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, July 24, 2007

Lake Vermillion, the West End

Lake Vermillion – A Cruise up the West End to Battle Creek: Late July 2007

This has been an especially dry month in the Sioux Falls area, and I wanted to check out the conditions up in the feeder creeks that flow into Lake Vermillion on the west side. The west side is generally all that portion of the lake west of the main recreation area dock and beyond the County Road 3A Bridge. This is an area of the lake that receives very little motor boat traffic and is often quite calm, at least as compared with the windy conditions that can arise quickly on the main body of the lake.


I took off from my east side Sioux Falls home about 7:30 a.m. and traveled west on Highway 42, listening to Bob Dylan tunes on my car CD player, arriving about 8:30 to a very hot and still launching point within the main part of the park. The temperature was already in the 80s when I left the dock and had climbed to around 90 when I returned. There was virtually no wind at that time, and the bird calls and sounds of insects were very clear. The lake had a mirror surface. As often on these mid-week trips, there were no boats or people visible, and I did not see anyone on this cruise; the lake was deserted.



I headed out into the lake, went west under the bridge, and began exploring the inlets that flow from the northwest into the lake. There was a great deal of particle algae growth in the main part of the lake, although I could see down to about three feet through the swirling algae. As I moved west under the bridge, the water began clearing up a good deal. I suppose that the water flowing into the lake pushes the algae out into the main body.


As you head west on this portion of the lake, there are a number of passages that lead up into the marshy shores. I took the most northerly passage first and was able to travel up about half a mile before grinding to a halt on a gravel bar in a very narrow portion of the feeder creek. I believe that this first passage is Battle Creek. On this portion of the cruise, I saw a beaver swimming near my kayak and a large number of birds flying, in the bushes, and standing around on the gravel or mud bars along the shore. Surprisingly, the birds often seemed lest flighty that I expected. I was able to come within just a few feet of some of them before they took wing.



The more southerly passage begins near a home that has been built on the south bank. The kayaker just passes this house and its dock on the left and continues heading west. This inlet passage is wider than the northern one and winds a little deeper into the marshes until it too came to an end after about half a mile.


On both of these passages, there was plenty of depth to an increasingly narrow channel. I was able to continue up both of these passages until the width of the channel was only three or four feet, and I was able to use my rudder on nearly the entire cruise.


I saw lots of jumping fish, many smaller birds, and the beaver mentioned above. The vegetation was interesting, especially the marshy growth along both shores. I was not troubled by bugs, I never had to get out of the kayak to shove off shallow bars, and the total isolation from other boats or people provided the conditions for a contemplative cruise. From shoving off at the dock to returning, the cruise took me 90 minutes.


This portion of the lake would be an excellent choice on the weekend when lots of power boats are out on the main body of Lake Vermillion. Also, this western end is much more sheltered from the wind, so breezy conditions would be less noticeable than on the main body. It is also more isolated so that the kayaker can be assured of some solitude while cruising up into the feeder inlets.

So, Lake Vermillion provides three general routes. This one up the west end is the easiest and best for some circumstances. The cruise north on the main body can be taken along either side, and the conditions are a little different on this trip up north through the lake and into the Vermillion River depending on the route chosen. Earlier postings describe the northerly cruises on both side of the lake.


longjonblu said...

I saw that you are a former Peace Corps Vol. as we as a former war dept employee. So am I. I served in Iran 1967-68(Peace Corps) as we as a former 1st Air Cav (1969) Vietnam.

Jay Heath said...

Well,in my experience, it was unusual to have served both in the Peace Corps and in the military. I was in the Navy first (1959-62) and went into the Peace Corps after college (1967-69). My service in the National Guard was post-Viet Nam (1973-76) and was pretty laid back, unlike the situation today.

I hope that you are enjoying the tranquility of kayaking now.

Jay Heath

Anonymous said...

One weekend ago, my wife and I paddled from the busy dock at the southeast north along the eastern side of the N-S body of Lake Vermillion. It was a Sunday, and we didn't have the lake to ourselves, but boaters and personal watercraft were polite. About 1/3 of the way up we got into some heavy weeds and it was nasty with carp. Plus, the narrow nature of the lake there made for lots of bouncy reflective waves. We cut short our trip; but it was a nice outing. Just saying on a busy, hot Sunday, in among the stinky carp and weeds, this lake is less enjoyable.
Jarett and Laura Bies
Sioux Falls, S.D.

Anonymous said...

I've been going to Lake Vermillion about every other Wednesday morning. On 8/22/07 I had the entire lake to myself from 9am to 12pm. Starting from the south west dock I headed east toward the dam and traveled the entire east side of the lake heading north. I was suprised to see just how different the east side is from the westside. Now at the north end I traveled up the Vermillion river for a little over a mile. With the recient rains it was shockingly easy to navigate and the grass on the banks was much greener then normal. After turning around and reentering the lake I traveled from the middle to the west side and back to the dock. For 3 hours I never saw so much as a ripple on the water and the breeze was 1-3mph. While I was the only boat in the lake I was far from alone. A flock of what appeared to be very large pelicans kept me company most of the journey. Along with herons, ducks, large carp, and a few end of the season campers waving from the shore line. Lake Vermillion on a weekday morning is a wonderful place to go. But I would avoid it on the weekend if you're going by kayak.

Thanks for a great site Jay I enjoy your oppinions of the local water ways and have traveled to several of them because of your blog. See ya on the water.

Ryan Snuggerud
Perception Monarch 15.0
Sioux Falls