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, 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.

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