This blog is designed to highlight the paddling opportunities within South Dakota, mainly within a 50-mile radius of Sioux Falls. While Sioux Falls is far from the adventure of coastal regions, there is a certain satisfaction in utilizing the available waterways to observe weather, water conditions, and the landscape along the shoreline. In addition, there is a wealth of animal life on the waters of small South Dakota lakes, rivers, and creeks, including geese, ducks, pelicans, great blue heron, egrets, hawks, owls, perching birds, deer, raccoons, and beaver. Eagles, fox, and coyote are also sometimes spotted.

The sites described are places where I have kayaked over the past few years, mostly in South Dakota but sometimes including locations in Iowa and Minnesota. One of the best sources of information on the accessibility of small lakes is the South Dakota Atlas and Gazetteer, the large map book of South Dakota. Lakes with a public access are generally identified by a boat symbol marking the location of a launching site on public land.

You will notice the menu of paddling locations on the right side of the blog. Each of the postings is linked to one of the areas, and my intention is to provide a continuing review of the places where I paddle. Perhaps these narratives will help readers select waterways of interest to them. Please feel free to offer a comment regarding any of my postings; I would welcome the dialog.

I also maintain a companion blog that describes hiking opportunities within the Sioux Falls area. You can access that blog at: http://hikingsiouxfalls.blogspot.com

Monday, March 10, 2014

Checking Out the Waters: March 2014

Dave Finck on Lake Alvin

March is a time of great restlessness for those of us living on the northern plains.  This has been a very long and cold winter and the arrival of a day with some sun and a temperature in the high 50s is enough to become our obsession.
Lake Alvin
Dave Finck and I decided to take a “road trip” this morning and visit several of the area waterways south and west of Sioux Falls.  I can’t help but look back two years ago and enjoy photos and narratives of a couple of cruises that I took on Lake Alvin and Lake Lakota in mid-March.  There won’t be any such early cruises this year.  Instead, I would guess that we are at least three weeks away from being able to get out on area lakes.

Lake Alvin
Our first stop this morning was Lake Alvin, then we drove across the Big Sioux River at the Grandview Bridge crossing, south of Sioux Falls near Lake Alvin.  From there, we drove to the Klondike Rapids and walked across the bridge from the Iowa side to South Dakota.  We then continued south to Lake Lakota, just on the southeastern edge of Newton Hills State Park.
Big Sioux River looking upstream from Grandview Bridge
Big Sioux River looking downstream from Grandview Bridge
Big Sioux River at Klondike Rapids
Lake Lakota
Lake Lakota
New Service: Kayak Rentals at Lake Lakota
From Lake Lakota, we drove west to check out Swan Lake, located between Viborg and Hurley.

Swan Lake
Geese on Swan Lake
All of these areas are in transition now.  The ice is becoming splintered and porous with pools of recently melted surface water scattered about.  I would not want to walk out on any of those surfaces, although we did see a guy ice fishing on Lake Alvin with a vehicle parked on the ice.
Guy out on the ice at Lake Alvin
Geese were headed north overhead, and we could hear their loud calls to each other.  On Swan Lake, we came across a large flock of geese standing around on the ice.

Geese on Swan Lake
The lakes are about to experience a great change as the warmer surface water shifts with the deep cold water and the annual breakup takes place.  Kayaking and canoeing might resume within just a few short weeks.
Swan Lake
All the photographs from today can be accessed on my Flickr page at the following URL:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/jayheath/sets/72157642172200184/

Sunday, February 02, 2014

SDCKA Annual Conference: 2014


The Annual South Dakota Canoe/Kayak Conference was held yesterday at the Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls.  This event is always held at mid-winter and sets the stage for the approach of the paddling season in a couple of months.
Fifth-one paddlers gathered in the auditorium of the Outdoor Campus after an hour of socializing and networking in the lobby.  President Steven Dahlmeier opened the conference with a look at the activities of the association over the past year.  He provided the continuity for the conference as a variety of presentations were offered over the next four hours.
Kayak Outfitted for Adaptive Paddling
The first presentation offered a review of the adaptive paddling activities provided for people with disabilities who wanted to stretch themselves through kayaking.  Cory Diedrick, board member of the SDCKA, was a key figure in this process, and he was accompanied during the presentation by paddlers who were able to take advantage of this opportunity as well as others who helped bring this plan to fruition.
Presentations were offered on the health and future of the Big Sioux River, both within the Sioux Falls area and on the upper river watershed from Summit to Brookings.  In addition, a representative of the Iowa DNR presented a review of the demolition of the Klondike Dam and how that affects the river flow on the Big Sioux River in that stretch between SD and Iowa.
Several South Dakota paddlers and a support team participated in the MR 340 this past summer.  This event took paddlers 340 miles down the Missouri River between Kansas City and St. Charles in 88 hours.  Kati Albers, David Mays, and Pat Wellner offered their photos and recollections of that major accomplishment.
A group of SDCKA members offered some tips for paddlers regarding choice of paddles, safety equipment, and gear for cruising.
Pete Larson, long time SDCKA board member, presented his slides and story of a 14-day rafting trip through the Grand Canyon this past summer.
Jarett Bies and Steven Dahlmeier discussed the South Dakota Kayak Challenge (https://www.facebook.com/pages/South-Dakota-Kayak-Challenge/74472547629?ref=br_tf) race between Yankton and Sioux City and plans for next summer.  In addition, Jartett presented the first look at a new 50-mile race along the Missouri River from Fort Randall to Pickstown.  Details of this race can be found on a dedicated Facebook page at the following URL:
For many of us at the conference, this gathering was the first time we had chatted since mid-November when the waters in the Sioux Falls area iced up for the long winter.  We laughed it up for a few hours and began to anticipate our first cruises of the season.  Now, we just watch the daylight hours lengthen, the sun continue to strengthen, and the snow and ice to gradually melt.  Normally, we are able to get out on the water in April, and that means just another 8 or 9 weeks to go.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Big Sioux River: 26th Street to Bicycle Trail Bridge in Sioux Falls


Yesterday after being unable to get out on Fensterman Slough as planned, Dave Finck and I decided to canoe upstream on the Big Sioux River from just beyond the bridge over 26th Street to the rapids under the bike trail bridge, a distance of about 2.5 miles round trip.
Whatever ice had been on the Big Sioux River through Sioux Falls had melted with the warmer temperatures, the wind, and the river current.  There were only traces left along some of the shoreline; otherwise, the river was clear of ice. The water was remarkably clear after some of our cold weather.  Sometimes it was possible to look down into the water a couple of feet and see a thick carpet of leaves suspended over the bottom for 18 inches or so.  These carpets of leaves reminded me of clouds in the sky.
The current was surprisingly fast as we powered our way upstream.  Depth of the water within the channel was probably three or four feet, but the river is about 50 feet wide at this point, and there are gravel bars or mud banks along the way.  We touched bottom a couple of times in Dave’s 17 foot canoe, but did not grind to a halt until we reached the gravel bars that form just past the rapids under the bike trail bridge.
Taking a trip down the river at this time of the year is sort of a farewell to the paddling season.  The monochromatic brown tones of the vegetation going dormant is the major feature of the landscape.  Passing along the shoreline, the view into the trees is markedly different than just a few weeks ago when the undergrowth was thick and the world seemed green.
As we muscled our way upstream against a fairly strong current, we could look into the deserted YMCA camp along the right bank.  I thought of all the years that my own boys attended Camp Leif Ericson and had such a great time.  Along the left side of the river, the bike trail snakes its way northwest, and we could see riders enjoying the 57 degree sunny day.
There were a few ducks still on the river enjoying their final days on an ice-free Big Sioux River.  I wondered where the ducks go for the winter, and Dave Finck thought that they headed for the Missouri River where the water is at least partially open most of the year. 
We made it up to the rapids and ground to a halt on a gravel bar.  After turning the canoe around, we made a very leisurely return trip back to the put-in at 26th Street.  Paddling was hardly necessary, just an occasional stroke to steer the boat; otherwise, the return was mostly a float trip down a quiet river with plenty of opportunity to look at the landscape, the water flow, and the trees that have fallen into the stream.
The cruise yesterday was really a moment to reflect upon the now closing paddling season.  The forecast ahead is for colder days, and I expect to see ice on the river soon.  As we found at Fensterman, the lakes are either closed down or just on the edge of being frozen for the next few months.
Very soon, I will clean up my kayak, remove the rack from the roof of my Honda Civic, and unload all my paddling gear from the trunk and carry it up into the attic above the garage.  It will be late March or early April before there is much chance of getting on the water again here on the Northern Plains.
Dave Finck on the Big Sioux Through Sioux Falls
A full set of the photographs of the BSR cruise yesterday can be found on my Flickr page at the following URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jayheath/sets/72157637678498436/