a major steamboat landing until 1881. Since then, Yankton has grown into a regional business and health care community, and with the creation of Lewis and Clark Lake, has become a major recreation destination. 
  • The Gavins Point National Fish Hatchery & Aquarium is located just off of SD Highway 52 just east of Gavins Point Dam. The aquarium, hatchery building and grounds are open daily during summer months.

Charges & Cancellations

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