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:

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.