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:

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) Trip - Part 1

Several months ago, I was invited by David Finck, one of the officers in the South Dakota Canoe/Kayak Association, to join his late summer group trip to the BWCAW this year. The notion of going to the Boundary Waters has appealed to me for many years, but I never actively pursued it. As the years passed, so did the likelihood of ever making the trip. So, when this invitation was offered at the SDCKA Annual Conference last January, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity. David offered me space in a canoe, the loan of whatever gear I needed, and the encouragement to be part of the group this year. The cost of going on an eight-day trip was also very modest. I realized that, for the sake of my self-image, I just could not let the opportunity pass. It was also another experience that I wanted to add to my collection; a chance to see this wilderness area that I had heard so much about.
The group this year included seven people, one person had withdrawn and that left an odd number for crewing the canoes. Dave asked if I could bring along my kayak, so the fleet consisted of three canoes with two people each and nearly all the gear, and then I had my kayak as well. There were two husband/wife pairs, a father/son, and then me.
We traveled northeast about 450 miles to Ely, Minnesota, one of the key “jumping off” points into the BWCAW. Dave had a van and pulled a trailer with the four boats, and five of us rode with him. One of Dave’s old pals, Ken, drove with his son in convoy behind us during the round trip.
Ely is really an outdoors oriented community, and many vehicles passed up and down the main streets and were parked alongside motels, stores, and outfitters with canoes lashed down on roof tops or in trailers. By far, the most common canoes were the 17-foot Kevlar We-no-nah boats. After beginning the trek across lakes loaded to the gunnels with gear and negotiating the portages, I could see the attraction of such light, although expensive, canoes.
We spent the first night in Ely at a Motel, and then in the morning, after a hardy breakfast at a well-known local spot, we set off on a planned course through Moose Lake, Newfound Lake, Splash Lake, and into Ensign Lake. This routing included two portages, one of 35 rods and the other of 5 rods.
There was a steady stream of canoes heading both ways along the highway of Moose Lake. We entered the BWCAW at Entry Point 25, adjacent to the Boy Scout Somers Canoe Base, about 20 miles northeast of Ely. Outfitters have a motorboat service using big Jon boats with a rack on top that will accommodate two canoes. Lots of people use this service to speed their travel deeper into the BWCAW; motors of up to 25 hp are allowed in some portions of Moose and Newfound Lakes, after that no motors are allowed on the waterways. But then, lots of people just paddle down Moose and Newfound Lakes and continue on into the wilderness, and we were among the paddlers.
Dave and his wife, Mary, and their pal, Ken, and his son, John, had traveled into the BWCAW many times over the years and had a clear intention of where to establish a base camp for our week. Their practice over the years has been to find an attractive campsite and stay in that location during the week and then make day trips to various interesting places, all within a few hours travel time of the base camp. The plan this year was to establish a base camp toward the eastern end of Ensign Lake, a four-hour paddle from the “put-in” on Moose Lake.
The campsites are well spaced in isolated spots, up on a high bank with generally easy access by canoe and ample room for the maximum capacity of nine people. A fire pit with grate and an open toilet with a “throne” are provided. There is adequate space for pitching the tents and plenty of shade. Forest Service restrictions are placed upon the type of containers used for food, there is only lake water available; once in the BWCAW, communication is very limited: no cell phone coverage, no roads, and no motorboats. It is certainly a place to escape or avoid continual 24/7 news, cell phone messages, and being constantly in touch with the office, family, or friends.
The seven of us set up camp upon arrival at the site on Ensign Lake. We settled in during the late afternoon and then enjoyed a delicious pork chop dinner prepared by Dave. Being the only “singleton” of the group, I had a small tent by myself. The mosquitoes tended to become pretty bothersome at dusk, so we tended to tuck in around 9:00 p.m.
On that first night, we hoisted the food backs up on a line from a tall tree in hopes of thwarting interest by bears. One food container, however, was not hoisted that night, the container with all the meats prepared for the week. Late in the night, a heavy thunderstorm rolled over the area with spectacular lightening, cracking thunder, and a downpour of rain.
With the storm, I didn’t focus upon other sounds, the sounds of a bear roaming through the camp and the theft of the container with all the meat products. In the morning, we located the food container that had been taken by a bear and chewed open. The menu for the week was about to change markedly. Among some of the party, the anxiety level was about to rise as well.

To be continued..........

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