South Dakota, unlike its neighbor to the east, is not known as a land of abundant lakes.
In the northeast corner of South Dakota, there are so many lakes you’d think you’re still in Minnesota. Heading west or south from there, the lakes get fewer and farther between.
The scarcity of lakes in much of South Dakota is part of what makes the few good ones so appreciated by the state’s residents. In central/eastern South Dakota, one of those few nice lakes is Lake Mitchell.
Lake Mitchell was created by impounding Firesteel Creek sometime around 1930. For decades, the lake served as a reservoir supplying the water needs of Mitchell residents. In modern times, the city built a Missouri River pipeline, so the lake is now mostly a recreational destination and serves only a backup water-supply role.
Like many prairie lakes, Lake Mitchell is prone to algae breakouts during hot, dry spells. The last couple of years, there has been so much rain in the Mitchell area that algae outbreaks have been avoided. Partly due to that good fortune, and partly due to the dedication of local residents, Lake Mitchell is undergoing something of a rebirth.
A new Lake Mitchell Advisory Committee has gotten serious about improving the lake. One of the committee’s best projects has been the refurbishing of long-dormant hiking trails along the undeveloped portions of the lake shore. I recently hiked one of those trails with my 2-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter.
The trail stretches between the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village and the Kiwanis Woodlot Park, a distance of about three-fourths of a mile, and intersects what’s known locally as “the amphitheater” along the way. The amphitheater is a big, grassy, half-bowl formation that was built along the lake shore by Depression-era public works employees as a place for concerts and other gatherings.
What I love about the trail is that when you enter it, the trees and the seclusion are enough to make you feel like you’re in a state park, even though you’re within the city limits of Mitchell. Throw in a few close-up views of the lake, and you’ve got a great little hike. For people coming by on I-90 and stopping at the Corn Palace, hiking the trail would be a great way to bust up the boredom of the road, breathe some fresh air and get some exercise. Additionally, there are several nice places to have a picnic at the Woodlot Park end of the trail and at the amphitheater. And if you’re planning to visit the Indian Village, hiking the trail from Woodlot Park is kind of a neat, unorthodox way of getting there.
Other recreational opportunities
Beyond the trails, Lake Mitchell is obviously a good place for on-the-water recreation such as fishing, water-skiing, canoeing and kayaking. There are various places to put boats in the water, including an especially nice boat ramp on the lake’s south side.
There’s also a fishing bridge situated next to a playground on the lake’s west end, a handicap fishing pier on the lake’s east end, two beaches on the lake’s north side, a great campground, and group-rental facilities such as the Lake Mitchell Day Camp. Bordering the lake on its south side is Lakeview Municipal Golf Course, one of the best municipal courses in the state. And all around the lake are public access areas marked with green signs.
It’s the wide variety of recreation available at Lake Mitchell, plus its easy access within the city limits of Mitchell, that makes it one of South Dakota’s undiscovered treasures.