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:

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Lake Vermillion: The West End Again

Last night the forecast for the Sioux Falls area looked reasonably good for kayaking; the only cautionary note was winds from 15-20 mph.  So, I loaded up the kayak in the evening, got up at 5:00 a.m., and set out for an abbreviated morning read, bagel, and coffee at my morning spot before heading west to visit either Beaver Lake or Lake Vermillion.  I would make up my mind en route while observing the wind effect as traveling west on I-90.

The trees seemed to be blowing in a south wind as I approached Humboldt and the exit to Beaver Lake.  Remembering the ease with which waves develop on that open body of water, I decided to pass it by and go on instead to Lake Vermillion State Recreation Area, located between I-90 and Highway 42 along SD Highway 19.

Arriving at the recreation area about 7:20 a.m., I found a couple of fishing boats being launched from the large well-developed parking area. I got my kayak unloaded and underway in the wake of the first boat; as they headed left toward the main body of the lake, I paddled west under the bridge over Highway 19 toward the wetlands and feeder creeks flowing into this west end of the lake.

As I moved out of the shelter of the launching area, I could feel the wind increasing and the waves building out of the south.  Traveling west required me to paddle across the southwest wind with a following sea. 

I skirted the northern shoreline as I headed toward the wetlands and Battle Creek. At the end of this western arm of Lake Vermillion, there are two main creeks that flow from the surrounding wetlands; it is easy to paddle into these creeks and continue upstream through the twisting and increasingly narrow waterways.

Shortly after entering the Battle Creek flow, I came across a very large beaver lodge.  As I approached the lodge for a closer look, I saw a large beaver working just outside the structure.  After I managed to get close enough for a quick photo, the beaver disappeared underwater.

There were a lot of ducks in these feeder creeks; as I approached, these flighty creatures rose up and flew away, sometimes in groups of five or six, to avoid my kayak.  I found it impossible to capture them on camera because of their rapid response to my presence.

As is my custom, I followed the creeks as far as possible into the wetlands.  On the first entry along this waterway, I came to a point where it seemed as though I was in a pasture in the presence of many cows.   Rather that spook the cattle, I just turned around and proceeded to the second creek entrance.

This path led me past a large home build on a bluff over Battle Creek and into a rather long waterway that twisted itself along the contours of a hilly landscape.  This waterway was increasingly narrow but deep.  Even as the waterway grew so narrow that I wondered if I could turn around, the water remained 4-6 feet deep.

I continued deep into the wetlands and was not too concerned as the waterway narrowed to just two or three feet.  The kayak moved easily along this course up to a point where I could just not proceed further.  By that point, I knew that I would have to back downstream; there was no room to turn around.  But, I found that I could not negotiate the curving course of the waterway backwards.  I had to heave myself out of the kayak, drag it up on top of the bank, and turn it around for the return trip.

It is not easy to get out of a kayak with relatively high banks and a deep waterway. This sort of maneuver can easily lead to a spill; while not likely to be dangerous, it a way to ruin my camera and fall into the deep slit of a waterway. In any event, I made it okay and began the return trip.

The wind had continued to increase out of the south.  This meant that I would have to fight the waves as I returned across their march north.  For the first mile, there was a shelterbelt of tall evergreens and a reasonably high bank on the lee side.  I could cruise back east while looking at the whitecaps on the lake off to my left.  This uneventful passage continued until I passed under the bridge again and hit the main body of the lake.  The wave action had become heavy and I had no alternative than to paddle across building waves on my way to the launching area on the north side.

I had some anxiety as I hit these whitecap waves that were coming broadside to me.  My response was to keep close to the bank and maneuver the kayak so that I could keep out of the trough of the waves.  The bow was buried in oncoming waves and spray blew back into my face and soaked my clothing.  A sprayskirt would have been nice, but I don’t have one. Taking photos of the wave conditions did not seem like a great idea to me at the time.

Still, I made it back okay after being out on the water for about two hours.  The west end of Lake Vermillion is much more interesting than just proceeding up the main body of the lake.  I like exploring the flow of the Vermillion River as it transitions into the lake, but that requires a long paddle north – too far for me anymore.  Although there must certainly be fishing boats that venture up the western end of the lake, I have never come across one.

For other narratives describing past cruises on Lake Vermillion, please check the inventory of area waterways on the left side of the blog.  To access the full set of photographs of this cruise, please access my Flickr set inventory at the following URL:

1 comment:

Ashley said...

Your blog is officially my best find this month -- I'm spending my first summer in the Sioux Falls area since I acquired my kayak and I've been looking for good spots to paddle. Thanks! I'll be back!