Sylvan lake is one of the best places to cool off while visiting South Dakota's infamous Black Hills. The incredible rock formations that surround the reservoir offer countless viewpoints and an epic backdrop filled with outdoor activities.

There are a few reservoirs within the hot and dry Black Hills of South Dakota. The water here comes from the harsh winter month's snowpack or frequent afternoon thunderstorms. Sylvan Lake in the town of Custer offers many activities thanks to it's unique and rugged terrain. Hiking, biking, rock climbing, camping, kayaking, paddle board, swimming, and cliff-jumping can all be done in a single day.

Full disclosure, this lake fills up like crazy late afternoons and on weekends during the summer. Best time to visit is midweek just before noon when it's still plenty hot outside.

The town of Custer is about an hour drive from Rapid City just before the Crazy Horse Monument. Take Route 385 into Sunday Gulch for 30 miles and make a left onto Route 87 for 6 miles to the Sylvan Lake Lodge entrance. At the lodge you can rent a paddle board or kayak if you don't have your own.

From there head out onto the lake and enjoy the rocks. There are a few coves, some islands, some hard to reach cliffs that are only accessible by boat. Most of the large boulders drop vertically into deep water (always check before you jump) so diving is a great activity here.

When you finish at Sylvan Lake, the best place to refuel is the Silver Dollar Saloon about 12 minutes back up 385 in Hill City. This is about as authentic as biker bars get in the Black Hills and it typically lacks tourist crowds. Grab a prime rib hoagie and a cold beer to top you off before your next adventure.

Pack List

  • Moment Lenses
  • OruKayak
  • Outdoor Research Sunhat
  • Sunscreen
  • Camelback Hydration pack
  • Native Sunglasses
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RT Distance 2 Miles
Activities Stand Up Paddle, Canoeing, Chillin, Fishing, Photography, Kayaking, Swimming, Hiking, Rock Climbing
Skill Level Beginner
Season Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Loop
Features
Adult Beverages
Bathrooms
Beach
Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Food Nearby
Forest
Groups
Handicap Accessible
Lake
Picnic Area
River
Scenic
Cliff Jumping
Swimming Hole

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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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