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, August 30, 2007

Oakwood Lakes

Oakwood Lakes: West Oakwood


Oakwood Lakes has a well deserved reputation as a wonderful place to canoe or kayak in eastern South Dakota. This chain of eight connecting glacial lakes is broadly divided into East Oakwood and West Oakwood Lakes. East Oakwood has a public access area and is a broader single body of water. West Oakwood is the site of Oakwood Lakes State Park and offers the amenities that such a status provides. Today, I visited West Oakwood and set off from the boat ramp within the park. Oakwood Lakes State Park is 83 miles north and west of my eastside Sioux Falls home. The easiest way to get there is to go north on Interstate 29, past Brookings, to the Bruce exit. From there, you can continue on for a few miles and follow the signs to the park. Finding the park is easy; returning is another matter. Like so much of South Dakota, there are few landmarks and no signs that direct you back to the Interstate. In a fog, I guess, I drove back the wrong way and wound up in Estelline, about ten miles north. This is nothing unusual for me, I’m sorry to say. I really should have a compass in the car.


One of the towers of my Yakama kayak rack has become bent and requires replacement; the part had to be ordered. My boat on this trip was the trusty Folbot, a fabric covered collapsible 12 foot kayak. Instead of securing it to a roof rack, I just tossed the two bags in which the hull and framework are stored into the back seat of my Honda Civic. This is the first time I have used the Folbot this season. I am happy to say that the boat went together in about 15 minutes and worked quite well. The Honda Civic Hybrid, without the kayak on the roof, went back to its nearly 50 mpg rather than the 35 mpg that I tend to get otherwise.


West Oakwoods Lake has a surface area of about 1,200 acres, and the name is derived from the numerous oak trees within the area. In years past, this lake was called Lake Tetonkaha. The set of lakes that makes up West Oakwood is surrounded by significant tree growth. The main body of water is pretty long and wide, and today, even with a moderate south wind, the wave action was just short of whitecap conditions. Cruising south from the dock within the main part of the park, I was experiencing head winds and waves, especially in the crossing from the east to the west side. The weather was marvelous: moderate wind, cloudless skies, and a morning temperature of around 70 degrees. This was a Thursday, so I virtually had the lake to myself. I was out for about two hours and saw only one boat, and that was during the final few minutes.


I set out from the park and headed west across the main body toward Scout Island and then continued around a point of land with an extensive sand bar out into the lake. Continuing south along the western shore, I moved through a narrow slot into Turtle Lake. There is a sand bar that extends from both ends of the slot into this lake with very shallow water. Even with my kayak, I went aground a couple of times until I got into the narrow passageway through. I doubt that a motor boat could get into Turtle Lake now.


Turtle Lake was sheltered from the wind, with nearly calm conditions. The shoreline is heavily wooded, and I saw lots of waterfowl. I kept trying to get a photo of one of the several great blue herons that I saw, but these wily birds will suddenly leap out of a tall tree and fly off faster than I can get the camera out. The trees and other vegetation along the shoreline are interesting. A slow paddle around the circumference of the lake is a great time for observation and reflection. True to the name of this body, there are lots of turtles to be seen sitting on downed trees along the shoreline.


As I moved out of Turtle Lake and back into the main body of West Oakwood Lake, I was traveling with the wind through a following sea. I headed back north and into Johnson Lake, off to the west of the boat ramp and around the point of Scout Island. In the distance, I saw a big flock of pelicans; I like coming slowly up on a big flock of waterfowl to see how close I can get before they fly off. I had my camera ready to capture the closest photo that I could get. After securing my photos at the western end of Johnson Lake, I turned back for the dock and made the crossing of West Oakwood again to the dock.



I was out on the water for about two hours – generally my limit in a kayak without getting out for a stretch. There were, however, several spots along the shoreline where a boat could be landed, even my Folbot.


Oakwood Lakes is really a wonderful place to paddle. It is good to be back in a natural lake, one with good shoreline growth, little development, and big enough to provide a variety of paddling conditions. Over 80 miles, though, is approaching the outer ring of my day paddles. I was on the road about 8:00 a.m. and didn’t get home until 3:00 p.m. Some of that time was me driving off in the wrong direction from the state park, and some was time that I spent taking a nap at the rest stop south of Brookings. Also, I should have packed a lunch for this trip. Of course, Oakwood Lakes is one of the premier paddling opportunities in this part of South Dakota, and I highly recommend it. I will return there at least once a year. I would also like to try East Oakwood Lake on a future trip.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jay: Good to see you paddling up here in Brookings County! We're glad to see you made it back to the MW in one piece and got right back to the paddling blog.

Jarett & Laura