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, June 22, 2009

Lake Vermillion - the West End

After my cruise last week, I just left the kayak on the car thinking that I might sneak in a short run on the Big Sioux River this weekend. But, that notion didn’t move beyond a vague plan. Instead, I got up early this morning, had my bagel and hour-long read, and headed out to Lake Vermillion. With the kayak on top of the car, my radio antenna has to be taken down, so I drove along listening to the same Joan Baez recording of Bob Dylan tunes that accompanied me last week. Once again, I drove west along Highway 42 through downtown and out to the Lake Vermillion Recreation Area, about 30 miles west of my eastside Sioux Falls home.
My “geezer rig” for hoisting the kayak up onto the roof rack has served me pretty well over the past few years. The ramp in the recreation area was empty, so I was able to drive close to the dock, slide the kayak off onto the piece of carpet, put on the gloves, and carry it to the water. I forgot to bring along my “aqua-socks” this morning and I didn’t want to wade barefoot into the water, so I took a chance and clamored into the kayak with my size 45 Ecco shoes. I had not been in a kayak with shoes on for quite a long time, and the feel of the rudder pedals was heaver. I also knew that it would be tough to get out of the kayak along the way and also require a contortionist stance to roll out onto the dock when I returned.
Even at 7:45 a.m., there were some fishing boats out on the larger portion of the lake, that long stretch running north and south. By the time I returned, there were water skiers out and three boat trailers were parked at the ramp. So, I decided to take my preferred route on Lake Vermillion and set out on the western arm, up into the watershed area of feeder creeks and marshes. The water was flat calm, there was no noticeable wind, and the temperature was nearing 80.
This part of the lake was deserted, as always. I passed under the bridge and paddled along that shallow waterway for about 15 minutes before reaching the division of inland passages that lead up creek-like inlets deep into the marsh. About a mile into the western arm, there is a division of waterways that all lead into the marsh. I took the northern passages and traveled for about 40 minutes up a couple of leads. These took me pretty deep into the marsh to points where they eventually ended in a passage too narrow for my kayak.
I find it interesting to move up these leads deep into the marsh. Few boats would even have been up into this area of the lake, and I like that feeling of being in a difficult area for boats. The leads today were all pretty deep; I often continued up into the marsh with two or three feet of water under the boat. Eventually, however, I got into a passage that did not permit further travel. Often, there was a good current leading down through the watershed so that the boat would drift back without paddling. One challenge of this sort of travel is the need to back out of the passageway. I tend to go on until further forward progress is impossible. Backing out with a current running is kind of fun. Sometimes, the backward movement is for fifty yards or so.
There was a constant background of bird life, continual sounds from the birds perching on the stalks of waterside plants and trees. A flock of pelicans departed the area just as I arrived, and I also saw a great blue heron and some nesting ducks. There were a few muskrat or beaver that swam in my area. One thing missing, however, was the horde of flopping carp that I observed at Diamond Lake, and for that I was grateful. There were not many bugs out either; I didn’t notice a mosquito or gnat at all.
This western arm paddle took me about 90 minutes, and I didn’t see another boat or person. It was a good solitary time in the marsh. I thought about going up the main body of the lake, but I really don’t find the experience of moving off shore in the lake very stimulating, especially with water skiers and fishermen in the area. I like paddling along the shoreline looking at the landscape and checking out the critters. For a kayak, I recommend this route up the western arm into the weeds.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Diamond Lake - June 2009

I loaded up my kayak a couple days ago with the intent of an early morning cruise on Diamond Lake, but when I got up yesterday there was a thunderstorm in progress. Rather than unload the boat, I decided to make another attempt today.
I got up early and headed to Bagel Boy, a coffee and bagel spot just a few blocks from my house. After my habitual hour-long read, I headed out to 10th Street, passed through downtown Sioux Falls, and continued west on Highway 42 and then north on Highway 19 through Humboldt until I reached 244th Street where I turned west again to Diamond Lake. This body of water is as far from my house as you can go in Minnehaha County. I live in the southeastern part of the county, and the lake is in the northwestern corner. Actually, the turn off to the lake is along Highway 19 between the Minnehaha County and the Lake County signs. During the drive west and then north, I did not overtake another vehicle. There was, however, a steady stream of east bound cars heading in to Sioux Falls, apparently drivers on their way to work. I drove along listing to a Joan Baez CD of Bob Dylan tunes while all the working stiffs were on their way to the salt mines. A nice treat for retired guys!
As I arrived at the lake, I was almost shocked to find that there were two boat trailers parked in the ramp area. I almost never find anyone on any of the bodies of water that I paddle within this area. Generally, I feel if any other person or boat is in view on the water that it is crowded. Two boats meant that the lake was “packed!” The area of the lake, however, is three times that of Lake Alvin, so it is possible to avoid close contact with any fishermen.
It was a beautiful morning for a cruise. The winds were light, the sky partly sunny, and the temperature around 70. Upon arrival, I paddled south along the eastern shore toward the dam about 1½ miles down lake. The first thing I noticed was hundreds of carp trashing around in the shallows along the entire shoreline. Apparently, they are spawning, and they wallow around in the shallow water and weeds along the shore. They find themselves in water too shallow to swim and thrash about, often finding themselves nearly beached. The sound of these spawning carp overshadowed the song birds that usually present such a pleasant audible backdrop to a lake paddle.
There were three flocks of pelicans on the lake this morning. Two of the groups were located near a marshy island in the southwestern part of the lake. In both cases, there seemed to be a sentinel pelican hanging back to draw my attention while the others swam away. The sentinel seemed to keep pace with me in my kayak – always just ahead, not flying off, and constantly swimming. I also came across a few other waterfowl and a beaver.
Going to Diamond Lake is at the outer limits of my routine: never spend more time on the drive than on the water. It took me about 45 minutes to get to Diamond Lake, and I spent an hour and 40 minutes on the water. When I returned to the dock, there was an older gent driving up in his old station wagon filled with fishing gear. In my efforts to initiate pleasant conversation, I mentioned the spawning carp. He told me that he had just returned from the dam at the south end of the lake and found two “game wardens” there. He said that he had told them that instead of bothering fishermen, they ought to be out seining the carp, digging a big hole, and burying them. I told the guy that I had seen flocks of pelicans on the water, and he said that they had brought the carp into the lake with eggs attached to their feet from other waters. Then, I mentioned seeing a cormorant on the lake, and he said that they were eating up the fish and that they were being protected by bureaucrats in Washington who don’t know anything about the needs of these lakes and fisherman. I asked him if he had seen other kayaks on the lake, and he told me that he had not and that he didn’t see how they don’t just capsize. Finally, I offered my observation about what a nice day it turned out to be, and he told me that the fishing would be good if only the weather would straighten out. This uplifting morning chat reminded me of how attractive I find solitude when out on the waterways.
So, this is my second time on Diamond Lake, and I recommend it. There is enough variety in landscape so that wind conditions are affected, there is a variety of waterfowl on the lake, the launching area includes a toilet and good parking, and access is pretty easy. The lake is about 1½ miles long and up to a mile wide, although generally the width is closer to ¼ mile. The lake is irregular in shape with several bays extending from the main body. Also, the lake is large enough to accommodate fishermen and paddlers and to offer a pretty good area of separation.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Lake Alvin Canoe/Kayak Fair

The annual SDCA sponsored canoe/kayak fair at Lake Alvin was held today under heavy overcast, temperatures in the low 50s, a chilly wind, and intermittent sprinkles. A group of about a dozen SDCA members gathered to offer an opportunity for novice paddlers to try out a variety of boats. There were some who had never been in a kayak and others with very limited experience.
SDCA members got people set up in a boat, helped them launch, and then coached them from alongside as they moved out onto the water. The day was gray with moderate wind, but the conditions did not seem to offer any impediment to those eager to try out a kayak.
The first SDCA members arrived about 11:00 a.m. and there were still people on the water at 2:45 p.m. Some of the novice paddlers set out in a tandem kayak and others stuck to single kayaks.
This was also a time for SDCA members to try out various boats, and also a time to just visit with each other. The members were able to check out various ways to transport kayaks, from a special build trailer to an ingenious pickup truck platform. A group of five kayaks went up Nine-Mile Creek to laugh it up together as they continued on up to the final blockage on the inlet.
(Photo by Jarett Bies)
I rigged up my Spirit sail and cruised down wind, paddled back up a ways, and then sailed back again. My sail rig will operate up to about 45 degrees off the wind through shifting the sail.
(Photo by Jarett Bies)
Jarett Bies and I served as beachmasters for this event, and other members served as coaches. We wondered about attendance with weather conditions as they were, but the turn out was good. People came and left at different times, but there were always more than a dozen people at the site.
The next SDCA cruise is on June 20 in Pierre, and those who are interested and able to attend should check out Pat Wellner’s blog at Pirates of the Missouri: Pat has a wealth of experience on the Missouri in the Pierre area, and he has a nice route planned. If you plan on attending the event, I suggest that you get in touch with him.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Beaver Lake - June 2009

This morning in Sioux Falls, the temperatures were mild, low 50s; the wind was light at 5-15 mph; and the sky was partly overcast. A few days ago, I cleaned up the interior of my kayak after tracking in mud, sand, and small rocks during the Skunk Creek cruise over a week ago. So, all the signs were right for another venture out on area waters. I decided to take my annual trip to Beaver Lake, located just on the edge of Humboldt, SD. As you drive west on Interstate 90 approaching the Humboldt exit, there is a slim water tower visible on the right, about a mile before the exit. The water tower is on a strip of land between the Interstate and the road leading down to the lake. In fact, you can see the lake from the Interstate. Finding the access point in Humboldt, however, is another issue. I have talked to people who live in the area who have no idea that the lake exists. Highway 38 passes through Humboldt, and heading back east, you turn at a gas station on the east end of town. A right turn there will take you south past the cemetery. You just keep going toward the water tower and take a left at the last road before the bridge over the Interstate. The lake is less than a mile down that road on the left. Typically for South Dakota, there is a small obscured sign that reads “public access.” The access point has a vault toilet, ample parking, and a dock. Earlier posts about Beaver Lake can be found by checking the appropriate link on blog menu.
Today, as usual, I headed out to the large wooded island directly fronting the access point. I find the landscape of this island very interesting. The island is heavily wooded and there is variation in the shoreline. Along part of the island, the banks are 10 feet high or more; along another part, the shoreline is low and marshy with reeds. I have not seen any sign of human encroachment on the island; instead, it seems like a wildlife sanctuary. I have seen a good variety of birds in the trees or waters around the island. Today, I watched a group of egrets as they located nesting material on the island. They were a little too spooked to allow me to drift in close to them, but I kept them in sight for several minutes. I like moving slowly around the
island, peering into the interior, checking out the variety of birds, and looking for other wildlife. Today, I saw a couple of rabbits scampering through the under growth. I imagine that wildlife gets onto the island in the winter by strolling across on the ice, and critters might well be marooned there for the season.
Because the lake is high, I was able to explore deep into some of the marshy parts, deep into the cattails and rushes. Sometimes, I was able to move 200-300 yards into the wetlands. In this area, I came across several beavers and lots of lodges. Beaver life must be characteristic of this area for the name of the lake to have stuck over the years. There were lots of yellow-headed blackbirds out today, and they too were building nests. Ducks in great numbers would fly up out of the marshy areas as I approached in my kayak. I heard rustling in the reeds and fleetingly saw lots of little ducks scampering out of sight.
As almost always, I was alone on the water. My cruise was just short of two hours today. I lost track of time as I moved in and out of the marshy areas checking out bird and beaver life. This was another of those great times for a retired guy: kayaking out in deserted waterways during working hours, laughing it up on my own agenda.