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Visiting Pactola Reservoir Campground in The Black Hills of South Dakota

Posted on January 30 2021

Visiting Pactola Reservoir Campground in The Black Hills of South Dakota


South Dakota, especially The Black Hills and Badlands, is a solid Bucket List destination for anyone who loves the outdoors or Wild West lore. For me, however, the Hills are more. I was born in Rapid City. Many of those coveted Hill’s destinations were simply my backyard playgrounds for much of my life. Such is the case with Pactola Lake (Pactola Reservoir) in The Black Hills National Forest.

After returning from 10 years in Asia, my body was in full withdrawal this past summer. I physically needed to be immersed in the scent of pine trees on a crisp summer morning. Thus, The Black Hills was one of my first destinations on returning to the USA and buying my RV. The moment the snow left the region I returned home.

While I normally boondocks, I took several opportunities to visit local waters tucked away among the pines, finding it well worth having to pay campsite fees to be there. Pactola, where I splashed around as a child and learned to waterski as a tween was a must to visit with my now older body and my newish kayak. The lake did not disappoint!

This destination is recommended for all the classic campground and water sport experiences which summer has to offer.

Paddler and dog on Pactola Lake


Name: Pactola Reservoir Campground

Location: The central Black Hills of South Dakota in The Back Hills National Forest, 18 miles West of Rapid City

Site type(s): Tents and RVs

Cost: $26.00 per night

Elevation: 4,600 ft.

Best bits: Beautiful clear water lake tailor-made for kayaking, swimming, fishing and every manner of water sport. Locals ever Scuba here. Immerse in the bird life of the forest while exploring nature trails around the lake which are fringed with wild strawberries during summer months.

Disappointments: The cost of camping at Pactola can add up quick for those on a tight budget, but if is stunning for those of us who love the forest. Treat yourself to a few days if you can.



Reservations: (book early).

Loop RSVC (Sites 2-22) offers the best views of the lake for RVs and the most cnvinent access to a large boat launch area with plenty of rook for. Loop RESB (sites 47-73) has lots of flat areas for tents, however most RVs I have seen there (sires 54-58) were wedged into parking spaces that appeared anything but pleasant.  This is the closest area for the Osprey Trail walks.

Helpful sites: South Dakota Department of Tourism Pactola Lake information

Additional info: My Verizon signal got the job done. I was not planning on blogging at the time (July 2020) I visited so I did not record the signal strength. That said,  I don’t recall tossing my cell phone at the wall in frustrations, so…

A mile or so down the road from the campground, is a general store (Pactola Pines Marina) which is very well stocked and has a propane tank exchange.

The campground hosts sell firewood bundles.  

Nearby attractions: Pactola's central hills location puts it near many of The Black Hill’s top attractions, such as Mount Rushmore, Hill City (don’t miss the dinosaur museum) Custer State Park, numerous smaller lakes, even Deadwood. However all involve a bit of a drive. If you want one base camp in the Hills consider Pactola.

Wild strawberries at Ospery trail, Pactola Lake 


What’s up with the bandana store?

That’s a fair question. I am a RETIRED guidebook author/travel columnist. While I still enjoying sharing my discoveries with fellow travelers who appreciate camping and nature, fancy blogs and vlogs are not my thing. Thus, I use this empty blog space, which came free with my shop website, to share information with other nomads.

I hope you find my travel tips helpful. If you do, please consider taking the time to share a link to a product you like or to my website ( on social media. Good trade? This little store pays for my nomadic ways, which I pull off on an extreme shoestring budget. Your help in keeping me on the road/in my kayak is truly appreciated.

Happy camping everyone!

Nola Lee Kelsey


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