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:

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.


LJLickfelt said...

Thanks, Jay. I have never seen Grass Lake but you made me feel like I was there. I can just feel that cool breeze with temps in the 40's. As I read the account I was in my air conditioned Arizona home. The thermometer says 102 at just past 2:00 pm. I do long for those beautiful spring days in SD when everything comes to life. Thanks for taking me back for a while. Keep up the good work.

I also share your enthusiasm about watching other people work. I take great care to notice them and greet them.


Danny said...

We just paddled Grass Lake this afternoon. While it was a bit on the blustery side and there was some whitecaps on the lake we ventured out anyways knowing our little inflatable would get us to the other end of the lake, and that's exactly what it did.

It was actually easier paddling into the wind than it was coming back with the wind behind us. Going into the wind we could keep the bow of the boat straight into the swells, which wasn't a big deal in the Sea Eagle. Coming back with the wind behind us was a bit like surfing as we'd kind of get on top of a swell and surf down the other side. It got a bit sketchy, but we felt a lot more stable than we would in a traditional kayak or canoe.

On the way there we helped a painted turtle across the highway and saw a ferret crossing the highway, something neither one of us had ever seen before.

I took some grainy video with my cell phone to show some of the chop out on the water.

We really had a good time here, despite the less than ideal paddling conditions.

Jay Heath said...

Well, Danny, these area lakes offer conditions that range from flat calm to frightening waves. Sometimes conditions even change during the time of a cruise on the lake. The situation you describe of moving with the wind and caught up in a "following sea" is especially risky and has created a sense of anxiety in me on occasion. I have experienced this both on Grass Lake and on Beaver Lake. You can check out a narrative that I wrote regarding the SDCA water sampling project last summer on Grass Lake for my observations of kayaking during a wind that caused serious wave action.

Thanks for contributing your observations. Your communication extends the utility of the narratives.