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, December 04, 2011

Following Along on a Transantarctic Ski Trek

One of the adventure blogs that I am following daily is called Kaspersky ONE Transantarctic Expedition. Felicity Aston, a 33-year old female explorer from the UK, is in the process of skiing across Antarctica on a 1700 km, 70 day, expedition that includes passing through the South Pole. Her blog includes an interactive map, which can be activated to follow her daily progress. She provides daily tweets and periodic audio up-dates. Today is Day 10 of the trek, and she has provided three audio clips describing her situation and the landscape. You can join me in following along on her trek at the following URL:

It seems that I need to be a vicarious participant on some adventure like this. Now that the two women from St. Olaf College have completed their trip from the Twin Cities to Hudson Bay and Roz Savage has completed her rowing adventure across the Indian Ocean, this is an adventure that I will continue following for the next couple of months - the Antarctic summer.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

New Hiking Sioux Falls Blog Developed

Even though we don’t yet have any snow on the ground here in Sioux Falls, ice has formed on the area lakes and rivers. For me, the kayaking season has closed for 2011. I have taken the rack off the car and put all my kayak gear up in the attic above the garage. It will be about four months before water is open in this part of the state again.

Kayaking is just one of my outdoor activities. I actually spend much more time hiking in the large parks and nature areas around Sioux Falls than I do in the kayak. Also, when the bike trail is open, I try to circle the city on the 20-mile bike trail at least once a week.

The city of Sioux Falls operates about 75 parks, some of which offer great hiking opportunities. In addition, the state manages several nature or recreational areas that provide just wonderful pathways through the woods and along rivers and streams. Many of these hiking possibilities are relatively unknown by most people, and I have long thought about developing another blog to describe the parks and nature/recreational areas that are in or near the city.

So, the new blog is ready, and I intend for it to be a companion to my kayaking blog. I have used the same format and offer photographs and narrative remarks about these hiking opportunities. I intend for this blog, much like my kayaking blog, to be an annotated inventory of hiking possibilities in and around Sioux Falls. Over the months, I will continually add fresh content. Hiking observations will include repeat visits to capture changes with the seasons.

You can access this new blog at the following URL:

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Split Rock Creek: Upstream from McHardy Park, Brandon

As winter slowly descends upon the northern plains, the desire for last cruises of the season increases to a fever pitch. Directors of the South Dakota Canoe/Kayak Association have been leading cruises at least once a week over the past month or so along area streams. I joined the group yesterday for a paddle up Split Rock Creek from McHardy Park in Brandon.
The group assembled at 1:00 p.m. at the park under very favorable conditions: sunny skies, light wind, and a temperature in the 50s. Eight of us launched our kayaks with the intention of paddling upstream to a point where we felt like returning – a loose plan to fit whatever conditions we found.
The water at the “put-in” was only two to three feet deep and the depth was good most of the way upstream, ranging from one to perhaps four feet deep. The creek was normally 50 to 60 feet wide; the course of the creek was like most rivers and creeks in the area with usually a shallow side with depth sometimes only a few inches and then a deeper side that generally follows the channel under the higher cut-banks. There has not been significant rain in the area for several weeks, and I am continually surprised to see that the creeks and rivers are maintaining enough flow to support kayak travel, especially this late in the season.
The flow of the creek was steady, and we were easily able to paddle upstream. We ran into no problems for the first couple of miles. The final stretch of our three-mile upstream paddle presented situations where the creek narrowed with a shallow section extending along one side and a channeled section with increased velocity of flow on the other. When the flow of a body of water is constricted, the velocity increases and a set of riffles or rapids forms.
The problem for paddlers is that there are sometimes submerged rocks in that rapid flow that are invisible. Going downstream provides the likelihood of just sliding over the rocks. Paddling upstream through this sort of slot presents the possibility of becoming caught on such a rock, sometimes in water that is two or three feet deep. Losing balance can easily cause the kayak to slide sideways and spill the paddler into the flow.
About two and a-half miles into the paddle, we ran into such a set of riffles. Getting through required powerful paddling and luck, and one of the party just had the bad luck of sliding off a rock. She did a wet-exit and was able to wade out of the situation. She was well prepared and had a dry bag under the hatch; she was able to just change her clothing and continue on. My experience a couple of weeks ago capsizing on the Big Sioux River was enough to prompt me into taking the short portage around the riffles.
We continued upstream for another half mile or so until we came to another long stretch of rocks and riffles and decided to turn around and make our way back to the “put-in” at McHardy Park.
This part of Split Rock Creek runs along the Brandon golf course. We exchanged greetings with some guys riding in their golf carts along the bank. I think that they were looking for a lost golf ball that probably was on the creek bottom.
The paddle yesterday was another opportunity to enjoy the shared experience of being on the water. All of us were feeling good that we were still kayaking in mid-November. Many of these trips conclude with the group going somewhere to laugh it up and enjoy the successful conclusion of another outing, and this group went on to the Dairy Queen in Brandon.
Seeing yet again another kayak capsize emphasized the need to be with others while traveling on moving waters, especially in cold conditions. In addition, lifejackets, extra clothing, a spare paddle, a bilge pump, and a strap for glasses are essential items to be carried. Tipping over in cold moving water can be quite a shock, and whatever precautions possible should be taken to minimize the risk.
I am going to leave the kayak rack on my car for a while yet. Another opportunity for a cruise may present itself over the next week or so. The season, though, is just about over here in the Sioux Falls area. Ice will be forming on the lakes very soon, and the rivers and creeks will follow soon there after.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Moonlight Cruise Through the Palisades

Over the summer, Dave and Mary Finck have led several moonlit cruises through the palisades along Split Rock Creek, and last night I joined them. The forecast looked good for an evening paddle; the temperature was about 50 degrees at 5:15 p.m. with the sun setting when I left my eastside Sioux Falls home for the drive to Garretson. Six paddlers gathered at the launching point, and we set off upstream in total darkness about 6:15 p.m. with the temperature then in the low 40s.
The sky was clear as we moved upstream; a rising full moon illuminated the silhouettes of bare trees along the right side, the big dipper was visible low on the left side, and the Cassiopeia constellation was directly above us. The rising moon illuminated the high quartzite cliffs along the left bank so that their reflection was cast upon the surface of the creek.
The creek is about 150 feet wide above the Garretson dam and the water is deep enough so that we weren’t too worried about rocks. Even with our night vision and the illumination from the moon and stars, the sight line on the surface of the water limited vision of the other kayaks to about 25 feet or less. The shoreline and silhouette of the trees and cliffs, however, were clear, and navigation was easy.
The kayaks tended to move in a tighter group than would normally be the case. I think that we all wanted to be in sight of other boats. Although photography was really a “point and shoot” process in the dark, every time I stopped and tried to capture an image, the other boats would move out of sight. As the temperature dropped, my fingers became increasingly numb, despite the leather gloves that I was wearing. I could only fumble at my camera when trying to turn it on or point it. The viewfinder was useless; it was totally black.
As the group moved downstream toward the “take-out,” I saw droplets of water from the paddle strokes of those ahead of me gleaming in the moonlight like miniature lights at the tip of the paddle blades. The sounds of the night were especially interesting to me as we moved along in the dark; we heard a turkey gobbling deep in the woods along the left bank on the return trip. We could hear distant sounds of vehicles passing on Highway 11and once we heard the far off wail of a siren. I think that my senses were especially alert in this environment of darkness on the water.
We spent about an hour and a half on the water, and by then the temperature had dropped into the 30s; ice had formed on the hull of many of the kayaks, the first ice that I have noticed this season. After loading up our kayaks, we all headed to “Annie’s,” along Main Street in Garretson, to share a pizza and have tall cups of hot chocolate with whipped cream. It was a very pleasant evening with good fellowship and an interesting shared experience.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Late Season Cruise on the Big Sioux River Through Sioux Falls

After my less than satisfying experience on Saturday, I left the kayak on top of my Honda Civic in hopes of sneaking in another cruise within a couple of days. I had a couple of free hours late this afternoon, so I went down to the East 26th Street launching area for a trip upstream on the Big Sioux River to the rapids under the bicycle trail bridge near the Cliff Avenue lift station.
For this time of the year, the afternoon was perfect: sunny skies, a temperature of 60 degrees, and a 15 mph wind blowing downstream. The river was running a strong current with depths that ranged from two feet or so along the low bank to five or six feet in the channel. The average depth seemed to be three to four feet along most of the width of the river. I was surprised to see the strength of the current and the water depth considering the lack of rain over the past weeks in the Sioux Falls area.
It took me 40 minutes to paddle upstream to the rapids under the bike trail bridge. When riding this section of the bike trail, the odometer on my bike read 1.1 miles, so I suppose that the river length is about the same. The trip back was largely a float in the current and took about 25 minutes.
There was a flock of ducks that hovered just ahead of me on the river. As I paddled, they would fly ahead, settle down, and then take off again as I got closer. I came across a group of four or five deer that were watching me from the depths of the shoreline woods.
My cruise continued up to the rapids, and I thought of the times that I have run this section of the river. When going downstream, I sometimes feel mounting tension as I approach this set of rapids under the bridge. One of my kayaking friends got hung up on a rock in these rapids recently – a nightmare that I easily imagine when passing through.
YMCA Camp Leif Ericson is located on the left bank going downstream and extends for most of the distance of this cruise. I thought of the thousands of elementary school aged children who populate this camp from June through the first half of August. I passed the “crashed airplane” in the woods, the “pirate ship,” and the waterfront area of the camp. Everything is deserted now as winter begins to take hold. It will be seven months before the next cadre of “campers” arrives for weeklong sessions next spring and summer.
This is a great spot for a contemplative flatwater cruise of about an hour. The “put-in” is about 10 minutes from my driveway to the launching point, and I really ought to do this short cruise more often.
I still have hopes of another cruise somewhere this fall. The season is passing, though, and tomorrow is November 1. The end of the paddling season is at hand.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Capsize on Trip from Dell Rapids to Baltic

Many SDCKA cruises in the Sioux Falls general area are announced and led by David and Mary Finck and Larry Braaten. I was hoping for another cruise opportunity this fall and was pleased to see that a trip on the Big Sioux River between Dell Rapids and Baltic was planned for today. At this time of the year, any cruise could be the last of the season.
The forecast for today looked good: sunny skies, temps up to 59, and winds at 10-20 mph. When I loaded up my kayak for the 1:00 p.m. rendezvous at the city park in Dell Rapids the temperature was about 48 degrees, the skies were overcast, and a stiff wind was blowing. But, a plan made has to be carried out!
The group of six kayakers gathered in the Dell Rapids city park on the banks of the Big Sioux River. After shuttling vehicles down to Baltic, we put on our layers of clothing, jackets, boots, and gloves. It was nippy just standing in the wind on the shore. The 8.1 mile cruise downstream seemed as though it could be accomplished in under three hours. The only concern was the rapids just downstream from the “put-in.”
We set off downstream and reached the first rapids within about half a mile. The river curves to the left at that point, and the fast current swirls toward the left bank through a set of rocks in deep water. I was the last in a line of kayaks to pass through the rapids and suddenly I saw a large rock just beneath the surface and directly in line with my path. I have passed over many rocks over the years and had no serious concern. After all, the other boats had negotiated that passage okay. In this case, though, I felt the kayak rise up and hang briefly on the rock before suddenly finding myself capsized and making a “wet exit” from the boat. The water was over my head and running fast. It was also very cold. I managed to grab onto the stern of my overturned kayak, hold on to the paddle, and swim toward the opposite shore, a shore that offered a better chance to get out of the river.
My paddling companions quickly came to my assistance. I grabbed onto the stern of Dave Finck’s kayak and others managed to corral my kayak to prevent it from continuing downstream. After swimming and stumbling to the shoreline, I staggered ashore. Others pushed my kayak to the shore where I could grab it.
I was completely drenched and the cold was numbing my body. All I cared about at the moment was getting off the water and jumping around. My companions offered me dry clothing they were carrying; in fact, I had a bag of spare clothing myself tucked into the rear compartment of the kayak (a bag I later found soaked!). As I looked around, however, it seemed that I could just walk back to my car and let this opportunity for a late fall river cruise pass for me.
So, I decided to just fade from the group and let them continue on their way downstream. I didn’t really think more about the choice when I saw how easy to would be to return to my car in the park. If we were a couple of miles downstream, I would have just tried to dry myself off and tough it out for this cruise. As it was, though, I was just too cold and soaked.

I dragged my kayak along the ground and over the bike path to a spot above the rapids. The best bet for me then was to just get back in the kayak and paddle to the park. When I got to the park, I was nearly shaking with a deep chill. The wind was blowing so hard that it was hard to load my kayak on the car. Once I was loaded up, I got in the car and turned the heater up to its maximum setting and drove home. I was still shivering when I arrived. Leaving all my clothing in a pile in the laundry room, I quickly jumped into a hot shower, where I nearly exhausted the hot water supply.

On the positive side, my glasses were secure with a head strap, my camera was in a waterproof box, I had my bilge pump to drain the water out of the kayak, I had my lifejacket on, and I had companions to help me out. This was the first time that I have ever capsized a kayak or made an unplanned wet exit. It seemed that today my luck ran out – or I made a bad decision in the path selected through the rapids. In any event, it proved to be an ignominious end to the cruise for me.

The other paddlers made the trip down to Baltic without further incident in about three hours.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Approaching Winter on Lake Alvin


I was touring through China for a couple of weeks in October and missed some good days for lake cruising and a couple of SDCKA Big Sioux River cruises. I did, however, get the opportunity to ride a bamboo raft down the Li River in China through the Karst mountains near Yangshou.


Rafting down the Li River near Yangshou, China

My kayak has been resting in the garage for nearly a month. Instead of padding, I have been taking a walk with Finnegan the dog nearly every day in one of the nature areas around Sioux Falls. Yesterday was a wonderful gift: negligible wind, sun, and a temperature around 70 degrees. That magnificent day prompted me to load up my kayak last night and get ready for a cruise today, regardless of a less promising forecast.


This morning I got up and in the predawn gloom saw that the wind had come up, the sky was cloudy, and the temperature was about 40 degrees. I had planned on going to Lake Lakota for a cruise around the shoreline to look at the deepening fall and approach of winter. After my morning walk and time for the habitual bagel, coffee, and a 90-minute read at my local bagel spot, I decided to instead head for Lake Alvin.


Lake Alvin is a fairly long and narrow lake with high bluffs and banks. The lake is situated so that there is nearly always a sheltered side under the lee of tree-covered banks and high bluffs. Even with a strong wind, I have found it possible to move about in my kayak without feeling a sense of anxiety. With the cold temperatures recently, it would not be good to capsize in the waves of any lake in the area, especially this late in the season. So, while there is always some risk in a kayak, the topography of Lake Alvin is more reassuring to me that the wide-open large lakes that characterize this region, especially with a stiff wind.


As I arrived at the southwestern public access area, I found the lake deserted, as usual, and a strong wind blowing down from the north. The temperature by then was about 42 degrees, so I had on a hat, jacket, and gloves. I decided to head into the wind and moved up the eastern shore to the fishing dock on the northern end of the lake. There was significant wave action, but I stayed close to the eastern shore and thought about how much easier the paddle would be in a following wind and sea as I returned south.


My last cruise was also on Lake Alvin, about a month ago, and the advance of fall and approach of winter were apparent in the vegetation along the shore. Green is rapidly disappearing in the deciduous trees and bushes, the water is much clearer with the disappearance of algae growth, and there was a lack of life along the banks: no critters, no birds, no people.


The sky was mostly cloudy with intermittent rays of scattered sunshine. The wind was cutting through me and I wore my gloves to keep my hands flexible. The waves were moving from north to south, and there was a little bounce to the kayak as I cut through them.


The landscape reminded me of a late March or early April cruise with the brown grasses and increasingly bare trees. But, a cruise in the early spring is a time of anticipation and relief that the winter has passed. In contrast, a mid to late fall cruise is a time to say goodbye to the lake. The older I get, the more I dread the coming of winter here on the northern plains.


Continuing south, I moved down the lake and into Nine Mile Creek. Again, there was no sign of life. The waterfowl seems to have moved on and no perching birds were out on this cold and windy day. I didn’t see any turtles or muskrats either, although one fish jumped up out in front of my kayak.


There was adequate depth to the creek today, despite the lengthy time with no rain here in southeastern South Dakota. I continued up the creek nearly as far as I normally go. Back into the creek, I saw signs of another house being built. I also saw construction underway north on the main body of the lake on the ridge behind the swimming beach. It seems that development is slowly taking hold over more of the area. Fortunately, the development is a few hundred yards behind the shoreline. I reflected again on how lucky we are that the state developed the recreation area long ago, before people began to build big houses looming on the landscape.


As I returned to the launching point, I was really cold. I had been out for about two hours, and the wind had really chilled me. The jacket, gloves, hat, and lifejacket were not enough to keep out the cold.


Sometimes this time of the year will mark the end of the paddling season here in Sioux Falls. I looked over blogs from the past five years and found that my last real cruise took place on dates from October 5 through November 21. I think that I can anticipate one or more cruises this year and will just have to see how the weather develops over the next two or three weeks.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fall Colors on Lake Alvin: Late September 2011


About this time of year, people are often heading out to New England to experience the change of seasons in Vermont or New Hampshire. I rarely hear of visitors traveling to South Dakota to view the changing colors; I don’t see tour busses winding through the cottonwood groves along our prairie rivers and lakes to check out the fall foliage.


Still, there is a beautiful change in the trees, bushes, and grasses at this time of year, and this is apparent along the shores of our waterways. This morning I set out for a fall cruise along the shoreline of Lake Alvin and up into Nine Mile Creek. The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks reports a shoreline of 4.3 miles on this 105 acre impounded lake.


The signs of approaching winter are visible in the changing colors along the shoreline. There has been a frost and even a light freeze this month; the temperatures have dropped down to about 30 degrees one or two nights and have hovered into the 40s most mornings and then risen up to the 70s in the afternoon. On hikes in nature areas around Sioux Falls, I tend to find myself slipping on hundreds of acorns falling on leaf-covered trails. Signs of winter are on display in retail stores as lawnmowers are discounted and the snow blowers are out on the showroom floor. Paddlers tend to become fixated on getting in those final cruises of the season.


When I arrived at the public access area on the southwestern shore this morning, there was no one in sight. I headed north up the lake along the western side and slowly cruised along taking in the changing colors of the leaves of trees and bushes. There was hardly any wind, so there was a mirror smooth quality to the lake surface. The changing colors of the foliage were reflected off the water creating a pleasing double-sided image.


As I moved north and passed the boat launch for the recreation area, I exchanged greetings with a guy fishing from the dock. A fishing pier has been built at the north end of the lake, and another guy was approaching it when I passed by. Maybe these were other retirees out to enjoy the morning away from the “to do” lists that seem to clutter up our lives. I especially like to take my cruises during “working hours” on weekdays.


I slipped into the channel leading up to the spillway and found plenty of depth to the water. Entering that channel at this time of year has sometimes been a challenge; this time, however, I was able to move up near the edge. I thought about what might happen if a paddler were to have a seizure or a jolt and lose control of the boat and drift over the spillway to the rocks below.


There is still evidence of the fisheries project underway from SDSU on the waters of Lake Alvin. Sets of floats were scattered at four or five locations; as I was concluding my cruise, the SDSU research boat came plowing down the center of the lake, probably checking whatever was marked by the floats. A South Dakota Statewide Fisheries Survey reported in 2010 that the most common fish in the lake were black crappie, black bullhead, and bluegill.


Moving south back down the lake, I came across a snake swimming about 15 feet offshore. I can’t remember seeing a snake swimming in this lake before. It was about 24 inches long, and I paddled up to check it out more closely. The snake looked just a little confused for a moment before I moved on. Hopefully, the snake decided that I was not out to harm it.


At the entrance to Nine Mile Creek, I came across a muskrat on a sandy spit that marks the waterway south into the creek. My rudder was up, and it was hard to keep on a good track while fumbling for my camera. Still, I captured the image before the critter shambled off the spit and into the water.


The cattails within the reeds along the shoreline of the creek are swelling and letting their woolly seeds scatter to begin afresh next year.


There was adequate depth to Nine Mile Creek, and I headed upstream to the bridge. My time for the cruise was running out, though, and I had to head back to the launching point, load up my kayak and make it to a lunch appointment.


This is a great time to check out the fall foliage along our South Dakota waterways. The cycle of brown, to deepening shades of green, and then back to brown is underway. Within a couple of weeks I expect that most of the leaves for deciduous trees will have fallen. The end of our paddling season is in sight, and I hope to get in a few more cruises.