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:

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.


Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Lake Alvin: September 2011


With a wonderful early fall forecast ahead after the Labor Day cruise on Monday, I just left my kayak on the car ready for another cruise this week. So, this morning I headed out to the very familiar waters of Lake Alvin for a trip along the shoreline.


Putting in at the southwestern public access site, the lake was deserted. Unable to resist my habitual path, I headed south into Nine Mile Creek and continued upstream for about 30 minutes.


The depth of the channel was satisfactory along this route, although some attention had to be paid to avoiding grounding at times. I was able to continue upstream on the creek nearly to the point where it becomes too shallow and rocky most of the year. So, the creek is deep enough still for kayaks to move up on the usual route for about a mile and a-half.


I like moving up and down these narrow creeks with high banks, with deep native grasses and wildflowers and the dappled shade provided by trees along the bank. Unlike the spring cruises on Nine Mile Creek, there was no waterfowl to be seen today and only a few other birds. I did see some turtles and a couple of muskrat and lots of butterflies, dragonflies, and bees flitting among the yellow wildflowers.


After returning from my creek cruise, I continued north into the main body of Lake Alvin. Moving in the shade along the eastern shore, I paddled north, peering into the vegetation along the shore.


It was not until I arrived in the northern half of the lake, across from the recreation area boat launch, that I saw any other human activity. A fishing boat was putting into the lake as I passed and there were a few cars parked in the lot. I came across a fisherman casting from his boat and spoke to him. He was startled and said that I must have snuck up on him.


As I continued north, I came across a strange looking boat. It had a high pulpit around the bow and an arm extending out from the bow with a round looking device suspended from a cable. There were two guys in the boat, and one was using a net. As I approached the boat, I asked what kind of rig they were using. One of the guys told me that they were “electro-fishing” and were from SDSU on a research project. Apparently, they were stunning fish with a shock of some sort, netting them, and then measuring and perhaps tagging them. They told me that it would be a good idea if I stood off from their boat, presumably to avoid being shocked by the device.


Continuing on, I moved along the eastern shore to the northern end of the lake and then began my cruise back to the south end. As I passed the public swimming beach, I saw a couple of people exercising their dogs in the sand, retrieving something from the water.


The cruise this morning was under really ideal conditions. It was sunny, the temperature was about 68 degrees, and there was a light wind out of the south. The lake was quite clean. I had to search to find my cruise quota of five pieces of debris, generally plastic bottles. There was very little algae on the surface, and the lake is likely to become even clearer as the fall deepens. I had a fun two hours on my morning cruise.


Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Labor Day on the Big Sioux River


Dave and Mary Finck and Larry Braaten, officers of the SDCKA, announced Sunday that they were setting out on a Labor Day cruise down the Big Sioux River from the Klondike Dam to the Highway 18 bridge just east of Canton, SD, and invited interested members to join them.


I realized that this was an opportunity not to be squandered, a chance to join with the group and enjoy the fellowship of the paddle, have access to a shuttle, and laugh it up in the sun on this really wonderful day. The winds were light, the skies were sunny, and the temperature in the low 70s. In addition the water conditions were as good as they could be: plenty of depth, a wide and steady flow, no strainers, and no rapids.


We gathered on the South Dakota side of the river and dropped off our kayaks at the established launch area. Eight of us drove down to the take-out to leave our cars and then piled into Dave Finck’s van for the ride back to the Klondike. There were ten kayaks in our flotilla, and we began our eight-mile paddle about 2:00 p.m.


After launching, the kayaks milled around the put-in until everyone was afloat, and then we set off downstream.


These group paddles tend to begin with kayaks bunched up, but then a separation occurs and three or four conversation groups seem to form and reform over the course of the trip.


I was the last kayak in line as we set out. As I stopped to take photographs at times, the distance between me and the group tended to lengthen.


Sometimes, I found that no other kayaks were in sight. It was almost as if I were alone on the river; then I would put some power back into the stroke and move up to at least another kayak. One of my kayaking pals, Jarett Bies, helped me understand that the power in a stroke is in the pushing of the paddle rather than pulling. Keeping that in mind, I would ensure that my hands were low on the paddle shaft and drive forward a hundred strokes or so until I spotted the most distant kayak ahead.


On this Labor Day, we saw some fishermen out along the banks, we passed a family that had built a bonfire and seemed to be settling in for a picnic, and we even came across a motorboat filled with fishermen heading upstream – one of the rare times that I have seen a powered craft on these small South Dakota streams.


This stretch of the Big Sioux is wide and the banks are heavily covered with trees. There are rolling hills along both sides of the river and some steep banks at times, especially along the Iowa side. The banks have been undercut with the floods this year, and it is easy to see future strainers hanging on to their probable final year of growth with roots exposed and hanging down. There are also rugged large tree skeletons in the water, evidence of trees that once graced the riverbank before being eroded through spring floods.



There are several sandy beaches scattered along this course of the river, and we stopped along one for a few minutes to take a short break. These few minutes provide a chance to connect with each other and enjoy a moment of fellowship.


There were no “critters” to be seen today and only a few birds. The sounds of a group paddling downstream tend to provide a clear announcement to the animals that their space is being invaded, even though we are all harmless people – environmentalists by nature of our kayaks.


We arrived at the Highway 18 bridge after about two and a-half hours on the water. There is an easy take-out at a launching area just down from the bridge on the Iowa side of the river.


This was a great trip, a beautiful day at the beginning of the informal fall season. Many of us were conscious of the changing season. The leaves are about to start falling, and all of us know the signs of the fading summer and the hint of what is about to befall us here on the northern plains. Winter can be here as early as October – next month!