So you want the scoop on camping at Pactola? I feel like somewhat of an expert on this subject because I have been a camp host at Pactola Lake Campground for the past four months. So let me give you some tips!
First off, this is a National Forest Campground. So your state park and national park passes don’t work here.
The only discount passes accepted are the Golden Age (62 and over) and the Golden Access (disabled). There’s no military discount, no South Dakota resident discount, no tribal discount etc. If you have the Golden Age/Access discount cards, you get 50% off, which is a pretty great deal!
Sites cost $26 a night no matter if it’s for a tent or a 42 ft motorhome. I think that’s pretty high for a primitive site. I wouldn’t pay it personally, but if you have the Golden age/access cards, you pay $13 a night which is a great deal! I would pay that!
The campground is open May 19-September 11 (at least that’s the season for 2017). Weird dates. I don’t know why they close so early. It’s not even fall yet! HOWEVER, for the last few years they have left one loop of the campground open after the closing dates. You can come and camp for free! They told us that this year it would all be closed and on closing day (9/11/17) they informed us to leave Loop A open. There have been half a dozen campers there every night..for free! SWEET!
All the sites are primitive, meaning you have no electricity, water, or sewer.
You cannot fill your camper fresh water tank with water so make sure you bring water with.
There’s no dump station, so when you leave you’ll have to go to a private campground and pay to dump. The closest ones are 5 miles north or south on highway 385.
There are no showers here. The marina store down the street has showers. They are open 7am-7pm and they charge $1.50 for a five minute shower. They have laundry facilities as well. I hear they have awesome broasted chicken, cinnamon rolls, and homemade dilly bars.
You can run your generator from 6am – 10pm. Those are quite generous hours I think!
There are 3 loops to the campground. There is a camp host in each loop. The loops are called “C”, “A”, and “B” and they are set up in that order when you enter the park. Pretty creative names there don’t ya think!
There are spaces that will fit 40+ ft motorhomes and fifth wheels. They are even paved pull throughs, but there are only 6 of these sites (#17-22). These sites are not good for tents at all.
Most of the other sites will still accommodate 30+ft campers, some a little bigger and some a little smaller.
B loop is like a parking lot. You get 2 parking sites per spot. You can put your camper in one and your truck in the other. If you have a tent, you put that up in the grass behind the parking spots.
Over half the sites are reservable either by phone or online. If you’re reserving, you have to do it at least 4 days ahead of the day you want to arrive. I hear complaints that no one ever answers the phone at the reservation number.
I believe you can reserve a year ahead of time. Don’t quote me on that though.
A loop is completely for reservations. These are sites #23-47. There is no site 36 – they turned it into a bathroom.
The most popular sites in the park are #34 and #35 in A loop because of the lake views.
In C loop, all sites have a partial lake view.
B loop has no lake views at all. It is probably the quietest loop of the three. It’s good for groups as well.
You can put a tent on almost any site in the park, but there’s a “tent only” area which is right above the boat ramp and has good lake views. All those sites are first come, first serve sites and no RV’s are allowed there.
You can have up to 8 people on a site and as many tents as you want… as long as you stick to the 8 people rule (that includes children). You can put up tents on an RV site as well. You just can’t put more than one camper on each site
Dogs are $2 per dog per night.
If you have visitors, they will be charged $7 per car per day and they will have to park in an overflow lot.
There is great cell service here.
There is no wifi.
You can get about 6 TV channels over the air – ABC, FOX, MeTV x 2, and a few PBS channels.
Almost every Friday and Saturday night is full to capacity from mid June through August. You need to be here by noon Friday’s to get a spot. On holiday weekends you should be here at least by Thursday.
The exception is during Sturgis Rally. That 2 weeks was the slowest period all summer! The campground was maybe 50% full, mostly with bikers who were older and very quiet. The lake was pretty empty during Rally too. We were told that the locals don’t come out during Rally and the bikers like to have showers in their parks so they go elsewhere. Go figure!
There is a beach at Pactola but it is 1.5 miles from the campground so you really need to drive there.
The roads to the campground are narrow and twisty. The road from the south off Hwy 385 (Hill City) is less twisty and probably easier to maneuver a large camper down than the road from the north near the dam.
The campground is full of pine trees. There’s lots of shade. But the sites are not private per se. You can see your neighbors. There’s no brush – only tall trees between sites.
There are 2 boat ramps – one adjacent to the campground (the South ramp) and one on the North side of the lake about 6 miles away.
There’s very few bugs here.
There are no Black Bear in the Black Hills. The last one was shot in 1968.
Humidity is low. Occasional pop up rain/thunderstorms are common in the afternoons.
Pactola has its own separate group campground named Bear Gulch. It is six miles from the main campground up a steep gravel road. You can invite up to 40 of your closest friends. The cost is $110 per night, but you get the whole place to yourselves and it’s right on the lake! There is no cell service there. It’s reservable only and it books up for the entire summer so if you want to book it -do it way early!!
Pactola is very central to all the activities and attractions in the Black Hills which makes it a great home base.
The closest grocery store is 12 miles away in Hill City. The gas station is 6 miles away. Worried about a hospital? It’s 22 miles away in Rapid City. So is the nearest Wal Mart.
Did I forget anything?