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:

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Beaver Lake - August 2011

The forecast yesterday for this morning seemed the best this week for kayaking: light winds, sunny, no rain. So, to lock in my intentions, I loaded up the kayak on the car last night so that I might make a quick getaway after my bagel, coffee, and hour-long read at my routine morning spot.
I wanted to revisit Beaver Lake, a body of water that I last paddled in May, just as the area was experiencing the arrival of spring. Beaver Lake is about 25 miles from my eastside Sioux Falls home and an easy drive out on Interstate 90 to Humboldt. The lake is about 300 acres, roughly three times the size of Lake Alvin. As I arrived in Humboldt this morning looking for the gas station that marks the road leading past the cemetery and the back of the elementary school and on to the lakeshore, I thought about how hard it would be for someone to actually locate the lake. Signage is not a strength here in South Dakota, especially when searching for a lake. There is nothing indicating a lake or launching area until passing an obscure small sign covered in weeds, and there is almost never a sign providing a name for a lake. Perhaps this is to keep such locations nearly private, only accessible to those in the know. Specific driving directions from Sioux Falls are provided on earlier narratives located in the area waterways inventory on the right side of this blog.
The launch area is quite nice and has a ramp, dock, ample parking, and a vault toilet. There was no one about, neither on the shore nor on the water; I was completely alone for my cruise.
I launched my kayak at 7:45 a.m. into mirror calm waters. This lake can be quite a challenge when there is a stiff wind, but today it was just beautiful. I rushed through my readiness steps so that I could get underway before a wind arose to shatter the reflective surface.
My usual route on Beaver Lake is to take off from the launching area on the southern end of the lake and head out to the island directly in front of the ramp. The island is heavily wooded with a varied shoreline. The southwestern side has high cut banks, perhaps up to 20 feet in height, while the eastern and northern shoreline is gently shelving into a thickly wooded interior.
The island is a bird paradise. I have seen great blue heron, egrets, owls, geese, ducks, and a great variety of perching birds. There does not seem to be any clear path into the interior of the island. I suppose that there is some animal life that either swims to the island or is stranded after crossing during the winter, although I have seen only squirrels.
As nearly always, I paddled out to the island and went right around the eastern shore to the north and entered the northeastern arm of the lake. Keeping to the right side, I paddled close along the shore until I came to the channel, marked by an old windmill, leading south about 1,000 feet into a large marshy pool.
This pool is deep in the marsh and bordered by tall rushes and cattails. There are beaver lodges aplenty throughout the channel and the pool. Also, this is a nesting area for a great variety of waterfowl and perching birds.
I like to ground my kayak among the rushes and sit quietly watching the reappearance of birds that took flight initially upon my arrival.
Sitting there in the pool is a great vantage point for observing the life of this secluded spot.
Even though the lake has lost some depth at this point in the summer, there was plenty of water to float my kayak anywhere I wanted to go.
After my cruise through that channel and into the pool, I reentered the eastern arm of the lake and continued east to the end. On the north side of the very end of this arm, there is another channel that flows northeast and allows passage for about 800 feet through the marsh and rushes. As always, I continued up this channel until my forward progress was halted by a single-wire fence. This channel was pretty shallow with depth ranging from just a few inches to perhaps one or two feet. As I thrust my paddle down, it sank into about a foot of muck. I did not want to be in a situation where I had to get out of a grounded kayak and find myself flailing around in muck that reached my knees. But, this did not happen, and I continued as usual until I reached the wire.
Coming back, I returned to the island and continued around the remaining shoreline, peering into the interior and impressed by the constant cacophony of bird calls – calls from unseen birds deep in the woods.
I was out for about two hours this morning. While I was out, the mirror calm was replaced by a surface sculpted into wavelets from a developing light breeze. Again, the inescapable lesson of lake cruising in South Dakota: go paddling early!
Beaver Lake is a very nice spot for varied landscape and bird watching. As the reader might review in earlier narratives (see the inventory of specific paddling areas on the right side of the blog), this is also a lake that can become dangerous when the wind rises. I have a paddling colleague who goes out to Beaver Lake during windy conditions specifically to ride the waves, but I prefer a calm water surface, especially when out alone. My tip-off for going to Beaver Lake is a forecast that calls for winds from 5-15 mph, and then I go early to take advantage of the calmest part of the day.

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