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:

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

At Last: First Cruise of 2010: March on Lake Alvin

At last! The warm weather here on the northern plains has created conditions for early paddling this season. My last cruise was December 1, 2009, on an ice-covered Lake Alvin. I skirted around short leads through the ice and realized that the season had passed. This morning, I revisited the same location at the public access area on the northwest shore of Lake Alvin. The temperature was about 50 degrees at 8:00 a.m. today, but there was a brisk wind out of the southwest. The docks have been reinstalled by the Department of Game, Fish, and Parks at both the public access and the recreation area launch points. As normal on a weekday morning, the lake was deserted.
Since there was a stiff wind this morning, I began my cruise crossing the lake and heading southwest into Nine-Mile Creek. The water was calm in the creek, although there was a pretty good current flowing into the lake. The most obvious sound on the water this morning was the calling of birds, both geese and redwing blackbirds. Early on the cruise, a muskrat or beaver crossed in front of me, but that was the only hint of any mammal out along the banks. I didn’t see any jumping fish either.
The landscape is in a transition phase right now. Everything is brown and seems weary of the long winter. Visibility is much clearer with the absence of green leafy trees and plants. Hints of growth appear with green shoots coming up through the clumps of dead grass left over from last summer.
I was conscious of the flow of water and the breeze through the dead plants and leafless trees. It just felt good to be outside, all alone on the water. The sound of wind and water seem to transport me away from any cares or concerns about the routines of home, work, and relationships.
After reaching the end of Nine-Mile Creek, the point where it is just not possible to navigate any further, I turned back and let the current carry me back to the main body of the lake. From that point, I took out my umbrella and sailed from the entrance of the creek back nearly to the other end of the lake, past the recreation area toward the fishing dock. The wind was strong out of the southwest, and the kayak cruised considerably faster than paddling speed. Having a rudder on my kayak makes all the difference when trying to “umbrella sail.” I just hang the big golf umbrella out and manipulate it to catch the wind. My rudder makes it possible for me to just control the position of the umbrella and steer. I can usually sail up to about 45 degrees off the wind with no difficulty.
Coming back to the public access area, however, was a different issue. While the ride down wind was great, paddling back into the wind took a little energy and the use of some neglected muscles. As usual, I found that cruising back close to the shoreline provided me the smoothest ride and allowed me to avoid the worst of the wind and building waves.
So, it has been four months since my last cruise. If conditions are good, we can hope for about eight months of kayaking/canoeing weather in the Sioux Falls area. We had wonderful weather last November, and now I got out in March, the earliest I have been on the water in several years.
I spent about 90 minutes on the water this morning, and that was about right for me at this stage of the paddling season. I decided to leave the kayak on top of the car, though, since tomorrow seems like another great spring day.

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