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:

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Late November on the Big Sioux River: An unexpected fall cruise

We here on the northern plains have been blessed with a temporary respite from winter. Today the temperature was in the low 50s, the skies were partly sunny, and there was an unexpected opportunity to get out on the water again. November 21: I have never been out on the water this late in the season.
Dave and Mary Finck offered an e-mail invitation to SDCA members to join them on a cruise today on the Big Sioux River in Sioux Falls from the canoe launch point off 57th Street, past Western Avenue, to the canoe launch point at 26th Street and Southeastern Drive. Paddlers with three kayaks and two canoes gathered at the “put-in,” arranged a shuttle, and set out at 1:30 p.m. down the river with a brisk wind at our backs.
The river has a stark beauty in the fall as the trees and grasses along the banks shut down for the winter. While I prefer to see these colors of the sleeping foliage in the spring as we await the returning sun and color, late fall has its own attraction. In this case, I felt as though we had a gift today, a gift of sun, moving water, decent temperatures, and good fellowship for an unexpected paddle. I have been working out of state for the past couple of weeks and never got around to taking the kayak rack off my car. Today I was grateful for my procrastination.
I had never seen the canoe launch point off 57th Street. This improvement along the river sure makes it easier to launch boats, and I think that it adds great potential to river use within the city.
There were a few muskrat seen by the group as we moved along. Ducks and geese were also out on the river today. I wondered why they had not gotten the seasonal message and begun their journey south to warmer climes. There were lots of people out on the bike trail enjoying the day walking, on roller blades, and biking. Families were roaming along the shore laughing and enjoying the wonderful day.
The only rough spot on the Big Sioux through Sioux Falls is the rapids under the bike trail bridge, downstream from Cliff Avenue. This can be a challenging ride through the rocks in fast moving water. There is a portage signed on either side of the rapids, but the portage would mean dragging boats up through the brush, across the bike trail, and through the brush again to a point where they could be launched. Today, there was enough water through the rapids so that all five boats easily made the passage through.
We spent 90 minutes on this section of the river, and all of us felt happy to have slipped the cruise into our Saturday schedule. I thought about working on paperwork and other seemingly pressing tasks at home, but then I thought about the regret that I would feel if I did not take advantage of the day. It was a really fine afternoon!

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Final Cruise of the Year - Lake Lakota in November

Even though we have not had a really great fall season here on the northern plains, today was a gift: a sunny day with only moderate wind and temperatures in the low 50s. I had hoped that a final cruise might be possible this week, and I took advantage of this wonderful day. There are a few more days ahead this week that look good, but this is the day that I had available, and I slipped out to Lake Lakota, part of the Newton Hills State Park, for a mid-day cruise around the lake. My spring cruise on Lake Lakota was in May this year, and the season was full of promise with leafy trees and the green tones of early spring in South Dakota. This November cruise was just the opposite. The landscape is brown, the birds are nearly all gone, and the trees stand bare as they await the long winter.
As I arrived at Lake Lakota, other than the brown landscape, the first thing noticeable was the high state of the water level. The dock was under water! The wind was blowing briskly out of the north, and I took my big golf umbrella with me to sail south to the dam that spills down into Pattee Creek. I raced down the eastern shoreline, past a fisherman in an aluminum motorboat who returned my greeting with a remark about the strength of the wind. The landscape was still: no birds, no insects, no jumping fish, and no leaves rustling in the trees. Under sail, there was not even the splash of paddles.
I explored the bays and inlets that lead off the main body of the lake back into the woods and grasses. Often these excursions provide glimpses of waterfowl and sometimes “critters.” Today, everything seemed still and ready for a deep sleep over the next four or five months.
The wind that gave me a nice push south down the lake made for steady paddling as I cruised back north along the west side of the lake and into the western arm that leads to the lake source – Pattee Creek. The waves were 8-10 inches high over much of the main body of the lake. The bottom of the lake was clearly visible in the bays and inlets down to about 3 feet: crystal clear in terms of South Dakota lakes. Nearly all the algae has disappeared.
I saw a pair of great blue heron, a single duck-like bird, and two or three perching birds. The birds have largely moved on to warmer latitudes for the winter. I saw a few gnawed trees that demonstrate the presence of beaver, but no mammals were seen today. Of course, all the bugs are gone for the year, or nearly all the bugs. I didn’t see any on the cruise, but I know that ladybugs and other hardy insects are still trying to find shelter for the winter.
There was an older couple doing some shoreline fishing in the beach area. Then, there was the fisherman who finished up his efforts just as I was landing my kayak. He told me that this was his last effort of the season.
So, I’m afraid that this cruise wraps up my kayaking for the season. I don’t have any more time until nearly Thanksgiving, and I know that will be too late for this part of South Dakota. The kayak is in the garage and the rack will come off the car. Past experience suggests that the next cruise is likely to be in April.