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:

Monday, October 15, 2012

Big Sioux River – Brandon-to-Brandon: Fall 2012

A little over two months ago, Dave Finck and I canoed down the Big Sioux River from the new put-in along Rice Street at the edge northeast end of Brandon to the take-out at the Big Sioux Recreation Area, a river-distance of about 2.5 miles. The river level was quite low in the first week of August, and we wondered what it would be like now after more than two months with only a very little rain over the intervening time.

We set off from the developing SDGFP launching site near the Brandon bridge over the Big Sioux River at Rice Street.  The river looked much as it did two months ago; as the drought has continued, the river has tended to become narrower.  Still, there is a channel that provides enough depth to easily float a canoe or kayak.  The problem, of course, is to find and keep to that channel going downstream.

The temperature was in the 30s as we set off under sunny skies with no noticeable wind, and it climbed to about 50 degrees as we finished the cruise.  The width of the water flow varied from 50 feet or so to perhaps 6 feet in narrow passages.  In those narrow slots, the depth would sometimes reach deeper than the length of a paddle and the velocity of the flow would markedly increase. 

At other times, the width would increase with a corresponding decrease in speed and water depth.  On the wider stretches, we would sometimes miss the channel and find ourselves scrapping along in water only a few inches deep.  On a couple of occasions, we jumped out of the canoe to drag it off a bar and into deeper water.

The banks of the river, the temporary beaches along the lower shore, and the tangle of dead trees that could be strainers during times of high flow were all highlighted during this time of exceptionally low water during the drought. These sights offered a marked contrast to the spring and summer landscape when the river is fuller and faster.

The fall is rapidly descending across the landscape.  It has been a couple of weeks since the first “killing” frost, and the leaves are dropping from the trees.  The landscape is assuming the bland winter look along the river. 

We saw a mink and lots of birds.  A few fish were jumping.  But, I didn’t see any bugs.  Perhaps the arriving frost and the first temperatures into the 20s has caused the insect population to burrow down for the next months.

The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks is further developing the two launch sites along this 2.6 mile section of the river.  I would think that this short cruise will become increasingly popular over time.  The river flows through park-owned land, and this provides the background for a scenic cruise and the likelihood of wildlife sightings.  It really is a pleasant one-hour cruise that I will probably take many times over the years. 

For a contrast in the appearance of the landscape from mid-summer to mid-fall, you can check my last Brandon-to-Brandon cruise.

Those interested in viewing the complete set of photos of the cruise can access them at my Flickr set.  


Mike said...

Hey Jay. You mentioned that air temperatures were in the 30's when you started your paddle. Any idea what was the water temperature? Do you wear dry suits? BTW, how long is your "season" for paddling "up North?" Here, in North Carolina, I can paddle, without a dry suit, through November and sometimes into early December. But then, I have 3.5 to 4 month "off season" until I can get back out on the water!

Jay Heath said...

Thanks for your comment, Mike. The water temperature was a bit warmer, but I am generally alert only to whether there is ice on the water. The paddling season in the Sioux Falls area is generally from the end of March through mid-November. Of course, the season can vary within a couple of weeks on either end. I do not have either a wet or a dry suit, so I just have to be careful and pay close attention to the weather conditions, especially wind. I try and avoid large open water in the fall and spring, generally keeping close to the shore. I had a spill last year in late October and got pretty chilled in a deep section of the Big Sioux River, and that capsize made me realize I was not immune from river mishaps. It would be good, of course, to have at least a wet suit for early and late season paddling, and I sometimes think about it.