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: http://hikingsiouxfalls.blogspot.com
Sunday, September 05, 2010
The Rock River near Rock Rapids, Iowa
A few days ago I was pleased to learn that David and Mary Finck, along with Larry Braaten, were planning to lead a cruise along the Rock River, in Iowa, today. All three of these paddlers are officers in the South Dakota Canoe/Kayak Association (SDCKA), and they frequently announce and lead cruises within the area.
At 1:00 p.m. today, Sunday, thirteen paddlers with their kayaks gathered at Island Park in Rock Rapids, Iowa. Rock Rapids is about 30 miles east of my Sioux Falls home, east on Highway 9. After arranging a shuttle and leaving most cars just south of the bridge along Highway 75, about 7 miles south of Rock Rapids, the thirteen kayaks left a launching point within the park and headed south along the river.
The Rock River is a tributary of the Big Sioux River and wanders for about 100 miles from near Pipestone, Minnesota, to near Hawarden, Iowa, where it flows into the Big Sioux. Many years ago I paddled a stretch of the river from near Steen, Minnesota, to Rock Rapids. The river is aptly named; there are plenty of rocks scattered along the bed of the river, and there are also three or four sets of rapids south of Rock Rapids. None of the kayaks tipped in the rapids; still, they were enough to give a person pause, especially if cameras were not protected – as none of ours were. I shipped water over the bow and up along the cockpit of my kayak. I think that all of us got a little wet in the rapids.
Heading south out of Rock Rapids, there are some very nice homes built up on the high banks. After leaving the city, the river was generally deep enough to avoid any difficulties, especially in the northern half of our trip. Perversely, the river tended to have more shallow gravel bars along the southern half of our trip. Generally, the depth seemed to be about three to four feet. Like most waterways, though, there were deep channels and shallow shelving at times. As we moved closer to the Highway 75 bridge over the river, most of us had to get out of the kayaks at some point to drag them over gravel bars or shallow spots. That was not, however, much of a problem; mostly it involved just moving the boat a few feet into the deeper current.
The river flows through farm country, and the banks are not heavily wooded. We occasionally ran into people, friendly people who would wave and shout out a greeting. People stopped along the way to watch the flotilla pass.
We came across several electric fences across the river. Fortunately, these wires were noticed early and they were high enough to permit passage close along the bank. None of us received a shock from the fences.
About half way through the 3.5 hour trip, Dave called a halt along a beach so that we could stretch, take off the life jackets, and have a sip of water.
With such a group of kayaks, there was little chance to see any wildlife; even birds seemed scarce to me. People chatter as they paddle, and the group stretched out for a few hundred yards – plenty of time and warning for any wildlife to sit tight and wait for the fleet to pass. This sort of trip is social in nature, and on this cruise people helped each other and kept the conversation going.
The hazards encountered today included the several sets of rapids, a tree that had fallen across nearly the entire river,a few electric fences, and shallow gravel bars that left boats stranded in fast running current and insufficient depth.
Although we did not have a gps among us, we probably traveled about 12 miles on the river. The road distance from the put-in to the bridge over Highway 75 was about 7.5 miles. The take-out under the bridge requires a long carry, although it did not measure up to the portages I experienced in the Boundary Waters last month. People helped each other carry their boats up to the highway, and then the trip was over. We all got into our vehicles and headed home for our separate Labor Day festivities.
The Rock River seemed to be about 75-80 feet wide along most of our trip today, and the depth was nearly always four feet or less. Veterans of this river cruise said that we would not have been able to make it this late in the season expect for the unusual rains that we have had over the summer. This is another paddling option that the paddlers around Sioux Falls might keep in mind. While it is not as easily kayaked as the Big Sioux River, it is a very pleasant cruise through farm country and an easy opportunity to expand kayaking into western Iowa. I’m very glad that David, Mary, and Larry organized and led the cruise today.