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:

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Older Paddler: Low Impact Kayaking on Tranquil Waters - Part I

The Older Paddler: Low Impact Kayaking on Tranquil Waters
A Series of Special Narratives
This fall I will turn 70 years old, and this has caused me to reflect upon the strategies that I have found useful in continuing my paddling activities on area waterways. I am confident that most people who are without serious physical impairments can continue to enjoy paddling well into their senior years. It is important that considered judgment be used in the selection of waterways to be traveled, that an appropriate kayak or canoe be used, and that the right gear be included. Also, the notion of paddling alone or with another person or group is an important consideration. All of these issues will be described in this series of narrative postings.

Part I: Waterway Selection


Increasingly, kayaking has become an activity characterized by a great diversity of paddling interests and activities. A good many paddlers enjoy the thrill of white water and laugh as they tumble through fast water and rapids; getting wet is part of the fun, and these paddlers are not deterred by a capsize and a swim as part of the adventure. Other paddlers are more interested in float trips down area rivers and tranquil visits to secluded lakes to observe bird life and the landscape, and it is these experiences that I will address in the following observations.


Paddling on area lakes can be a pleasant low impact activity for older paddlers. I do most of my paddling on the small lakes in the Sioux Falls area, generally within 30 miles of our home on the southeastern edge of the city. There are a dozen lakes that fall within that geographical limitation, and the reader can refer to the area waterways index located on the right side of my blog for details regarding directions, landscape features, and observations of past cruises on these waterways, generally multiple narratives made over the past few years. My general rule is to spend less time in the car than I do in the kayak on my cruises, and this tends to limit the radius of my paddling choices.
As a retiree, I can generally take my kayak out for a cruise whenever the spirit moves me. Since I retired, I tend to find greater satisfaction in weekday cruises, a set of days that was generally not available during my working career. My practice is to look at the weather forecast for the next few days and settle on a likely day for the cruise. I look for days with light winds in the 5-15 mph range with at least some sun predicted. Normally, I load the kayak onto the car the night before so that I can make an early start. I stop for a bagel and coffee about 6:00 a.m. and am on the road by 7:00 a.m. I like to arrive at the lakeside about 7:30 a.m.
All of the area lakes listed on my blog have a public access area, and most have a developed launch site with a ramp, dock, parking, and a vault toilet. Almost always, I am the only person at the launch site and on the lake. Being alone provides the opportunity for silent contemplation on a tranquil paddle, but there are also risks associated with being alone on a body of water. I am always cautions about wind and wave conditions, realizing that a capsize could present a serious danger.
I spend most of my time on lakes cruising the shoreline, generally doing a circuit around the entire lake, including inlets and bays. It is the landscape of the shore and islands that offers opportunities to observe the range of life found on these isolated lakes: waterfowl, perching birds, mammal life, and a great variety of trees, bushes, and grasses. I also enjoy watching the water conditions that are sometimes mirror smooth and other times covered with waves. Even the wind conditions offer a visual play of ripples and waves. There is always the sound of wind through the shoreline trees and bushes and a constant cacophony of bird calls. The solo paddler can more easily absorb these sensations; paddlers in groups are often engaged in chatter that turns the focus upon social interaction rather than observation.
Paddling on lakes does not require a shuttle, and the solo paddler can operate as a free agent on an individual timetable; when I am tired, I head for the “take out.” As an older paddler, I like setting a cruise agenda that suits my own physical stamina and patience, and the smaller lakes offer a good opportunity for this type of paddling.

Paddling on area rivers such as the Big Sioux River, the James River, the Rock River, and the Missouri River are, for the older paddler, best paddled in company with one or more companions or a group. The South Dakota Canoe/Kayak Association sponsors and leads short trips on area rivers several times each season. Most of these trips are no longer than 12 miles and generally take three to four hours. Ages and experience levels of paddlers on these trips is varied. Normally, I am the oldest person on these cruises, and I don’t have any trouble keeping up with the group.
Such cruises are highly social; conversation groups tend to form and reform throughout the trip. A river trip affords the opportunity, often just around the next bend, to observe a variety of wildlife and a varied landscape that ranges from very high cut-banks to low shorelines. The route nearly always passes under large cottonwood trees, past dense foliage along the banks, and offers the paddler a panorama of the changing seasons. Traveling along the river also opens the door to brief conversation with people passed along the way: fisherman, other boaters, hikers, people enjoying a picnic, farmers, and residents of lakeside homes.
The strain of moving boats and entering and exiting the stream is made easy on these river trips; fellow paddlers are eager to lend a hand whenever possible. I sometimes feel pampered by my fellow paddlers when it comes to hauling, launching or grounding my kayak. Since there is always the possibility of some unexpected event while on moving water, paddling with companions can be a lifesaver. Fences across a stream, a strainer, rough rapids, or some other obstruction to the waterway are always possible, and it is critical that assistance be available. Again, it is just unwise to proceed down moving water alone.
Joining with a paddling group for a trip down one of the area rivers is a good option for the older paddler. It is always essential to be alert to the current water levels and weather conditions. Sometimes the flooded conditions of area rivers make cruises too hazardous, and the potential for lightening or high winds is enough to cancel such plans. With the SDCKA groups, there is always a leader identified, someone who is arranging the cruise. Generally there is also a contact telephone number for additional information. If the older paddler is worried about keeping up with the group, it would be good to call the leader and discuss the situation.
One of the most significant benefits in joining with a group for a river paddle is the practice of arranging a shuttle. The announced rendezvous for a cruise is generally the “put-in.” The first activity of the cruise is moving the vehicles downstream to the “take-out” and then piling into one or more cars for a ride back to the beginning point. The kayaks and canoes are left in the care of a couple of people during the shuttle. At the end of the cruise, most people load up their boats and head home; someone, though, provides a ride to the shuttle drivers who retrieve their cars left at the “put-in.”

Paddling area creeks is much like the rivers but often with more hazards. All the remarks about paddling on the rivers are applicable to creek paddling, but the dangers are more pronounced, especially during times of high and fast water. The major creeks in the Sioux Falls area are Split Rock Creek, Skunk Creek, and Kanaranzi Creek (Minnesota). These creeks are normally 20-30 feet in width, serpentine in course, with a depth than is usually around 3-4 feet in the channel, although the depth can increase or decrease suddenly. Strainers are more of a problem because a tree can easily fall across most or all of the creek and because the paddler can quickly come upon these downed trees with limited time for decision-making and alternative planning.
A group of paddlers traveling down a creek are frequently bunched up because of the many twists and turns of the waterway. When the flow is moving quickly, there is a tendency to crowd into a mishap and get into difficulty more rapidly than would be the case on a wider waterway with better sight lines. The flow is often pretty strong in creeks, and rapids appear suddenly. In these circumstances, it is often hard to stop or alter course; sometimes it is even hard to paddle upstream. All this can be great fun, but the issue of avoiding travel on moving water is accentuated in creek paddling.

An exception to the issues frequently encountered in downstream creek paddling is the exploration of creeks feeding into lakes. Most of the lakes around Sioux Falls are impounded water resulting from a dam across a feeder creek. Generally, the flow of waters into the area lakes is slow, especially at the mouth of the feeder creeks. These creeks are usually encountered as a wide inlet that extends back into the original creek bed and often allows the paddler to move rather easily upstream for up to a mile or more. Waterfowl, perching birds, beaver, muskrats, fish, and sometimes deer are often seen along the course of these creeks weaving back into the wetlands. Exploring these inlets is one of my favorite parts of a lake cruise, and I have never encountered another boat along the stream. Moving up into these feeder creeks is like entering a private and secret world and is a great example of low impact paddling that is ideal for the older paddler.

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