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:

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Big Sioux River Through Sioux Falls

The Big Sioux River – Through Sioux Falls: 26th Street Bridge up to bridge over the Bike Trail - July 2007

One of the most accessible waterways for those living in Sioux Falls is the relatively short paddle beginning at the canoe access point on the west side of the Big Sioux as it passes east 26th Street and continues up to the bicycle trail bridge over the river, about 1 ½ miles upstream.


There is a large parking area at the launching point and a ramp of deep sand provided. This is a fairly easy put-in, but like most river launching points, the shallow shoreline is relatively narrow, and the water rapidly becomes deeper – maybe a foot deep just offshore. Parking at this launching point can be tight during the YMCA camp hours as the employees use this as a parking spot and cross under the bridge to the camp itself. I got to the area about 8:30 a.m., and there was plenty of parking available. When I returned about 9:30, the parking area was full. I think that there is nearly always some place to park there, and the launching area itself is a “no parking” zone.


Cruising upstream, the paddler passes under the 26th Street Bridge with the bike trail on the left side and Camp Leif Erickson on the right. This is a scenic path up the river; the land on the left side is all park land, and the bike trail is largely hidden beyond the shoreline trees and brush. Occasionally, you catch a glimpse of people passing on their bikes. The YMCA camp property extends along the right side, and you can see parts of the Leif Erickson setting along the shore and through the trees.


I found plenty of depth to the river as I cruised up and down this stretch. Within the channel, the average depth seemed to be about four feet. I did not run aground at all on the round trip. There was a surprisingly strong current running on this trip, and it got stronger as the river narrowed or split on occasion. It took me about 30 minutes to paddle up to the bicycle trail bridge, but I slowed a few times to take photographs. On the way back, it took about 20 “kick back” minutes to mosey along and enjoy the scenery.


There is an interesting quality about this little cruise. First of all, the dense vegetation and heavy tree cover gives the impression of being in a remote area. It really is a scenic paddle. On the other hand, the sounds are mixed. You can hear the birds and the wind through the trees as well as the flow of water. At the same time, you can hear the sounds of young people in the YMCA camp, the hiss of tires on the nearby Interstate, and the snatches of conversation of people passing on the bike trail. Today, a freight train of many cars filled with rock passed along the east side of the river. The sound of the engines of this train set my kayak vibrating. The sounds pass, though, and I did not think of them as major annoyances.

The easy paddle is “book ended” by a set of rapids near the bike trail bridge on the south end of the cruise and by another set on the north end. There are no good portages around these rapids, although they can be run when the water is high enough. In the past, I have both run them and “lined” them (walking along the shore or hopping from rock to rock with lines attached to the kayak as it floats through).



I used to take this little cruise a number of times each year. It has been a couple of years, though, since I put my kayak into this section of the river. Now, I wonder why I didn’t do it more often. This is not a high adventure cruise by any means, and I may have just come to think of it as just too limited. But, that is narrow thinking, I believe. This stretch of the river is great for someone who wants a close area to paddle and has limited time to devote to the cruise. It is a one hour trip, and it is possible for nearly any of us to do this at “the drop of a hat.” This can easily be an after work paddle, an opportunity to get a little exercise with only the commitment of an hour or so. I recommend the trip for any of us who wants a short cruise without the drive or for people who are working on their paddling skills. It is a good place to practice upstream paddling; it is also a good place to slowly drift back while checking out the river life. The distance and conditions also make it easy to accomplish a short cruise without the bother of arranging for a shuttle or someone to pick us up.

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