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, April 19, 2008

The Big Sioux River: Flandreau, SD - Pow Wow Grounds to Flandreau City Park

The first cruise of the 2008 season for the South Dakota Canoe Association took place today, April 19, 2008. The trip was organized and managed by Jarett Bies, one of the officers in the SDAC. The Sierra Club was also involved in sponsoring this trip as a celebration of Earth Day. Several dozen people gathered at the Pow Wow grounds of the Santee Sioux Tribe just to the north of Flandreau. Around 11:00 a.m., the first boats took off through a set of rapids within the first 25 feet or so from the put-in. This rapids, I am told, are the result of a sidewalk put across the river a few decades ago to connect the tribal festival grounds to space on the other side. The rapids did not seem to pose a hazard for any of the many boats that took off. As Jarett Bies said, a person just has to be positioned in the middle of the river, get into the flow, and hang on. The ride is over in a minute or so.


The weather was absolutely fantastic for this first cruise of the year. The temperature was around 60 when we set out, the sun was brightly shinning, the water levels were fine all the way, and there were no hazards to navigation along the way. It was a beautiful ride along the river, and South Dakotans weary of the long winter were wreathed in smiles on this magnificent day. People were dressed in a variety of ways; there were wet suits, t-shirts, heavy jackets, big rubber boots, flip-flop sandals, tennis shoes, aqua socks, a variety of hats, some people with gloves, others with their sleeves rolled up. It was a typical first cruise of the spring with people wondering about what to wear out on the river.


Most of the boats on the cruise were kayaks; and while most were the short recreational kayaks, there were sea kayaks, river running kayaks, a skin on frame kayak, and at least one inflatable. There were also a few canoes on the trip as well.


In the past, I avoided this trip. I had a vision of dozens of kayaks making their way down the river in a big pack: talking, laughing, eating, focused on visiting. I was wrong, however. There was a large group of people, but they set out in ones and twos across the rapids and seemed to initially form groups of three or four boats. Then, the kayaks became spread out. Some people continued along chatting and sharing the experience. People often left one group and linked up with another. Then, people took off on their own. For about half of the trip, I was seemingly along on the river – there were no other boats in sight or sound. So, on a trip like this, a person can travel with others for a while, then go off alone, and then link back up with a person or group later. Two of the advantages of this sort of experience are the networking and the camaraderie that develops. People offered others rides back to the put-in to get their boats, others talked about getting together for more trips. People chat with others who share an interest in paddling and the outdoors. I got a ride from one of my blog readers!


The routing chosen by Jarett Bies is really interesting. The distance from the put-in at the Pow Wow grounds to the take-out at the Flandreau City Park is 8-10 miles. The entire trip, however, is virtually in Flandreau. The river is very serpentine on this course. It forms large loops that keep coming back to the base route. You can see the route on the SDCA web site: The view along the river is in marked contrast to what we will see in a month or so. At this point in the spring, the grasses are still brown and the trees are bare. There was a lot of bird life to be seen: geese, ducks, pheasant, hawks, owls, red-winged blackbirds in the hundreds, and lots of other smaller birds. Their calls were constant along the river route. Large groups of people, as there were today, of course means that there is unlikely to be any wildlife other than birds seen. The people at the head of the cruise told me that they saw a deer, beaver, and muskrat. I saw no wildlife of this sort; there were just too many people passing.



This stretch of river seems as though it could be a great tourist attraction for Flandreau. It seems ideal for a business renting kayaks and canoes and offering refreshments. The 8 to 10 miles can be paddled in about two hours, or that is what it took most people today.


A gathering like this is a great place to see how people transport their boats. There was a wide variety of roof racks visible, as well as trailers and pick-ups. I use a Yakima rack on the roof of my Honda Civic, and that seems sometimes to be a lot of boat for a little car. But, I saw a Chevy Geo with a full size tandem kayak on top. It was quite a site to see such a long kayak with a car strapped underneath!


People seemed to very much enjoy this short ride along the river. It was not very taxing on anyone and permitted a great outing for people of very different skill levels. I talked to people who were getting their first experience in a kayak. Some people had just bought their kayak and were setting out on a maiden voyage.


You can see more about this trip by visiting the SDCA blog site, or Jarett Bies’ web site (


Pat Wellner said...

I finally found ambition to do something useful with the web domain I have had for nearly two years now. I am going to follow in your and Jarrett's footsteps and have all of paddling posts on a separate blog from my other posts.

Check it out.

John Adler said...

The little Geo Metro hidden under the big tandem kayak came from Pierre. It's owner is the other Pierre paddler that succeeded in paddling at least once a month all winter.

Thanks for setting up a great trip. It just ended too soon. My GPS reported the route to be 7.26 miles. My time on the water was just under an hour and a half.