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:

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Lake Vermillion

On Thursday of last week, I bought a new kayak to celebrate my retirement from university teaching. After considering many options, I decided to buy a Dagger 13 foot recreational/touring kayak. This boat has a rudder, two watertight compartments with hatches, and thigh braces. It weighs 51 pounds. In the end, I just really wanted to work with a rudder to have that experience. I didn't think that I had storage space in my garage or in the back yard for a longer boat.

I took the new kayak out to Lake Vermillion today for its maiden voyage. This lake is located west of Sioux Falls and south of Montrose. From Sioux Falls, most people would just go west on Highway 42 and then north to the lake. There is good signage to the SD Recreation Area located about four miles north of the highway along a paved road. A good share of the park is within the Lake Vermillion Recreation Area and requires a park sticker for entrance. There are two boat ramps, and I used the west ramp within the main part of the park. Lake Vermillion is a pretty heavily used recreation area, especially on weekends. There are two ramps at the launching point, and they were both busy when I arrived. There were also about a dozen cars or trucks with attached trailers in the parking lot. The lake is shaped sort of like the letter J. The boat ramp is at the low end of the J, and most of the power boats are out in the longer side of the lake. There are ski boats, jet skis, fishing boats, and people just cruising about in all sorts of boats. The power boat action is along this longer side of the lake. Those of us in kayaks can just put in at the ramp and then move out and turn right (west) onto the lower part of the J. This direction leads under the bridge of the north/south road running from Highway 42 north to Montrose. This is a portion of the lake which power boats seem to ignore. The first hurdle for them would be going under the bridge itself. The waters are narrower than the main part of the lake, and there are shallow points along the banks. But, this is just fine for the kayak.

I moved up the west arm of the lake for a mile and a-half or so. There are backwaters to explore along the western end of the lake, and this is where wildlife from the area is more likely to be seen. On my paddle up the arm, I saw numerous geese and a few great blue heron. I also saw a few turtles and jumping fish, but I didn’t run into any other boats.

I don’t think that this is the greatest body of water for the kayak boater. The main part of the lake is crisscrossed with power boats and their wakes. There is little to see along the shore other than a swimming beach, housing development on the south side of the lake, and an ordinary body of water. It may be just great for sailing and motorboats, but it is not especially attractive to the kayaker. The western arm of the lake is okay, and there is some interesting landform and bird life. The shoreline seems made up of a succession of low rolling hills. There is a lot of tall grass and willows, and some trees. The cruise up this arm is likely to take only half-an-hour, and then it is just the return trip. The attraction of Lake Vermillion to me is that my wife can go walking with our little dog while I go out in the kayak. This is not usually an option at the more under used lakes that I visit that have no real park facilities or hiking trails, such as Grass or Beaver Lakes. I think that this would also be a good lake to go to with a group of people who wanted to take turns going out in the kayaks. There is opportunity for those waiting to walk around the park rather than just sitting. So, there are certainly good reasons to go to Lake Vermillion. There are better choices, however, for those who want to check out the wildlife and to experience some isolation and solitude.

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