Stay Cool in Summer with Water Sports in the Black Hills

When thinking of ways to spend a summer in South Dakota, activities like hiking, fishing, and camping seem like obvious choices. “Water sports” might not be the first thing to come to mind. Yet the Black Hills offer many family-friendly opportunities to get wet this summer. Here are a few ideas for your next getaway. 


Lake view on Sunday Gulch trail

Spring or early summer are the best times for canoeing and kayaking, and Black Hills lakes provide endless water fun. Canoeing is allowed on most lakes and rivers in South Dakota, so you may choose to stick to the Black Hill lakes or venture further south to places like the Belle Fourche River, with 290-miles of water to explore. Southwest of Belle Fourche, there’s Little White River, which winds through dense forests and steep cliffs that are truly breathtaking. 

Be aware that most property along rivers is privately owned. Watch for barbed wire fences strung across rivers to confine livestock. During dry months, make sure to check for river status before heading out to ensure routes are passable. 

For the truly adventurous, Black Hills offers a total of nine whitewater paddling spots. Most are considered Class 1, but there a few are classified as Class IV with intense, powerful but predictable rapids. Four of the nine runs are located along Rapid Creek, making it the best place in Black Hills for kayaking. Those seeking an adrenaline rush will love the area between Hisega, a class 3 run, which includes a 10-foot drop called “Hummer.” 

Visitors to the area may choose to purchase canoes or kayaks or rent them from local lakeside marinas or B&Bs. 

Little boy enjoying the waterpark in South Dakota

Water Parks

Keep cool during the hot summer months with a day trip to a local water park. WaTiki Waterpark in Rapid City provides 30,000 square feet of wet and wild fun for kids and adults alike. It is the largest of its kind in South Dakota and is open 365 days a year. Summer entrance fees range from $17.99 (for children 6 and under) to $25.99 (over 6 years). The resort also includes four hotels, several restaurants, and an arcade. 

Alternatively, the Spearfish Rec & Aquatic Waterpark, located in the city of Spearfish, provides 2 acres of water fun. This includes a 400-gallon dump bucket, 260-foot lazy river, 3 huge water slides, and much more. 

Scuba Diving

Landlocked South Dakota may be the last destination you’ve ever considered for scuba diving, but the Pactola Reservoir Complex is a great place to pull out your gear and get wet! With almost 2 square miles to explore, divers will encounter many fish and perhaps even stumble upon the ruins of the ghost town Pactola. This small town existed before the creation of the Pactola Dam in the 1950s. Most homes and buildings were auctioned off or torn down before the area was flooded over, but others have simply vanished underwater. Some have even called Pactola Reservoir “South Dakota’s version of Atlantis.” Scuba diving here is certainly a unique experience to brag about! Drop by during any time of the year. The only cost is parking at $6 per vehicle per day. 

To get started, Black Hills Aquatic Adventures in Rapid City is the place to take scuba lessons or rent equipment. Introductory courses, skin diver, open water diver, advanced courses (with NITROX certification), master, and rescue classes are all available. Check online for their upcoming lessons schedule. 

Book Your Vacation in the Black Hills

Black Hills Vacation RentalsCabins, lodges, manors, and more – we offer top accommodation to make your Black Hills summer vacation a memorable one. Choose from a variety of vacation rentals nestled in the woods or bordering ponds and golf courses. Modern, spacious, and decorated with a rustic, woodsy feel, you and the entire family with feel right at home. Start planning your perfect summer vacation today!