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.

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