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:

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Lake Lakota - March 2010

For the second day in a row, I decided to head out to an area lake for a spring cruise. The forecast yesterday seemed to indicate two nice days with temperatures up into the 70s and sunshine. Since I had not unloaded my kayak from the cruise yesterday, I was all set to drive off after my morning bagel, coffee, and hour of reading at one of my morning haunts.
Lake Lakota is a part of the Newton Hills State Park, located about 25 miles south of my eastside Sioux Falls home and past Canton. As I arrived, the Department of Game, Fish, and Parks guys were completing installation of the dock. Other than that, though, the lake was deserted. There was no one fishing, no boats on the lake, and nobody around.
The temperature at 8:30 a.m. was about 50 degrees, and there was a stiff wind, like yesterday, coming from the north this time. I set out from the access point and headed over to the eastern side where there are a number of inlets that extend deep into the prairie. Slipping into these inlets that seem to wind into the landscape past trees and bushes is an avenue of exploration for the wetlands adjacent to the main body of the lake. I like this aspect of my tranquil cruises on area lakes. Wetlands is where I frequently spot wildlife and have the chance to be a visitor to an area seldom visited. Life on area lakes is really in the margins, along the shoreline and into the bays and inlets. Usually the only thing to notice when cruising down the center of a lake is the wave action.
After entering all the inlets along the eastern shore, I continued down to the southern end of the lake where the dam and spillway are located. The strong wind out of the north gave me a “following sea” with waves rolling under the kayak. From the south end, I moved over to western side and found significant wave action in crossing from east to west and then a stiff head wind as I made my way back to the northern end of the lake. There is one bay on the western side, an area of public access for fishing, and this is a generally a quiet spot on the cruise.
Continuing down the western side, I entered the arm of the lake that extends west into Pattee Creek. This is one of my favorite parts of the lake. Later in the year, it is covered with giant lily pads and aquatic grasses. It is always accessible, but this early in the year the path through this arm of the lake is clear. Visibility of the bottom today was clear at about 30 inches.
The western arm continues until reaching the culvert from Pattee Creek. This is an area where lots of turtles and frogs live. Ducks and geese also nest in this part of the lake. During most of the year, the vegetation seems too heavy for fishing boat traffic, so kayaks and canoes alone can navigate through the area.
On the cruise today, I spooked a great blue heron, there was a hawk soaring overhead, a beaver slipped into a burrow beneath a cut bank, and I saw my first turtles of the season. Approaching the wily turtles is always a special thrill for me. I try to drift up on the log upon which the turtles are sitting and capture a close-up photograph. Often, of course, the turtles sense me or catch some shadow or disturbance in the water that causes them to disappear beneath the surface. When I get really close to big turtles, I feel almost like a successful hunter. My trophy is the photograph shared with my readers.
IMG_4512.JPGThe lake offered a range of conditions today. In the main north to south portion of the lake, there was a strong wind with continuous waves that were just short of whitecaps. Then in the inlets and along the western arm of the lake, the surface was often millpond smooth.
Like yesterday, I spent about 90 minutes cruising along this really beautiful park-enclosed lake just half-an-hour from my Sioux Falls home. It was a great way to mark the end of March and anticipate many more cruises as the weather continues to improve here on the northern plains.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

At Last: First Cruise of 2010: March on Lake Alvin

At last! The warm weather here on the northern plains has created conditions for early paddling this season. My last cruise was December 1, 2009, on an ice-covered Lake Alvin. I skirted around short leads through the ice and realized that the season had passed. This morning, I revisited the same location at the public access area on the northwest shore of Lake Alvin. The temperature was about 50 degrees at 8:00 a.m. today, but there was a brisk wind out of the southwest. The docks have been reinstalled by the Department of Game, Fish, and Parks at both the public access and the recreation area launch points. As normal on a weekday morning, the lake was deserted.
Since there was a stiff wind this morning, I began my cruise crossing the lake and heading southwest into Nine-Mile Creek. The water was calm in the creek, although there was a pretty good current flowing into the lake. The most obvious sound on the water this morning was the calling of birds, both geese and redwing blackbirds. Early on the cruise, a muskrat or beaver crossed in front of me, but that was the only hint of any mammal out along the banks. I didn’t see any jumping fish either.
The landscape is in a transition phase right now. Everything is brown and seems weary of the long winter. Visibility is much clearer with the absence of green leafy trees and plants. Hints of growth appear with green shoots coming up through the clumps of dead grass left over from last summer.
I was conscious of the flow of water and the breeze through the dead plants and leafless trees. It just felt good to be outside, all alone on the water. The sound of wind and water seem to transport me away from any cares or concerns about the routines of home, work, and relationships.
After reaching the end of Nine-Mile Creek, the point where it is just not possible to navigate any further, I turned back and let the current carry me back to the main body of the lake. From that point, I took out my umbrella and sailed from the entrance of the creek back nearly to the other end of the lake, past the recreation area toward the fishing dock. The wind was strong out of the southwest, and the kayak cruised considerably faster than paddling speed. Having a rudder on my kayak makes all the difference when trying to “umbrella sail.” I just hang the big golf umbrella out and manipulate it to catch the wind. My rudder makes it possible for me to just control the position of the umbrella and steer. I can usually sail up to about 45 degrees off the wind with no difficulty.
Coming back to the public access area, however, was a different issue. While the ride down wind was great, paddling back into the wind took a little energy and the use of some neglected muscles. As usual, I found that cruising back close to the shoreline provided me the smoothest ride and allowed me to avoid the worst of the wind and building waves.
So, it has been four months since my last cruise. If conditions are good, we can hope for about eight months of kayaking/canoeing weather in the Sioux Falls area. We had wonderful weather last November, and now I got out in March, the earliest I have been on the water in several years.
I spent about 90 minutes on the water this morning, and that was about right for me at this stage of the paddling season. I decided to leave the kayak on top of the car, though, since tomorrow seems like another great spring day.