Gavins Point Dam

Gavins Point Dam began operating in 1955 as a key part of a system of six large federal dam and reservoir projects that reduce flood risks for the populations and urban and agricultural properties downstream along the mainstem Missouri River. The smallest and furthest downstream of the mainstem projects, Gavins Point Dam stretches across the upper Missouri River in the southeastern corner of South Dakota. When not operating to reduce flood impacts, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages this mainstem system of dams and reservoirs to balance hydropower generation, water supply, water quality, irrigation, fish and wildlife conservation, navigation, and recreation benefits. 

The River Basin Balancer Game offers insight into an inland waterway and a system of reservoirs, which are operated with a goal for serving each of the benefits, flood control, navigation, hydropower, irrigation, water supply, recreation, fish and wildlife, and water quality, for which many USACE reservoirs are authorized and constructed. Users can take charge of river operations and experience the unique challenges presented when managing reservoir operations in a variety of weather conditions across a geographically diverse basin.

Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers! Prevent invasive species Water Safety Reserve a campsite at USACE campgrounds at Purchase Navigation and Boating Maps from the Jefferson National Parks Association

Gavins Point Dam News

Crest Road at Gavins Point Dam closed Wednesday, Dec. 1 for maintenance
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District announced that Crest Road at Gavins Point Dam, South Dakota will be closed Wednesday, Dec. 1, from 9 3:30 p.m. for maintenance. Visitors are...
Generator maintenance will result in water releases through spillway gates at Gavins Point Dam
Maintenance on the generators at Gavins Point Powerplant near Yankton, South Dakota, will result in the need to release water through the spillway gates through Sept. 30...
Gavins Point spillway flow forecast during archery paddlefish season
Completion of work being done on a generator at Gavins Point Dam, near Yankton, SD, will allow spillway gates to be closed near the start of archery paddlefish season. The work, which included...


Location: Near Yankton, S.D., River Mile 811.1

Gavins Point Dam and Lewis & Clark Lake (the reservoir behind the dam) straddle the Nebraska/South Dakota border and are nestled in the golden, chalkstone-lined valley of the Missouri River and has grown into one of the most popular recreation spots in the Great Plains.

The dam consists of an earthen embankment, a powerhouse, and 14 gates on a concrete-lined spillway. During normal operations, USACE releases water through the powerhouse to generate power and balance reservoir levels for other uses. As operations shift to reducing flood risks during periods of high runoff, USACE dam operators release more water through the spillway gates.

More information about the project’s features are available here.

To contact the project office, email:


This graphic illustrates the how the water storage capacity of the six upper Missouri River dams compares among that of other USACE reservoirs in the continental United States
Aerial Photo of Gavins Point Dam

Operating for many benefits

Gavins Point Dam and Lewis & Clark Lake provide many benefits to the local and regional public and to the nation. These include reducing the loss of life and property damage from floods, producing hydropower, and providing benefits to recreation, irrigation, water quality, fish and wildlife, and commercial navigation. The dam can generate 132,300 average kilowatt hours a year.

The public lands and waters of also provide a wide variety of recreational activities, such as fishing, boating, and camping.


Lewis and Clark Lake attracts more than 2 million visitors each year to its shores. Recreation opportunities around the lake include camping, fishing, hunting, hiking, boating, sailing, swimming, bird-watching, and photography.

For the biking and hiking enthusiasts, three trails are available in the area. They include a paved trail that runs from Yankton to the Gavins Point area, a multi-use trail in the Gavins Point area and the Calumet Bluff hiking trail located near the visitor center. Wintertime activities include ice fishing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and sledding.

Developed public camping areas surround the lake above and below Gavins Point Dam. Camping facilities provided by the Corps and the States of South Dakota and Nebraska include campsites with electricity, modern restrooms, playground equipment and trailer dump stations.

Additional information about nearby activities, camping, day use, and reservations are available here.

Operators at Gavins Point Dam on the Missouri River managed the release of water through 14 spillway gates to reduce the impacts of flooding to people and property downstream in 2011. The spillway gates each measure 40 feet by 30 feet.
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 Hunting and Fishing:

Great year-round fishing opportunities attract thousands of anglers to the lake area. Fishing piers for the physically challenged are located on the south shore of Lake Yankton and in the Nebraska Tailwaters area.

Residents of South Dakota or Nebraska with valid fishing licenses may fish anywhere on either side of the Missouri River, Lewis and Clark Lake and Lake Yankton.

Nonresidents fishing in Nebraska and South Dakota are required to have a nonresident license and may fish anywhere at Lewis and Clark Lake, Lake Yankton and along the Missouri River along the South Dakota border waters except from Gavins Point Dam downstream for 0.6 miles.  

 Getting Here:  (Driving Directions)

4 miles west of Yankton, SD on Highway 52, south across the dam

13 miles north of Crofton, NE on Highway 121

 Visitor Center Schedule Information (Dates/Times):

The Lewis and Clark Center is located atop Calumet Bluff just downstream from the Gavins Point Powerplant. The visitor center provides a spectacular view of Lewis and Clark Lake, Gavins Point Dam and the Missouri River.

Exhibits in the center include information and displays about the development of the entire Missouri River Basin as well as the geology, exploration, early navigation, settlement and natural history of the Missouri River region. The Calumet Bluff Theater programs highlight construction of Gavins Point Dam, the Lewis and Clark Expedition and wildflowers.

A bookstore offers books about Lewis and Clark, Native Americans, pioneers, river travel and natural history. The Dorian Prairie Garden located outside the visitor center depicts common prairie plants and explains their uses by Native Americans. Stop by the Lewis and Clark wayside exhibits adjacent to the parking area to learn about the travels of the Lewis and Clark Expedition through this area.

Visitor Center Hours:

  • Daily, Monday to Sunday, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm

  • For more information, call 402-667-2546


 Dam and Powerplant Tour Schedule information (Dates/Times):

Powerplant tours have been discontinued until further notice.

Power plant tours are also available year-round for school & civic groups by calling the Visitor Center at 402-667-2546.

A photo ID is required for all ages 17 and older. School and civic groups can make appointments for group tours by calling the Lewis and Clark Visitor Center at 402-667-2546. The following items are prohibited in the power plant:

  • Purses, backpacks, camera bags or bags of any kind
  • Strollers or child carriers
  • Cameras/photography or video cameras/filming
  • Cell phone, fitness watches, smart phones, smart watches or any electronic devices (medical devices ok)
  • Food and drink
  • Weapons, including pocket knives, multi-tools, etc

On this walking tour you will see the generator floor, cable spreading room, a view of the control room and many other points of interest. There is lots of walking and several flights of stairs on the tours, but an elevator is available. Tours last 30-45 minutes.


Power plant tours are also available year-round for school & civic groups by calling the Visitor Center at 402-667-2546.

Tours can be canceled without notice - Please call ahead to verify times.


Reducing Flood Risk

During normal operations, USACE releases up to 36,000 cubic feet of water per second through the powerhouse. One cubic foot of water, or cfs, is equal to 7.5 gallons. The spillway was designed to additionally release up to 584,000 cfs. For perspective, the largest release of water from Gavins Point Dam as a result of flooding was a combined 160,700 cfs from the powerhouse and spillway in 2011. It is important to understand that the dam is designed to release up to 620,000 cfs when necessary and that dams do not eliminate flood risk.

Contract workers use a ground penetrating radar device on the upper portion of the concrete slab spillway at Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota on May 9, 2012. The radar will assist engineers with the Omaha District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in conducting a damage assessment to the spillway to see if any repairs may be needed to the frost blanket beneath the concrete. Preliminary tests indicated that at least some of the granular material in the blanket may have been removed by the action of floodwaters during last year's high releases.
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 Maintaining the dam

As part of its Dam Safety Program, Omaha District conducts detailed engineering analyses to ensure its dams are reduce risks to the public, property, and the environment to the extent possible. Dam safety standards and practices are continually updated to improve the maintenance and operation of dams to ensure they can reliably serve their original purposes. In addition, dam safety engineers across federal and state agencies share information as they learn about the performance of flood risk reduction structures built over many decades. They now use more precise, modern technologies and apply up-to-date science to reduce flood risk more effectively. Gavins Point Dam is operating as designed but in the unlikely case of uncontrolled reservoir releases, significant consequences could impact downstream populations, including numerous urban centers along the Missouri River. 

Omaha District completed several risk reduction actions at Gavins Point Dam after the flooding of 2011.  These include the installation of additional drains to further control water flowing through the dam’s foundation, additional instrumentation to enhance foundation monitoring, and construction of a large downstream filter to prevent erosion of the foundation soil. Numerous repairs were also made to the spillway to improve its resiliency during future flood events and a portable generator is now available to provide back-up power to operate the spillway gates if the powerhouse floods.

Visit the National Inventory of Dams to learn more about how dams work and Gavins Point Dam risk assessments.


Lewis & Clark Lake and Gavins Point Dam are nestled in the golden, chalkstone-lined valley of the Missouri River growing into one of the most popular recreation spots in the Great Plains.

Currently, the archeological record in the Lewis and Clark Lake area dates back to the Archaic Period, sometime around  3,000 to 5,000 B.C. The Archaic Period people lived along small tributary streams that flow into the Missouri Valley. Later, Woodland Period people (500 B.C. – 1,000 A.D.) lived in the area. More recent inhabitants include the Ponca, Yankton Sioux and Omaha tribes in the late 18th and 19th centuries. The Minnesota Santee Sioux arrived on the river shore in the mid-1800's and remain in the area.

In 1804, while traveling up the Missouri River on their epic journey to the Pacific Ocean, Lewis and Clark participated in a Grand council with the Yankton Sioux at a site below Calumet Bluff. This significant meeting was the first meeting with a Sioux tribe on their journey upstream. The Lewis and Clark Visitor Center now stands on historic Calumet Bluff.

In 1874, the Bon Homme Colony of Hutterites, a branch of the Mennonite movement exiled from Austria, settled on what is now the shore of Lewis and Clark Lake. They are the first Hutterite Colony in South Dakota and the United States. The colony maintains a traditional communal way of life.

Nearby Yankton was the first territorial capital of the Dakota Territory from 1861 to 1883 and was a major steamboat landing until 1881. Since then, Yankton has grown into a regional business and health care community, and with the creation of Lewis and Clark Lake, has become a major recreation destination.

Gavins Point Dam was authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1944, commonly called the Pick-Sloan Plan. Ground was broken at the damsite on May 18, 1952, in a ceremony attended by Lieutenant General Lewis Pick, then Chief of Engineers, and the Governors of South Dakota and Nebraska. Construction began immediately and in September 1956 the Powerplant began producing electricity for customers. The total cost of the dam totaled just under $50 million. Yearly benefits from the dam are estimated at $35 million dollars.