One of the Black Hills' most hidden recreation areas, Dalton Lake is located south of Sturgis and west of Piedmont. To find it, we started by traversing Vanocker Canyon Road in western South Dakota. From there we turned onto Dalton Lake Road, a.k.a. USFS Road 224. We followed this dirt road for several miles through thick forest before reaching Dalton Lake, tucked away in the woods. No paved roads access the lake, but it is still a popular place to be during the warmer months.
Remote though it may be, Dalton Lake is a favored fishing destination among the locals. It is also home to a large trailhead, found just downstream from the lake. This is a hub for the famed Centennial Trail as well as the extensive ATV trail system that weaves through this area of the National Forest. In addition, there is an absolutely lovely picnic area and campground located near the lake itself.
After a morning of hiking nearby, we decided to stop here for lunch. The day use fee to enjoy the area was only $4. During the summer there is an on-site attendant who greeted us warmly upon arrival. We were directed to an empty picnic table with a lovely view of the lake. We were welcome to stay until 10:00 PM, when the day use area closes and the campground's quiet hours begin.
Right away we noticed how clean the picnic grounds were. A bathroom was located on site, just a short walk from the tables. There were trees to attach tie-out cables to and plenty of room for the girls to eat comfortably. Grills were available at every table. All this and a view of the lake certainly made it worth the $4.
Even though the recreation area was fairly crowded, it was quiet. It was full of people camping, eating, fishing, and enjoying the trails, but still managed to be peaceful. Everyone was enjoying the tranquility of the forest together, as if respecting some sort of unspoken understanding not to disrupt the serenity of this place.
After a delightful picnic lunch we decided to walk around the lake and check out the surroundings.
Fisher-people were spread out all along the lake shore. Several small piers stuck out over the water. The girls enjoyed stepping onto a vacant one and looking out across the lake.
We explored the path that followed the shoreline. Dalton Lake is actually quite small, and is more of a fishing pond than a lake. Its deepest point is only about 15 feet deep, and is a man-made lake with a dam on its eastern bank. It's stocked with fish and non-motorized boats are allowed on the water. The footpath we were following revealed one fishing spot after another. A charming unused shelter sat at one end of the trail.
The dirt path was paved in some parts and led us back to a bridge overlooking the lake's spillway. The girls enjoyed watching water cascading down this man-made waterfall.
The path continued along the shore behind the lake. The Centennial Trail extended up the hillside and plunged deep into the forest from here, headed north towards Bear Butte. The dogs enjoyed the shore path, stopping to sniff everything along the way.
This beautiful lake is surrounded by forested hills on all sides, and the girls liked exploring the area very much. When we crossed the spillway again they were still mesmerized by the cascading water, and stopped for a few minutes to watch it before moving on.
The dogs enjoyed looking out over the lake but were disappointed in the lack of swimming. The water was shallow and muddy, not ideal for playing and splashing about. The girls ventured into the water once, then decided it wasn't fit for romping around in. Otherwise, this was a great place to spend the afternoon.
This small recreation area is popular, and was nearly at full capacity during our summertime visit. Its remote location actually makes it more appealing. We couldn't help but notice that nearly everyone there had a dog. Dogs were everywhere we looked; fishing, hiking, camping, and just generally enjoying life by the lake. It was wonderful to see all the canines having a great time on their dog-cations.
The Dalton Lake rules are clearly posted upon entry. Pets are welcome but must be leashed at all times and are not to be left unattended. The area is open daily from 6:00 AM to 10:00 PM for those not planning to camp overnight.
Many people use Dalton Lake as their base camp for exploring the sprawling trail systems of the area. Others frequent this site for the tranquil fishing it offers. We found it to be a great spot to picnic and relax by the lake. It's a charming place to hang out, eat, fish, camp, hike, or just sit by the water and let time go by. It may not be a well-known location to tourists, but the locals are in on the secret.