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, May 24, 2011

Grass Lake - May 2011

Looking ahead at the forecast yesterday, I assumed that today would be the best day for a kayak cruise this week. With that mind set, I loaded up the kayak last night and headed out this morning for Grass Lake. As I left the house at 5:45 a.m. for my customary stop at the local bagel shop for coffee and a little novel reading, it was still dark. When I headed west along Highway 42 (12th Street), I saw that the sky was totally overcast, there was a moderate wind, and the temperature was in the mid 50s. I thought that I saw sprinkles on the windshield as I drove on; still, a decision to head out with the kayak lashed to the car top had been made, so on I drove.
Locating Grass Lake requires specific directions, and earlier narratives (see the menu to the right side of the blog) provide turn-by-turn directions. On most of the isolated prairie lakes in the region, signage for public access areas is not a strength of the Department of Game, Fish, and Parks, and anyone heading out to this lake really should check out the specific directions.
The lake was deserted when I arrived at 7:20 a.m., as it is has always been on my weekday morning cruises over the years. The launching area is just a rock pathway, and even that has markedly deteriorated over the winter. While a kayak or canoe can be muscled down the pathway and into the water, I don’t see how anything larger could be launched, especially a boat on a trailer.
The wind was blowing briskly through the trees as I launched from the southeastern shore, but there was a lee side sheltered from the wind by the banks and tree cover for about 25 feet offshore. The wind was blowing out of the south, down the lake. My normal route for this cruise is counter clockwise, heading northwest down the lake, past the first of two islands.
As I moved away from the lee side of the lake, the waves built up until they were crashing over the bow. Still, I continued down my normal route looking for “critters” in the brush of the shoreline and watching the many birds fleeing my presence: great blue heron, pelicans, geese, ducks, and egrets.
As I continued down the northeastern shoreline heading west, everything was smooth. If I got out too far, the waves would send my kayak rocking up and down with spray drenching my pants, shirt, and glasses.
After arrival at the northwestern end of the lake, I continued my route over on the western side, heading back south, continuing the counter clockwise pattern. As the lake widened out on the return, it became apparent that kayaking on the western side would be a battle all the way back, and I would have to cross the lake again at its widest point.
Most of my paddling is alone on these out-of-the way lakes. At this time of the year, I sometimes feel a little anxious about wave action when I am pretty far out in the lake, far out enough that swimming to shore in cold water is not likely to be a positive experience. I felt a little that way this morning, so prudence seemed to dictate abandoning my routine and returning back up the lake along the lee shore. So, I crossed over and had a much more tranquil paddle back along the same route I used going down.
I visited some of the wetlands along the eastern shore. These are not as extensive as found on many of the area lakes, but it is still possible to move up through the reeds and check out the backwaters. Two or three times I head a chorus of frogs calling out. Somehow, these creatures are able to sense the approach of an intruder. Like turning off a switch, the chorus ceased upon the approach of my kayak – as silent as I tried to be.
This was a good early morning cruise, although I would prefer warmer temperatures, calm waters, and sunny skies. Still, this is the day that I had, and I am glad that I had an opportunity for a couple of hours on Grass Lake.

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