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, April 22, 2008

Lake Alvin: An Early Spring Cruise

Lake Alvin: the ice is out!


This morning as I walked home from my routine of reading a novel and sipping a few cups of coffee at the local supermarket coffee shop, I was struck by the beauty of the day. It was about 46 degrees, the sun was bright, and there was no wind. I was unable to resist the impulse and rushed home to lash my kayak atop the Honda Civic and head out for a late morning cruise on Lake Alvin. My last vista of Lake Alvin was on April 2, and it was almost totally ice covered still. I was fairly sure that the last couple weeks of warmer weather would have caused the ice to melt.


Lake Alvin is 9.5 miles from my eastside Sioux Falls home, and it took me only 14 minutes from driveway to the dock within the State Recreation Area. The dock has been installed, and there were two or three open fishing boats on the water.

The surface of the water was mirror calm. By the time I launched the kayak, I had rolled up my sleeves and was soaking up some rays.


On this trip, I was particularly interested in checking out the nesting ducks. I headed from the RA dock down the lake to Nine Mile Creek. The RA dock is high up on the north shore, and the entrance to Nine Mile Creek is at the far southwestern end of the lake. Moving down the lake to the south, past the public access area, it is important to keep to the left bank in order to avoid shallow mud flats in the central part of this portion of the lake.



Nine Mile Creek begins with a fairly wide course and gradually narrows down after passing under the bridge. I was able to continue up the creek for about 20 minutes until I ran out of navigable water. This is an area filled with bird life, especially ducks. I saw a large cormorant, dozens of ducks, pheasants, a beaver, the first turtles of the season, and lots of jumping carp.



I found it interesting to see the beginning of growth for the grasses of the area. Lots of green shoots are working their way through the brown grasses from last year. It is such a hopeful sign, especially here in the northern plains. The winter has been so long, and we have all looked for signs of spring for weeks now. I loved being out on the surface of this lake that just a couple of weeks ago was still ice covered.


Kayaking on a lake requires a little more effort that cruising down a river. Even though I went out for a trip on the Big Sioux River last Saturday, about 90 minutes of paddling was enough for me today. Still, what a wonderful way to open the day: moving along the shore line checking out the vegetation, bird calls the only sound to break the silence, basking in the sun, shirt sleeves rolled up, the feeling of being in control of my own self-propelled craft, no work staring me in the face. What a great day!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Pirates of the Missouri Blog Recommended


Pat Wellner, a Pierre based engineer and adventurer has a great blog describing his kayak trips on the Missouri, often with his little dog Scruffy. Pat is pictured in the green and white tandem kayak on the left of the photo above during the first SDCA cruise on the Big Sioux yesterday, Saturday, April 19, 2008. His adventures offer a glimpse of paddling opportunities in the central part of the state. He offers great photographs and descriptions of the Missouri River and other waterways beyond. You can access his blog at:

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Big Sioux River: Flandreau, SD - Pow Wow Grounds to Flandreau City Park

The first cruise of the 2008 season for the South Dakota Canoe Association took place today, April 19, 2008. The trip was organized and managed by Jarett Bies, one of the officers in the SDAC. The Sierra Club was also involved in sponsoring this trip as a celebration of Earth Day. Several dozen people gathered at the Pow Wow grounds of the Santee Sioux Tribe just to the north of Flandreau. Around 11:00 a.m., the first boats took off through a set of rapids within the first 25 feet or so from the put-in. This rapids, I am told, are the result of a sidewalk put across the river a few decades ago to connect the tribal festival grounds to space on the other side. The rapids did not seem to pose a hazard for any of the many boats that took off. As Jarett Bies said, a person just has to be positioned in the middle of the river, get into the flow, and hang on. The ride is over in a minute or so.


The weather was absolutely fantastic for this first cruise of the year. The temperature was around 60 when we set out, the sun was brightly shinning, the water levels were fine all the way, and there were no hazards to navigation along the way. It was a beautiful ride along the river, and South Dakotans weary of the long winter were wreathed in smiles on this magnificent day. People were dressed in a variety of ways; there were wet suits, t-shirts, heavy jackets, big rubber boots, flip-flop sandals, tennis shoes, aqua socks, a variety of hats, some people with gloves, others with their sleeves rolled up. It was a typical first cruise of the spring with people wondering about what to wear out on the river.


Most of the boats on the cruise were kayaks; and while most were the short recreational kayaks, there were sea kayaks, river running kayaks, a skin on frame kayak, and at least one inflatable. There were also a few canoes on the trip as well.


In the past, I avoided this trip. I had a vision of dozens of kayaks making their way down the river in a big pack: talking, laughing, eating, focused on visiting. I was wrong, however. There was a large group of people, but they set out in ones and twos across the rapids and seemed to initially form groups of three or four boats. Then, the kayaks became spread out. Some people continued along chatting and sharing the experience. People often left one group and linked up with another. Then, people took off on their own. For about half of the trip, I was seemingly along on the river – there were no other boats in sight or sound. So, on a trip like this, a person can travel with others for a while, then go off alone, and then link back up with a person or group later. Two of the advantages of this sort of experience are the networking and the camaraderie that develops. People offered others rides back to the put-in to get their boats, others talked about getting together for more trips. People chat with others who share an interest in paddling and the outdoors. I got a ride from one of my blog readers!


The routing chosen by Jarett Bies is really interesting. The distance from the put-in at the Pow Wow grounds to the take-out at the Flandreau City Park is 8-10 miles. The entire trip, however, is virtually in Flandreau. The river is very serpentine on this course. It forms large loops that keep coming back to the base route. You can see the route on the SDCA web site: The view along the river is in marked contrast to what we will see in a month or so. At this point in the spring, the grasses are still brown and the trees are bare. There was a lot of bird life to be seen: geese, ducks, pheasant, hawks, owls, red-winged blackbirds in the hundreds, and lots of other smaller birds. Their calls were constant along the river route. Large groups of people, as there were today, of course means that there is unlikely to be any wildlife other than birds seen. The people at the head of the cruise told me that they saw a deer, beaver, and muskrat. I saw no wildlife of this sort; there were just too many people passing.



This stretch of river seems as though it could be a great tourist attraction for Flandreau. It seems ideal for a business renting kayaks and canoes and offering refreshments. The 8 to 10 miles can be paddled in about two hours, or that is what it took most people today.


A gathering like this is a great place to see how people transport their boats. There was a wide variety of roof racks visible, as well as trailers and pick-ups. I use a Yakima rack on the roof of my Honda Civic, and that seems sometimes to be a lot of boat for a little car. But, I saw a Chevy Geo with a full size tandem kayak on top. It was quite a site to see such a long kayak with a car strapped underneath!


People seemed to very much enjoy this short ride along the river. It was not very taxing on anyone and permitted a great outing for people of very different skill levels. I talked to people who were getting their first experience in a kayak. Some people had just bought their kayak and were setting out on a maiden voyage.


You can see more about this trip by visiting the SDCA blog site, or Jarett Bies’ web site (

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

This Seemingly Endless Winter

The Seemingly Endless Winter: No Kayaking on Lakes Yet

Last year at this time, we northern plains kayakers were out on the water. My first blog entry of the 2007-paddling season featured an early cruise by Steve Dahlmeier on Lake Alvin on March 19. This year, the winter seems endless. The temperatures have consistently been 10-15 degrees colder than normal, there has been lots of snow in March, the lakes are ice covered still, and my kayak has continued its service as a shelf for boxes and odd gear that has no appointed place in the garage.


I went out to Lake Alvin this morning to check out the conditions. It was my first visit to the lake since November; I drove out there in a snow shower and arrived to find the state recreation area deserted, the lake ice covered, and the dock pulled out. It was cold, and the wind was blowing. I was dressed in layers and had gloves and a sheepskin hat on. My little poodle came along with me, and he had his red sweater on. We went for a nice stroll around the recreation area, but the sight was the same all over: snow and ice.


Along the edge of the lake, a narrow break of open water was visible. The water there at the edge was clear, probably as clear as it ever gets in Lake Alvin. Migratory birds have returned, and there were geese at one of the wider breaks of open water near the spillway. Lots of robins were flitting about, but I wondered what they would find to eat. My wife worries about the early return of the robins, often just in time for a series of snowfalls in late March. They look so fat this time of the year, so I assume that they have filled up on worms from further south – enough to sustain them, anyway, during these first few weeks of their return.


After leaving Lake Alvin, I drove over to the Larchwood Road that crosses over the Big Sioux River to check out the flow there. The water was moving nicely, but the approach was a morass of mud. One look down the road was enough to convince me that going on would be a sad mistake. So, that approach to the river does not seem feasible for cars now during the thaw.


I guess that we all just have to hope for a rapid change of conditions here in the north. The temperatures this weekend are expected to climb into the low 50s. If that continues for a week or so, perhaps the lakes will open up. We also need some sunny and dry weather before taking a car down dirt roads to the banks of the Big Sioux. The first SDCA cruise is slatted for April 19 on the Big Sioux up near Flandreau. I read Jarett Bies’ blog the other day with photos of the ice-covered river in that area. We’re all just hoping for a big thaw and dry-out in the next couple of weeks.