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:

Friday, August 28, 2009

Grass Lake - August 2009

Last night I thought that this would be a good day for a return visit to Grass Lake. The forecast looked good, so I left home at 6:00 a.m., headed for Bagel Boy for coffee and 45 minutes of reading my latest novel, and arrived at Grass Lake by 7:30 a.m. I had not been on this body of water since early spring, and I was anxious to see the area during late summer with all the foliage at its peak growth.
At 7:30 a.m., the sky was clear with the sun low on the eastern horizon. There was no wind, and the water was flat calm. The temperature was 55 degrees – a perfect day for paddling. The only sounds on the lake were insects, birds, the dipping of my paddle, and the remote sound of cows mooing on a farm way out of sight on the southwestern part of the lake. There was not even any wind blowing through the trees. As has always been the case during my visits, the lake was deserted: no boats, no fishermen, no hikers, no visible farmers at work. There was the occasional contrail from a jet plane moving high across the landscape and sometimes a private plane passing. Once, a couple of years ago, I saw a guy in a powered hang glider passing a few hundred feet up and moving east.
On a day like this, the conditions were just right for a slow cruise around the perimeter of the lake. For most of the cruise, I moved along inshore, just 10 to 15 feet off shore so that I could peer into the bank, watch the bird life, and search out “critters” along the shoreline.
I came upon two muskrats that were just swimming along between my kayak and the shoreline. As soon as they spotted me, though, they moved quickly into the growth along the bank and were lost to sight. An owl flew out of a tree and crossed down the length of my kayak so close that I could see details of its face. There were several great blue heron that were flushed out upon the approach of my kayak. These wily birds are difficult to photograph with the pretty ordinary camera that I have; when they catch sight of me, they quickly fly away. There were a number of ducks out, but they also quickly moved away at the sight or sound of my kayak. I did not see any geese today.
There is a shoal area on the north side of the lake about three quarters of the way down from the launching point where pelicans congregate. Today was no exception, and I approached a flock of at least 40 pelicans along with a large group of gulls. The pelicans are less skittish than gulls, and I was able to approach the flock today to take a close look at it. There seemed to be a few grizzled pelicans on guard that stood their ground as I approached. The majority of the flock just moved down lake for 50 feet or so and waited for me to pass.
There were some egrets out on the lake today as well. Sometimes I would see a lone egret standing in the reeds along the shore, and other times a pair would be sitting on a tree limb.
The water along the north side of the lake was free of surface algae, and the visibility in the water was about 12 inches. On the cruise down the lake, the shoreline was in shadow from the east sun. Returning back east on the south side of the lake, the sun was bright and the temperature had risen into the 60s. In fact, I felt hot as I moved back along the southern shore. Perhaps the relatively cool summer this year has made temperatures in the 70s seem hot. There was also a good deal of algae all along the southern shore. There seemed to be an algae line that extended for about five feet out from the shoreline. After that line, there was still plenty of algae, but it got gradually less defined. This algae reminded me of a sheet of ice along the shore: shining, a white appearance, and an inch or so thick.
As I approached the smaller of the two islands in the lake, the one that I think of as Willow Island, I was caught up in the steady hum of insect life. I did not see any birds in the willow bushes of the island, but this seemed like an ideal habitat for bird life.
My cruise lasted for two hours – two hours of easy paddling, photographing, observing the shoreline, and sneaking up on waterfowl. By the end of my trip, a light wind had come up out of the north leaving ripples across the lake.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Back to Lake Alvin - August 2009

I try to get out in my kayak at least once a week. Generally, my desire is to visit the area waterways in some sort of rotation so that I can update myself and the readers of this blog on conditions for paddling within an hour or so of Sioux Falls. Lake Alvin is like an old shoe; it is close, familiar, and predictable. So, I often feel as though I am not extending myself much when I go for a cruise on this very familiar body of water. Then, I sometimes snap out of my preconceived notion of destination and head out to Lake Alvin. You know, this is really a pretty nice place to go paddling. An important element for me is that time traveled from my driveway to the dock in the public access launching area today was 14 minutes. There are a number of other attractive features to Lake Alvin, which will again be emphasized in this narrative.
Today was partly sunny with a hint of rain in the big cumulus clouds moving across the landscape. It was also pretty windy, perhaps 20 mph, with temperatures in the high 60s. When I arrived at the lake, it was, as usual during a weekday morning, deserted. There were no other boats on the lake as I set out from the launching point.
Lake Alvin has an irregular shape that follows the old creek bed of Nine Mile Creek and is bordered by high banks along most of the shoreline. So, the wind across the lake is affected by the landscape. The shape of the lake means that wind conditions are nearly always variable. As you round one point, the wind tends to shift direction. There is generally a lee with relatively calm water along the shoreline below the banks.
Today, I set out from the public access area and paddled north and then east to the fishing dock on the far northern shore. It seemed to me that I was paddling into the wind, and I thought that I would just sail back to the south end after my cruise. On the way back, however, I found that shifting winds and the bends in the lakebed keep me still in a head wind. After passing the recreation area dock, though, the wind provided an opportunity for me to set my Spirit sail and cruise all the way back to the entrance into Nine Mile Creek.
Sailing today was a great experience. The wind provided plenty of drive, and my rudder gave me excellent control as I cruised south. The kayak was creating a bow wave and wake through the water, and I was kicking back, grinning at the ease of travel.
To extend the cruise, I entered Nine Mile Creek and found plenty of depth for the trip into this increasingly narrow waterway. This is one of my favorite aspects of cruising on Lake Alvin. Nine Mile Creek is where a paddler is most likely to see waterfowl, birds of all sorts, beaver, muskrat, raccoon, turtles, and deer. Today, I came across two deer sharing a drink of creek water. They seemed frozen in place at first, just giving me a close look but not immediately dashing off. I had time to take my camera out and catch a couple of photos before they fled. In addition, I saw a mother duck with a big group of little ones scattering at the sight of my approaching kayak. Nine Mile Creek is also where a paddler is most likely to come across turtles.
Once again, I began to feel fortunate to have Lake Alvin so close to my eastside Sioux Falls home. It has been nearly two months since I last paddled these waters, and I need to take more frequent advantage of the paddling opportunities it presents.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Big Sioux - Sioux Falls, 26th St. to the Falls

Today, I retraced a route on the Big Sioux River through downtown Sioux Falls that I had not taken in 25 years. Long ago, I traveled this 2.5-mile trip on the river with my then eight-year-old son, Jason, who was sitting behind me in a solo canoe. We got caught up in the rapids near the 26th Street Bridge and cracked the fiberglass canoe in three places. While we continued on down the river to the old Zip Feed tower, this trip did not contribute to his confidence in the canoeing skills of dad. I remember thinking at the time that I would not want to go canoeing with someone who demonstrated such recklessness. But time passed, and old dad had additional chances to repair his reputation.
There is a canoe launch point just past the bridge on 26th Street, on the downstream side of Camp Leif Erickson. Most people canoe upstream for a little over a mile to the rapids under the bicycle trail bride and then come back. There is a set of rapids than forms a demarcation point between these sections of the river through Sioux Falls. Today, I kept to the right side of the rapids and shot through into the flow heading downstream to the Falls.
The river along this 2.5-mile section forms a corridor through wooded areas that lead into the park system along the Sioux Falls Greenway. The trees are large and cast deep shade across the water. This year, there is plenty of flow and depth to the stream. The woods extend out for 50 to 100 feet along each side. The Sioux Falls bike trail winds along the river system on the right as the flow moves on to the Falls.
There are several highway, railroad, and foot bridges along this stretch: 26th St. I 229, 18th Street, 17th St., 10th Street, 8th Street, 6th Street, as well as one of the large parking garages build over the river in the downtown area. Passing under bridges presents a potential challenge in that the stream tends to be wide at such points and there are often several supporting stanchions. On one occasion today, I selected a channel that proved to be too shallow, and I got hung up on rocks under the bridge. Rather that risk the ignominy of getting out of the kayak, I managed to haul myself back by gripping at the rocks and pulling the boat around for a more successful passage.
A set of rapids presents a novelty to the cruise near Fawick Park, with the statue of David in sight. Last night, my wife and I attended the Thursday evening jazz concert at Fawick Park, and I saw a fleet of six kayaks pass through this set of rapids. They all shot through in the center of the stream without difficulty, and I did the same today.
The buildings of downtown Sioux Falls appear through the trees and over the bridges as the river approaches the area around 10th Street. People can be seen walking or riding along the bike trail, fishing along the bank, or driving past – often oblivious to the drama of a passing kayak.
This short cruise ended off the parking lot of Killian College, just before the final rush to the Falls. My wife dropped me off at the launch area at 26th Street and drove on to that agreed upon pick up spot. The 45 minutes needed to navigate the 2.5 miles allowed her time to take a stroll down to Falls Park with our little dog and then to rest a spell in a folding chair until I showed up.
This cruise provides an opportunity to enjoy the scenery of the bike trail and then to see the emergence of downtown Sioux Falls from a new perspective. It is certainly not high drama, but it is a nice ride through the city along the Big Sioux.