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:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

SDCA Winter Conference: Saturday, January 30, 2010

The South Dakota Canoe Association is hosting its annual winter conference on Saturday, January 30, 2010, at the Sioux Falls Outdoor Campus, 4500 South Oxbow Ave., Sioux Falls – just southeast of the Empire Mall. This is a great opportunity to be in touch with the paddling community within South Dakota. There will be illustrated presentations about cruises, discussion about gear, and a moment to honor Dick Davidson, a paddling legend in South Dakota and the region. The conference will be in two parts: first there will be the traditional gathering and presentations at the Outdoor Campus from 12:00 – 4:00 pm; the group will then move to Bracco’s for a silent auction of canoeing and camping gear from Dick Davidson with proceeds to the Boy Scouts, dinner together, and then an illustrated presentation of a remarkable adventure to Arctic waters with Dick Davidson. I urge all my readers to consider attending this conference and initiating or continuing relationships with area paddlers. This is the event that really kicks off the next season of paddling, and many contacts are made at the conference that pays off with participation in group arranged cruises beginning early in the spring. Dues for joining the SDCA are really low: $10.00 for the year! Attendance at the conference is free.

So, I look forward to seeing many of you at the conference in January.

The Outdoor Campus
4500 S. Oxbow Ave
Sioux Falls, S.D.

Afternoon Agenda:

12:00 Welcome from Gene Preston, President SDCA
12:10 SDCA Year in Review – Cruising, Public Service, Safety -
Brief remarks by SDCA directors about events of the year
12:20 Kayaking Down the Cheyenne River - Jarett Bies and pals
1:00 Kayaking along the Missouri River - Pat Wellner (Pirates of the Missouri)
1:35 Canoeing the Boundary Waters - David and Mary Finck
2:00 Break
2:15 Total Fitness and Having Fun - Ed and Kay Hoffman
2:50 The Missouri River Kayak Challenge for 2010 – Jarett Bies and Steve Dahlmeier
3:00 Reflections on the Life and Adventures of Dick Davidson - Dave Greenlee
3:35 Business Meeting
• Election of Officers – Gene Preston
• Plans Ahead for the SDCA in the Coming Year – President Elect of the SDCA

Evening Agenda – Bracco Restaurant 5001 S. Western Avenue, Sioux Falls

4:30 Silent auction of camping and canoeing gear of Dick Davidson with proceeds to be donated to the Boy Scouts – Lee Snyder
5:15 Dinner ordered from the menu
6:15 Travels with Dick, the adventurous life and contributions of Dick Davidson – Lee Snyder

This conference is open for anyone interested in canoeing or kayaking. The presentations will be focused upon paddling opportunities and experiences, and the presenters will be members of the SDCA with significant experience in area waters. This is an opportunity to network and establish links with paddlers from the area. There is no admission charge for the conference.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Last Attempt: The ice is in on Lake Alvin

Yesterday the temperature rose into the low 50s, and I became obsessed with the notion of kayaking here in the Sioux Falls area in December. Last week on the Big Sioux River was a record late cruise for me; the idea of taking a real last cruise of the season was nearly overpowering. I loaded up my kayak yesterday so that nothing would dissuade me from going out, and Lake Alvin seemed just right to me. We have had a series of days here on the northern plains with nighttime temperatures in the high 20s and low 30s and a daytime high of into the 40s. The forecast was for nearly 50 degrees today. Kayaking in December! I could not resist the possibility.
So, with the kayak loaded up, I headed out to Lake Alvin about 9:30 a.m. with a temperature about 35 degrees and sunny skies. At the public access area of Lake Alvin, I found that the dock had been pulled out and the lake was deserted. I saw ice sparkling out from shore, but I thought that I could just paddle along the shoreline where the water was relatively free of ice.
As I set out, it seemed right away that I was cutting through the ice cover. Perhaps the ice was a quarter inch thick, but I found it increasingly difficult to make much headway. The paddle would break through the ice, and the kayak would slide along. Soon I began to wonder if I could get caught up in ice too thick to get through and find myself stranded off shore. I back paddled to the open lead that I had originally followed and continued along the shoreline. I had about 10 feet of open water between the pack and the shore. After about 100 yards, however, even that shoreline stretch of open water began to narrow until again my kayak was functioning as an icebreaker.
Moving in this restricted space was not much of a cruise, and I regretted not heading over to the Big Sioux River for another run between 26th Street and the bridge over the bicycle trail. But, since I was at the lake, I made another attempt to find open leads for a little longer cruise. Soon it was apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to do much more than duplicate the cruise along the shoreline for that short distance.
I just moved back to the public access area and managed to get out of the kayak without getting my feet wet. With the kayak loaded up, I looked back at the lake and thought about the four months or more before it would be possible to get out on the water again here in the Sioux Falls area. Four months seems like a long stretch to me. I guess that the winter is truly here; the temps are falling, and the forecast high does not seem likely. Cold days are predicted, a wind is blowing, clouds have formed up, and the ice is in. I think that it is now really time to take the kayak rack off the car, unload all my gear from the trunk, and shift focus for the season.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Late November on the Big Sioux River: An unexpected fall cruise

We here on the northern plains have been blessed with a temporary respite from winter. Today the temperature was in the low 50s, the skies were partly sunny, and there was an unexpected opportunity to get out on the water again. November 21: I have never been out on the water this late in the season.
Dave and Mary Finck offered an e-mail invitation to SDCA members to join them on a cruise today on the Big Sioux River in Sioux Falls from the canoe launch point off 57th Street, past Western Avenue, to the canoe launch point at 26th Street and Southeastern Drive. Paddlers with three kayaks and two canoes gathered at the “put-in,” arranged a shuttle, and set out at 1:30 p.m. down the river with a brisk wind at our backs.
The river has a stark beauty in the fall as the trees and grasses along the banks shut down for the winter. While I prefer to see these colors of the sleeping foliage in the spring as we await the returning sun and color, late fall has its own attraction. In this case, I felt as though we had a gift today, a gift of sun, moving water, decent temperatures, and good fellowship for an unexpected paddle. I have been working out of state for the past couple of weeks and never got around to taking the kayak rack off my car. Today I was grateful for my procrastination.
I had never seen the canoe launch point off 57th Street. This improvement along the river sure makes it easier to launch boats, and I think that it adds great potential to river use within the city.
There were a few muskrat seen by the group as we moved along. Ducks and geese were also out on the river today. I wondered why they had not gotten the seasonal message and begun their journey south to warmer climes. There were lots of people out on the bike trail enjoying the day walking, on roller blades, and biking. Families were roaming along the shore laughing and enjoying the wonderful day.
The only rough spot on the Big Sioux through Sioux Falls is the rapids under the bike trail bridge, downstream from Cliff Avenue. This can be a challenging ride through the rocks in fast moving water. There is a portage signed on either side of the rapids, but the portage would mean dragging boats up through the brush, across the bike trail, and through the brush again to a point where they could be launched. Today, there was enough water through the rapids so that all five boats easily made the passage through.
We spent 90 minutes on this section of the river, and all of us felt happy to have slipped the cruise into our Saturday schedule. I thought about working on paperwork and other seemingly pressing tasks at home, but then I thought about the regret that I would feel if I did not take advantage of the day. It was a really fine afternoon!

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Final Cruise of the Year - Lake Lakota in November

Even though we have not had a really great fall season here on the northern plains, today was a gift: a sunny day with only moderate wind and temperatures in the low 50s. I had hoped that a final cruise might be possible this week, and I took advantage of this wonderful day. There are a few more days ahead this week that look good, but this is the day that I had available, and I slipped out to Lake Lakota, part of the Newton Hills State Park, for a mid-day cruise around the lake. My spring cruise on Lake Lakota was in May this year, and the season was full of promise with leafy trees and the green tones of early spring in South Dakota. This November cruise was just the opposite. The landscape is brown, the birds are nearly all gone, and the trees stand bare as they await the long winter.
As I arrived at Lake Lakota, other than the brown landscape, the first thing noticeable was the high state of the water level. The dock was under water! The wind was blowing briskly out of the north, and I took my big golf umbrella with me to sail south to the dam that spills down into Pattee Creek. I raced down the eastern shoreline, past a fisherman in an aluminum motorboat who returned my greeting with a remark about the strength of the wind. The landscape was still: no birds, no insects, no jumping fish, and no leaves rustling in the trees. Under sail, there was not even the splash of paddles.
I explored the bays and inlets that lead off the main body of the lake back into the woods and grasses. Often these excursions provide glimpses of waterfowl and sometimes “critters.” Today, everything seemed still and ready for a deep sleep over the next four or five months.
The wind that gave me a nice push south down the lake made for steady paddling as I cruised back north along the west side of the lake and into the western arm that leads to the lake source – Pattee Creek. The waves were 8-10 inches high over much of the main body of the lake. The bottom of the lake was clearly visible in the bays and inlets down to about 3 feet: crystal clear in terms of South Dakota lakes. Nearly all the algae has disappeared.
I saw a pair of great blue heron, a single duck-like bird, and two or three perching birds. The birds have largely moved on to warmer latitudes for the winter. I saw a few gnawed trees that demonstrate the presence of beaver, but no mammals were seen today. Of course, all the bugs are gone for the year, or nearly all the bugs. I didn’t see any on the cruise, but I know that ladybugs and other hardy insects are still trying to find shelter for the winter.
There was an older couple doing some shoreline fishing in the beach area. Then, there was the fisherman who finished up his efforts just as I was landing my kayak. He told me that this was his last effort of the season.
So, I’m afraid that this cruise wraps up my kayaking for the season. I don’t have any more time until nearly Thanksgiving, and I know that will be too late for this part of South Dakota. The kayak is in the garage and the rack will come off the car. Past experience suggests that the next cruise is likely to be in April.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Big Sioux - Sioux Falls, 26th St. Upstream to the Bike Trail Bridge

This was the second day in a row now with no rain in Sioux Falls. As planned, I took my kayak out on the Big Sioux River for a short cruise from the 26th Street launching point upstream to the bicycle trail bridge – a round trip of about 2.5 miles.
Over the past two or three years, this launching point just off 26th Street has become quite a popular spot for area kayakers. Whenever I am passing over the bridge on 26th Street, I find myself looking for kayaks on the river or cars at the launching point. A leisurely paddle upstream to the rapids under the bicycle trail bridge takes about 30 minutes, and the trip back might take 20 minutes. I usually take an hour for the cruise: paddling, checking out the banks, looking at the trees and birds, taking a few photos, and letting my mind wander. This cruise is sort of like a walk in the park – nothing dramatic, just a contemplative hour on the river. A paddler can also go downstream toward Falls Park, but that usually means a shuttle has to be arranged.
Today I set out about 10:30 a.m. under overcast skies with temperatures in the high 40s. The river depth at the 26th Street bridge is about 4 feet now, and there was adequate depth all along the course of the cruise. For the most part, water depth was 2-3 feet with some deeper spots of perhaps 5 feet. Getting out of the channel – misreading the river – could also bring my kayak into shallow spots where it scrapped along the bottom in water just inches deep.
As I passed Camp Leif Erickson along the right bank going upstream, I looked at the camp structures and thought about the thousands of kids who have enjoyed their two-week camping experience over the years. My two sons were both five-year campers at Leif Erickson, and the grounds hold a lot of memories for both of them – and for their parents! Everything is quiet now as the camp awaits the long winter.
From time-to-time through gaps in the trees, I could spot a bicyclist on the bike trail over off the left shoreline moving ahead with stocking cap, coat, and gloves. Upstream, near the bike trail bridge, I came across two deer. They did not seem too spooked and just stood there for a time looking at me and snorting.
There is a set of man-made rapids under the bicycle trail bridge, and it is very difficult to get around them. Coming downstream, paddlers can often shoot through these rapids. Going upstream, though, it is difficult to get out and “line” the kayak through them and even more difficult to carry or drag the kayak through the brush and around the rapids. I have often wondered why the Sioux Falls Parks Department has not done something to facilitate a passage through or around this set of rapids.
So, the change of seasons is very apparent on the Big Sioux River. Everything is turning a wintry brown. Here in the Sioux Falls area, there are not likely to be many more paddling opportunities this year. Still, I am not going to take the rack off the car just yet. I am hoping that there will be another sunny day with temps in the 50s. Lake Lakota, in the Newton Hills Park, seems like another good place to visit – a place where guys in red hats with guns are not likely to be found.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Lake Alvin - October 2009

Winter came early to the northern plains this year. The first temperatures in the 30s arrived in September, and by early October a killing frost brought the growing season to an end. There have been three snowfalls this month, and each left from one to three inches on the ground. For the past two weeks, there seems to have been constant cloudy and rainy weather. I cleaned out the hall closet and found my boots, gloves, hats, and coats. The snow brushes and ice scrappers have been found and placed in our cars. The snowbirds (those who escape the winter up here in the north and head for sunny climes in southern or southwestern states) have either gone or are planning their departure.
But, today we had a rare sunny day with temperatures in the 50s. It was an irresistible opportunity for a fall cruise, so I loaded up the kayak and headed to Lake Alvin. Pheasant hunting season began this past weekend, and it seemed prudent to restrict my kayaking to lakes within or bordering on state parks or the Big Sioux through Sioux Falls. Guys with red hats, guns, and big dogs make me a little anxious, and being on the lookout all the time for hunters or listening to booming shotguns destroys my sense of tranquility on a paddle. So, Lake Alvin it was!
When I arrived at the public access area on the southwestern shore, there was a posted notice from the SD Game, Fish, and Parks that read “No Vehicles Past This Point.” That seemed to mean that it was prohibited to drive up to the parking area or approach the dock by car. Since I have a park sticker, I just left and drove over to the Recreation Area on the north end of the lake and launched at the dock there. On my drive through the Recreation Area, I came across a Game, Fish, and Parks guy in a pick-up truck. I asked him about the sign, and he said that it didn’t mean “no vehicles” really. It was an effort to keep all-terrain vehicles from entering the property and chewing up the hillside. To me, the sign did not convey that message, and I wondered how many boaters or fishermen have been inhibited from use of the public access area by this posted notice. The guy left me a message on my windshield letting me know that cars were okay at that site.
There was one boat out on the water as I launched: a fishing boat with a guy wearing a bomber cap with earflaps pulled down and a bulky coat. I was in rolled up shirtsleeves.
I set out from the dock in Recreation Area and headed north up toward the swimming beach, moved over to the eastern shore, and headed downwind to Nine Mile Creek, my favorite part of the lake. The wind was moderate and offered an opportunity to use my umbrella sail for a few minutes.
Moving up Nine Mile Creek, I kept a lookout for animal life. A rustling in the dry grasses tipped me off to some critter moving along the shore, but on the two or three occasions that I heard such scurrying, I did not see anything. Much of the shoreline grass has lost its color and flexibility. Many of the trees have lost their leaves. This cold weather has also killed much of the algae on the lake, and visibility extends down a couple of feet in many places.
There is plenty of water in the lake, and the Nine Mile Creek channel is generally from two to three feet in depth. I was able to move up the creek until it narrowed to a two or three foot gap and finally became too shallow to proceed. There were a few ducks still hanging around and the very occasional insect, usually a bee. I had an enjoyable 90 minutes or so on the lake today.
The weather for the rest of the week is forecast to be rainy. Maybe there will be a brief time in the morning before the rains begin for the next few days, and I decided to leave the kayak on my car in hopes of a Big Sioux River paddle within Sioux Falls. I hate the thought of taking the rack off my car and storing all my paddling gear for the next five months.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Big Sioux: Lake Alvin to the Klondike Dam

On this last weekend of the summer, the SDCA sponsored a quickly announced cruise on the Big Sioux River from the access area near Lake Alvin to the Klondike Dam located 8.1 miles downstream. Twelve kayaks, one canoe, 14 people, and two dogs showed up on a beautiful late summer Saturday for the event. A shuttle was organized among the paddlers, and the group set out at about 2:30 p.m. under sunny skies, a temperature in the high 70s, and with a south wind blowing down the river.
Even this late in the season, there was adequate depth to the river; generally the depth was 2 to 5 feet, although there were spots with deeper water and several spots with the water moving across shallows and sand bars with only inches of depth. Some boats occasionally became stalled in shallow water. I found my boat skimming across sand bars a few times, times when I had to “claw” myself off and into deeper water. It was never necessary, however, for me to get out of the kayak to drag it off a shallow spot. The trick seemed to be in “reading” the river, trying to gauge the course of the deepest channel. The channel shifts between low and high banks, and sometimes even seasoned paddlers make the wrong choice of sides. This sometimes means changing direction quickly and heading for the opposite bank, and this can also sometimes cause the kayak to stall in very shallow water when making the change of course.
The landscape along this stretch of the Big Sioux River is varied, and there are some steep cliffs dropping down to the river level and hills in the near distance visible along the course of the river. The banks are generally heavily wooded, including very large cottonwood trees. As the season is now turning, some of the cottonwoods have already lost most of their leaves. It is interesting to seen the progression of tree and grass cover in September, and this weekend offered a full range of flora in change. To me, while the colors are beautiful, the message is inescapable: winter is coming. We could have some snow and ice next month. Or, of course, we could have a wonderful and lengthy fall of “Indian summer.”
The paddlers on this trip included seasoned veterans of many years as well as some novice kayakers in their newly purchased boats, some of which were only nine feet in length. Because of this range of experience and variety of craft, the time required to complete the cruise was 2 ½ to 3 ½ hours. The slower flow of the river and the south wind acted as inhibitors to speed on this cruise as well.
I didn’t observe any wildlife on the cruise other than small birds. We passed a herd of cattle grazing on the SD side of the river about halfway down. The river crosses under a couple of rural road bridges, but there is limited evidence of people, farm buildings, or houses along this portion of the river. There were no hazards to navigation along the course of the river, although the dam at the conclusion of this stretch presents a hazard that requires careful attention. There are warning signs ahead of the dam that give direction to paddlers.
We met a pair of paddlers at the “put-in” who had just completed the trip and their shuttle back from the Klondike. As we were forming up the SDCA group, another pair of boats arrived independently and moved upstream to extend their cruise. So, this is a popular spot for paddlers throughout the season. The “put-in” is, of course, on the SD side of the river; downstream, Iowa maintains a park and access point right above the dam, while SD maintains a similar launching area just below the dam. There has been some work on the dam this summer, and hazard warnings are posted to warn paddlers on the Iowa side.
Group cruises like this provide support to the new paddlers, an opportunity to see a variety of boats on the water, conversation groups that form and dissolve, and a way to strengthen networks formed among people with a shared interest in water travel. It is a nice balance for me between the value of paddling with others and my desire for solo paddling and quiet contemplation and observation of lake or river life. For me, this balance is important, and I enjoy both types of paddling.

For more description of this portion of the Big Sioux River or to read about other sections of the river in the general Sioux Falls area, refer to the menu of area waterways on the right side of the home page of this blog.