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:

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Canoe/Kayak Fair at Lake Alvin, Sunday, June 7

The second South Dakota Canoe Association paddling fair of the season will be held at the public access area at Lake Alvin on Sunday, June 7, from 11:00 to 2:00 p.m. The public access area does not require a park sticker, and it is located at the southwestern end of the lake. The easiest access is east off of Highway 11 onto 273rd Street (a paved road) and then north on 479th Ave. (a gravel road). The lake is visible from 273rd Street. If you get to the state recreation area, you have gone too far.

This is an opportunity for people to check out a variety of kayaks or canoes. SDCA members bring their boats and offer to let interested people give them a try in the relatively sheltered waters of this part of the lake. Jarett Bies and Jay Heath will be serving as “beachmasters” to line people up with a boat for a short paddling experience. Club members who come to the event expect that their boats might be used. Experienced and novice paddlers can will find an opportunity to try out a variety of boats. Jarett and Jay, as well as other SDCA members, will be available to provide some initial instruction. As with all SDCA events, life jackets are required for all paddlers taking part in the session.

So, if you have been thinking of trying out a kayak and want to take advantage of this opportunity, come to Lake Alvin on Sunday, June 7. People often come to this sort of event for their first kayak ride. Many experienced paddlers also look forward to this opportunity to check out the variety of boats and take a short paddle in a different style boat. Of course, such an event is also a way to continue building relationships in the South Dakota paddling community.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Skunk Creek, May 2009

The South Dakota Canoe Association sponsored a trip along Skunk Creek in Sioux Falls this morning under the leadership of Jerry Foy. The group assembled at Jerry’s home in the northwestern part of Sioux Falls at 5:30 a.m. and set out on the cruise at 6:00 a.m. It was still dark as we began our trip downstream. Full daylight occurred within about half-an-hour; we did not see a sunrise, however, because the sky was too overcast.
An early departure offered the hope of seeing wildlife along the route, and we did see a number of geese and ducks along the waterway; a herd of six deer flashed past us about half way through the trip. Generally, though, it is only the lead kayak that has much chance of seeing interesting “critters.” The noise of a fleet of kayaks with paddlers chatting back and forth does not offer much encouragement for wildlife to stick around in easy sight.
Skunk Creek runs through the northwestern part of Sioux Falls and joins the Big Sioux River around 26th Street and Louise Avenue. The creek passes along the edge of Dunham and Legacy Parks and flows under at least three bike trail bridges before crossing under the I29 overpass. . There is a great deal of vegetation along the waterway with big trees overhanging and some high banks. The creek is about 50 feet wide during most of the flow. For a good part of the course, there is a feeling of being off in a remote area rather than in the midst of the largest city in South Dakota. For long segments, there are no buildings visible. Occasionally, it seems that one is cruising along the back yard of homes built along the creek. This waterway is a secret treasure for people living on the northwest side of Sioux Falls, especially those with a home on the banks of the creek.
From Jerry’s home, we just carried the seven kayaks and one canoe from his driveway down to the water’s edge. Our cruise extended 5.36 miles, and we took out at behind Granite City along Louise Avenue, across from Home Depot. We paddled 2 hours and 15 minutes on this cloudy and intermittently rainy morning. Actually, the rain added an interesting element to the cruise; the temperature was in the 50s, and we all had rain jackets and hats.
There are several sets of riffles along the course of Skunk Creek. We all made it through all of them without difficulty; I was the only one among the group who had to get out of a kayak during the trip. For me, it was because of being centered on a big rock and unable to wiggle myself off. The water was generally around 4 feet deep or so, and it was fairly easy to follow the deep channel. Jerry Foy told me that the critical water depth gauge for Skunk Creek is 4.5 feet. I checked today; the reading was 4.47, and that worked fine for us.
This was a new waterway for me. It seems odd that I have lived in Sioux Falls for nearly 30 years and never focused on Skunk Creek. Somehow, the west side of town, beyond Interstate 29, seems like another place to me. I feel a little guilty at not learning more about this paddling possibility until now. For an interesting cruise within the city of Sioux Falls, I recommend Skunk Creek. It is a really fine option for a two-hour cruise, and I am glad that I joined the group for this Saturday morning start to the weekend.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Split Rock Creek - The Palisades May 2009

Monday seemed like a good day to head out for a kayak cruise, and I decided to return to the city park in Garretson, SD, and cruise up Split Rock Creek through the palisades. This is a spot I return to several times a year; it also one of the places I am most likely to take a guest or friend out for a kayak ride. It is really a spectacular stretch of waterway here in the Sioux Falls area. There are high cliffs along both sides of the creek as it extends up from the dam at the city park.
Today, I was focused upon the vegetation, especially the plants and trees that have a tenuous hold on life within the cracks of the Sioux quartzite cliffs. These hardy plants grow in improbable places and suggest to me the power of life, the ability to survive in seemingly impossible conditions.
The overhang of the palisades creates interesting shadows, and a contrast with the sky, the water, and the colors of the rocks. The light creates a new look at the cliffs and growth with every shift of the kayak across the waterway.
As usual, I kayaked upstream to a small riffle that marks the end of the easily navigated section. It takes about 30 minutes to go upstream, even checking out the plant life and the geology. There is plenty of time to look at the birdlife along the way. Today, the cliff swallows were back and repairing the mud nests along the cliff walls that had deteriorated during the winter. On past cruises, I have watched beaver, seen muskrats, deer, and lots of birdlife including great blue heron, geese, ducks, and a great variety of swallows and perching birds.
The cruise back downstream seems to go faster, but then I also nearly always go through the four-arch stone bridge that leads into Devil’s Gulch. This little side trip is always a pleasure for me. The waterway moves on for a half a mile or so through another smaller but still spectacular set of palisades and ends at a little inlet that drains through the woods along the park.
My cruise today was 65 minutes. As nearly always, I was alone on the water. As I finished the cruise, however, a school bus had arrived at the park from a school in Rock Valley, Iowa, with a group of students on a field trip or end-of-the-year excursion. They had made arrangements to take a ride on the S.S. Jesse James, a large pontoon boat that provides cruises along the same stretch I had just paddled. The skipper of the pontoon boat had backed his big trailer into the ramp, and I had to carry my kayak out of the way and 50 yards or so to my car. I thought of that as my strength training for the day.
There are a number of alternatives on Split Rock Creek. Below the dam at Garretson, the creek continues down through Split Rock State Park, then on to McHardy Park in Brandon, and finally to the confluence with the Big Sioux at the edge of Brandon.

There are past narratives of this cruise that can be accessed through the menu on the right side of the blog.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Grass Lake - May 2009

This morning, I left home early and headed over to Bagel Boy for morning coffee. By 7:30 a.m., I was on my way to Grass Lake, about 25 miles west of my eastside Sioux Falls home. I arrived at the lake around 8:00 a.m. on a clear, crisp day with temperatures in the high 40s. There was a light wind coming out of the south creating three or four inch waves, enough to give my kayak a little bounce as I paddled toward the western end.
As usual, I was alone on the water, at least the only person. There was lots of bird life to hear and watch. Along the shore, birds kept up a constant singing from the brush and trees. Waterfowl were constantly in sight: ducks, geese, and pelicans. As I approached the island off the northeast shore, a cloud of geese flew up. Ducks were seemingly omnipresent; as I approached them, they would rush off skipping over the water with their dangling web feet slapping the waves as they moved off. The ducks didn’t seem interested in taking flight; instead, they just seemingly walked over the water with their wings flapping and their feet dragging as they got out of my path. The geese, on the other hand, most often would fly off and away. The pelicans seemed the least skittish of the large waterfowl. It is generally possible to approach fairly close to pelicans; and when they finally do fly off, they seem to circle overhead and then land again nearby.
The water was choppy along the northern side of this east to west oriented lake. With the wind out of the south, there was a nice lee along the southern shore below the trees. This is where I often see wildlife, but nothing beyond birds showed itself today. The water was pretty clear, and the bottom was visible at about four feet.
The launching point within the public access area of Grass Lake is nothing to write home about. There is a dirt road going into the area, no toilet, and a primitive ramp. It would be easy to miss this spot, but earlier accounts of Grass Lake that are accessible from the menu on the right side of the blog page give good directions.
My cruise around the lake took me about 90 minutes, and it was a nice tranquil ride. With the wind conditions, the surface of the lake presented some variety. The landscape in early spring is pleasant, the sun was shinning, and I enjoyed the morning. I do most of my kayaking during the week and almost always alone. It is delicious to be able to cruise along during what used to be working hours. When I drove home along 10th/12th Street, I had my tunes going, my red kayak on top of the car, and I waved cheerfully to working guys I passed along the way.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Lake Lakota - May 2009

I have been working in England since mid-April, and I found spring well advanced upon my return to South Dakota. For my second cruise of the season, I decided to go to Lake Lakota, located within Newton Hills State Park and just 27 miles from my east-side Sioux Falls home. Taking advantage of the still morning, I arrived at the lake about 8:15 a.m. and, as usual, was alone on the water. The day was sunny with a temperature in the 50s and a forecast of about 70 degrees for the afternoon.
Lake Lakota is not exactly the high seas, but it is a pleasant body of water with good possibilities for seeing some wildlife. I like to meander up the several inlets of the lake, continuing until further passage is impossible. On one of these side trips up
into the woods or grasses, I came across a wild turkey. She was moving along the shore; as I approached, she flew over the kayak into the brush on the opposite side of the inlet. Further along, I came across a large frog sitting alongside the shore. I moved in closer to get a photo, but the wily frog sensed my presence, gave a bark rather like a dog, and dove into the water. A beaver or muskrat swam near me today as well. Often I come across large numbers of big turtles. It is generally easy to approach turtles without spooking them and causing them to abandon their log perch. Today, however, the turtles were too alert to the approach of my kayak, and I was unable to get in close for an interesting photo. There were lots of ducks beginning their nesting activity, but they too flew off on my approach. I just have a little Cannon Power Shot with a four power telephoto, so close shots of wildlife generally requires a degree of stealth and luck on my part.
The wind was against me as I paddled up to the earthen dam at the south end of the lake. That wasn’t any problem with the kayak, but I decided to set my sail and ride back with the wind. Rigging the sail while underway is pretty easy, and I got set up
in the lee of the dam. Since the wind was blowing out of the south, I set the sail at a 45-degree angle and moved across the wind to the northwestern end of the lake. The sail filled nicely, and the kayak cruised across the water with a nice wake. Kayaks are inherently a bit unstable, and a shifting wind is another challenge. Moving across the water at an angle to the wind creates moments of shift when the kayak seems a little unstable. After a bit of a ride, I decided that my real purpose in kayaking today was to check out wildlife, and that was not really possible while sailing down the middle of the lake and being constantly alert to stability issues. So, I folded up the sail and started paddling again.
The most interesting part of the lake is the arm that heads west along the northern shore. The lake within this arm is shallower, and there generally is more aquatic vegetation on the water. All that seems to lead to more turtles, more ducks, and lots more large frogs. The conditions for all that are not quite ready yet. Soon, there will be large lily pads on the water, and frogs like to rest on them.
At the end of the western arm, Pattee Creek enters the lake through a culvert. Heading into the culvert seems an irresistible urge, and I went as far as I dared. Any further and I would have been stuck, or so it seemed to me.
My cruise this morning was about 90 minutes, and that is just about right for me. Lake Lakota is a pleasant place to visit largely because of the setting. It is all within a well-maintained state park with great scenery: trees, hills, a variety of water conditions, and usually deserted. I like going to Lake Lakota once or twice a year.