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:

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Big Sioux: Lake Alvin to the Klondike Dam

On this last weekend of the summer, the SDCA sponsored a quickly announced cruise on the Big Sioux River from the access area near Lake Alvin to the Klondike Dam located 8.1 miles downstream. Twelve kayaks, one canoe, 14 people, and two dogs showed up on a beautiful late summer Saturday for the event. A shuttle was organized among the paddlers, and the group set out at about 2:30 p.m. under sunny skies, a temperature in the high 70s, and with a south wind blowing down the river.
Even this late in the season, there was adequate depth to the river; generally the depth was 2 to 5 feet, although there were spots with deeper water and several spots with the water moving across shallows and sand bars with only inches of depth. Some boats occasionally became stalled in shallow water. I found my boat skimming across sand bars a few times, times when I had to “claw” myself off and into deeper water. It was never necessary, however, for me to get out of the kayak to drag it off a shallow spot. The trick seemed to be in “reading” the river, trying to gauge the course of the deepest channel. The channel shifts between low and high banks, and sometimes even seasoned paddlers make the wrong choice of sides. This sometimes means changing direction quickly and heading for the opposite bank, and this can also sometimes cause the kayak to stall in very shallow water when making the change of course.
The landscape along this stretch of the Big Sioux River is varied, and there are some steep cliffs dropping down to the river level and hills in the near distance visible along the course of the river. The banks are generally heavily wooded, including very large cottonwood trees. As the season is now turning, some of the cottonwoods have already lost most of their leaves. It is interesting to seen the progression of tree and grass cover in September, and this weekend offered a full range of flora in change. To me, while the colors are beautiful, the message is inescapable: winter is coming. We could have some snow and ice next month. Or, of course, we could have a wonderful and lengthy fall of “Indian summer.”
The paddlers on this trip included seasoned veterans of many years as well as some novice kayakers in their newly purchased boats, some of which were only nine feet in length. Because of this range of experience and variety of craft, the time required to complete the cruise was 2 ½ to 3 ½ hours. The slower flow of the river and the south wind acted as inhibitors to speed on this cruise as well.
I didn’t observe any wildlife on the cruise other than small birds. We passed a herd of cattle grazing on the SD side of the river about halfway down. The river crosses under a couple of rural road bridges, but there is limited evidence of people, farm buildings, or houses along this portion of the river. There were no hazards to navigation along the course of the river, although the dam at the conclusion of this stretch presents a hazard that requires careful attention. There are warning signs ahead of the dam that give direction to paddlers.
We met a pair of paddlers at the “put-in” who had just completed the trip and their shuttle back from the Klondike. As we were forming up the SDCA group, another pair of boats arrived independently and moved upstream to extend their cruise. So, this is a popular spot for paddlers throughout the season. The “put-in” is, of course, on the SD side of the river; downstream, Iowa maintains a park and access point right above the dam, while SD maintains a similar launching area just below the dam. There has been some work on the dam this summer, and hazard warnings are posted to warn paddlers on the Iowa side.
Group cruises like this provide support to the new paddlers, an opportunity to see a variety of boats on the water, conversation groups that form and dissolve, and a way to strengthen networks formed among people with a shared interest in water travel. It is a nice balance for me between the value of paddling with others and my desire for solo paddling and quiet contemplation and observation of lake or river life. For me, this balance is important, and I enjoy both types of paddling.

For more description of this portion of the Big Sioux River or to read about other sections of the river in the general Sioux Falls area, refer to the menu of area waterways on the right side of the home page of this blog.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Beaver Lake - Umbrella Sailing Late Summer 2009

Over the past several years, I have tended to visit Beaver Lake in the early summer, a time when waterfowl have been in the nesting season. Today, I went out to this waterway located just outside of Humboldt for a late summer cruise. I arrived at the lake about 8:00 a.m. with a temperature in the low 60s, clear skies, and a light wind blowing down the lake. As usual, I was alone on the lake with no sight of anyone else during my time there.
With the agreeable wind, I decided to do a little umbrella sailing as a change of pace. I have a large golf umbrella that has a sail area nearly that of my Spirit sail. I just slipped the rolled up umbrella under one of the bungee cords on the bow of the kayak for quick access. As I set out for the island located to the north, across from the launching ramp, I found that the wind was just right for sailing.
After reaching the island, I paddled around to the eastern side of the island and sailed downwind to the western end of the lake. From there, I was able to alternate paddling with sailing as I moved up to the northern shore. Paddling into the wind, I returned along the northern side to the center of the lake and explored an opening into the marshes.
I was then able to sail nearly all the way back, past the island, to the launching point. My cruise this morning was about two hours.
Using the umbrella sail is probably easier and more functional than my Spirit sail. Since my kayak has a rudder, I can hang onto the umbrella and steer with my feet. Hanging onto the umbrella provides a better feel for the direction and velocity of the wind. Shifting the umbrella makes it possible to find the optimum aspect of the sail for the conditions; I found that I was able to sail nearly on a broad reach with the umbrella. In other words, if the wind is out of the east, I can sail about 80 degrees off the wind and still make headway. The rudder and shape of the kayak gives it “bite” and prevents undue slippage off the wind.
The umbrella is also easy to stow and access. I just rolled it up and inserted it under the bow bungee cords. It is a simple matter to get it out and open. Also, I think that the umbrella provides a more stable sailing rig than the Spirit sail. Moving the umbrella slightly allows more or less wind to be captured. If there should be an unexpected gust, spilling the wind is not difficult. Also, if the situation should require release of the sail completely, it is a simple matter of just letting go of the handle and retrieving the umbrella.
While hanging on to the umbrella is more tiring than just letting a fixed sail move the boat, it is also possible to rest the umbrella on the hull of the kayak or to shift hands. I guess that sailing for a long distance would be easier with a fixed sail. Most of my sailing, though, is for short distances and for some novelty in the paddling experience. For sailing back down the wind for 15 or 20 minutes or for just messing around in the kayak, the umbrella is a good choice. For a long haul with the wind blowing from a consistent direction, perhaps the fixed sail is better.
For further description of umbrella sailing, see the appropriate menu link on the right side of the blog. There are also four earlier narratives describing Beaver Lake under the area waterways link on the right.