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, November 14, 2010

Split Rock Creek: from McHardy Park to the Confluence with Beaver Creek

It was 34 degrees under cloudy skies with a brisk wind this morning as five of us gathered at McHardy Park in Brandon for a late season cruise down Split Rock Creek. I received an invitation to join the group yesterday and accepted the opportunity in spite of the weather conditions. This cruise was organized, as so many over this summer, by David and Mary Finck and Larry Brtaaten, all directors of the South Dakota Canoe and Kayak Association (SDCKA).
We first shuttled cars down to the bridge over Split Rock Creek at the confluence with Beaver Creek, a river distance of about six miles.
All of us were dressed in layers with heavy jackets, appropriate shoes or boots, water resistant gloves, and winter hats. I had a change of clothing and towels in the hatch-covered compartments of my kayak, and I am sure that others did as well.
A few snowflakes were drifting in the air as we set off from McHardy Park, but that faded quickly. The water level was high, so we were fairly confident that we would make it down the creek without having to get out of the kayaks. The flow was fast as well, and we were able to make it down the six miles in an hour and a-half. There are a few minor rapids along the way, but all of us slipped through without incident. While there were a couple of times where kayaks ran aground on shelving bottom, those that got hung up were able to quickly back off or shift direction and return to the deepest channel. Overall, the creek flow was smooth, the channel was three or four feet deep in most places, and there were no obstacles to our passage.
This section of Split Rock Creek flows along high banks that roughly parallel Highway 11 that runs from Sioux Falls to Brandon. The banks are sometimes 30 or more feet high along one side and five or six feet on the other. So, the creek is quite sheltered from the wind along most of its course. Very soon after our “take-out,” Split Rock Creek enters into the Big Sioux River.
Soon after beginning our cruise, we came across the first of three deer sightings of the cruise. The deer were up on the bank in the trees, and my cold fingers would not work fast enough to get the camera out for a photograph.
We also came across a bald eagle sitting high in a tree over the creek. The eagle seemingly just sat on a branch and watched us approach.
As we passed, he took off and alighted in another tree, again on a branch over the creek, and waited until we reached his new perch. He did this three times, and we all felt a special moment in company with this eagle. Following an eagle down the river from tree to tree is an uncommon pleasure.
The five kayaks keep pretty close company down the creek. I think that we all recognized the risk of paddling in very cold water with an air temperature just above freezing, and we wanted to stick close in the event that a kayak should capsize. In these circumstances, it is best to have assistance available. After all, becoming immersed in such water with a few miles yet to travel could be uncomfortable or dangerous.
Throughout the trip today, the light conditions changed rapidly. Sometimes it was heavily overcast, and then the sun would peak out through the clouds, some blue would appear, and the visible specter of light would be markedly changed. The, the darkness would come again and shadows would disappear.
The “take-out” at the bridge was in an area of fast current and a steep sandy bank. We clamored out of our kayaks and dragged them up on the bank. From there, we had to make a path through dense brush to the road.
We loaded up the kayaks, bid a tentative farewell to the paddling season, and wished each other well until we gather again in late January at the Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls for the winter canoe/kayak conference.

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