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, November 19, 2012

Split Rock Creek - Up Through the Palisades in Late Fall

 When Dave Finck went out to the Garretson City Park to check out the flow of Split Rock Creek upstream through the palisades last week, he found the surface ice covered.  It looked as though cruising on this especially scenic waterway was over for the season.

The last few days have seen a warm-up on the northern plains, so Dave and I arranged to meet at the put-in for this section of Split Rock Creek this morning.  It was 44 degrees when I arrived about 10:15 a.m., and the only ice we saw was on Devil’s Gulch, upstream into the shadows.

So, we launched our kayaks and proceeded north upstream on a beautiful sunny and nearly windless day.  It was a magnificent morning to be out on this slowly flowing body of water.  The water depth is down a foot or two, but that has little impact on kayaking.  For most of the trip upstream, the water was too deep to touch bottom, even with a double-bladed paddle thrust down to the maximum.

The sun on the east side of the creek cast the high quartzite formations in shadow across the water.  The landscape has become monochromatic in shades of brown as the winter approaches. The only sounds were birds up on the cliffs and in trees as well as a few squirrels rustling in the blanket of leaves covering the ground.  We saw a flock of wild turkeys up on the northern end of this waterway.  They were up on the floor of cliffs towering above us and then flew across the creek to land in the high brown grass on the western side of the creek.  The flock of perhaps 20 birds was visible both high on the cliff and standing around in the grasses of the shoreline. We also saw one deer dashing about on the eastern shore.

We continued upstream through the spectacular cliffs and rock formations until we reached the course of the creek coming down through the state park.

Our return trip downstream was slow, offering an opportunity to appreciate this unusual landscape of cliff faces and oddly shaped trees growing on ledges.  Even with the trees and grasses going into dormancy for the next several months, the play of light and shadow across the water was fascinating to observe.

As we returned to the put-in, we ducked through the arched bridge to see how far we could proceed up Devil’s Gulch through the ice. 

We found that there was a break in the ice along the northern shoreline, and we moved through this channel of nearly open water.  The ice formed just a couple of feet offshore and was perhaps a quarter of an inch thick at the edge, growing progressively thicker very quickly.

Dave was in front of me on the way in, and his kayak served as an icebreaker of sorts.  The ice was easily broken up for the first few couple of feet offshore, but the paddles just banged on ice just beyond that. 

We continued on until the ice blocked further passage.  By then, however, we were too far up to turn around.  The ice-free channel was only a couple of feet wide along the side of rock formations, and we had to back up 50 feet or so before finding a spot wide enough to turn around without going up on sheets of ice.

When we finished and drove through Garretson, the temperature had risen to about 53 degrees.  I don’t know if it will be possible to take another cruise this year; but, even if that should be the case, it was great to finish the season off with a great scenic cruise through the palisades of Split Rock Creek and then to cap it off with moving through an ice field.  

For anyone interested in the full set of photographs describing this cruise, please access my Flick account at the following URL:

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Late Fall on Lake Alvin

Dave Finck Heading South on Lake Alvin

Today was one of those glorious fall days here on the northern plains.  The morning temperature was in the high 30s, the sun was bright, and the winds were calm.  It was an ideal day to check out Lake Alvin as the natural environment begins to shift into the slower pace of winter and before ice forms on the lake.
Dave Finck
I loaded up my kayak and headed out to Lake Alvin, arriving at 10:00 a.m. in the public access area located on the southwestern end of this 100-acre lake.  Dave Finck had arrived at the lake an hour earlier, and he came down from the northern end of the lake just as I set out from shore.   We had miscommunicated our rendezvous time.
Entrance into Nine-Mile Creek
As nearly always, we headed first up into Nine-Mile Creek, which feeds into the lake from the south.  It was difficult to get past the shallow flats that have resulted from a receding shoreline, but we managed to grab hold of a bush and pull our kayaks around the bend and into a deeper channel heading into the flow of the creek.
Dave Finck in Nine Mile Creek
We proceeded upstream on Nine-Mile Creek for half a mile or so, keeping to a narrow channel of water that allowed easy passage – as long as we keep our eyes open for the deepest segment of the 30 foot wide creek.  As with rivers, low water tends to narrow the width of the waterway, but there is usually a remaining channel deep enough for canoes or kayaks.
Beaver Dam on Nine Mile Creek
After about half a mile, we came across a beaver dam that stretched across the creek.  This was the first time that I have seen a beaver dam on Nine-Mile Creek and was surprised. 
Beaver Dam on Nine Mile Creek
We were unable to approach closer than about 50 feet because of the shallow draft caused by an impoundment of water above the dam. I was disappointed in the limitation of our upstream cruise, but it was fascinating to see the beaver dam.
Dave Finck on Lake Alvin
Returning back downstream, we left the creek and re-entered the main body of the lake, keeping close to the shoreline as we moved north first along the east side and then over on the west side to the north end and the segment that curves east into a bay. I like keeping close to the shoreline so that I can peer into the trees and hills of the shore.  This is where I am most likely to spot any wildlife.  The range of colors and landscape along the shoreline are of great interest to me.  I don’t find cruising down the middle of the lake so compelling.
Jay Heath on Lake Alvin
We continued around the shoreline on the north end and entered into the spillwater channel.  The entrance into the channel is rocky, especially during this period of low water after such a long drought. 
Spillway on Lake Alvin
Still, once past the mouth of the channel, we were able to easily move up to the spillway itself and peer over the edge.
Spillway on Lake Alvin
Heading back to the south end, we came across a group of shorebirds standing around on a bare tree right on the shore.  At first, I thought that they were great blue heron, but on second thought, I am not so sure.
Waterfowl on Lake Alvin
This was a great way to spend a fall morning, especially a mid-week morning.  I was reminded of the benefit of retirement, a retirement that allows me the opportunity to go out on deserted lakes during “working hours.” My time on the water this morning was about two hours; of course, Dave Finck had another hour while waiting for me.
Look of Fall on Lake Alvin
I can’t help but wonder how many more times that I will be able to get out in my kayak or in a canoe this season.  Dave Finck told me this morning that today was his 68th time out on the water this year.  For me, I think that I have been out 29 times – about average for my cruising at this time of the year.  Perhaps I will get in one or two more times on area waterways before the kayak rack comes off the car and the equipment is put away for the next four months.

For those interested in the changing face of Lake Alvin, there are multiple narratives posted under the "Lake Alvin" link on the right side of the blog.  A complete list of the photos taken on this cruise can be found on my Flickr account at the following URL:

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Silver Lake (near Freeman): Late Fall 2012

Dave Finck at Rest Stop Put-In for Silver Lake
In the summer of 2006, I visited Silver Lake, just 7 miles north of Freeman, SD, with Jarett Bies, currently the president of the South Dakota Canoe/Kayak Association. I have had vague plans to revisit this body of water over the years and finally got around to it this morning.  Dave Finck, one of my kayaking pals, expressed interest in traveling to Silver Lake, and he offered to take his canoe and trailer rather than load up our kayaks.
Receding Shoreline along Silver Lake
We set out on a glorious fall day here on the northern plains; it was about 37 degrees as we left Sioux Falls for the 45 mile drive southwest to Silver Lake under sunny skies with only light wind. 
Rest Stop Put-In along Highway 81
The western shore of Silver Lake is alongside US Highway 81.  A rest stop with vault toilets, a picnic table, and a turning and parking gravel apron are provided at this site along on the eastern side.  It is easy to carry a canoe or kayak down from the parking area to the lakeshore. 
Waters of Silver Lake
The state provides a public access area on the eastern side of the lake.  As is common on South Dakota lakes, there is no signage to point the way, but it can be reached by turning east on 271st Street, just north of the lake, and continuing one mile to 440th Avenue and then turning south for about a mile.
Public Access Area on East Side of Silver Lake
This public access site, however, is a derelict set on a receding shoreline with a broken pier.  The area seems as thought it has been the location for beer parties, with broken glass and trash strewn about.  The shoreline has receded several feet, and it would be impossible to launch a boat at this point. 
Derelict Public Access Area on East Side of Silver Lake
Launching a canoe or kayak would require wading out several feet into deep grey mud.  For the time being, this access point is useless for boats.
Receding Shoreline of Silver Lake
On my previous visit in 2006, we also tried first to launch from this public access area, but the lake is open to the west and subject to heavy wave action when the wind is driving across the mile of open water.  On that visit, the waves were crashing in on the eastern shore, and we thought it prudent to go back to Highway 81 and enter at the rest stop.
Shallows of Silver Lake
The drought this summer has affected Silver Lake more than I have seen on other area waterways.  There is a band of several feet between the normal and existing shoreline. Setting off in our canoe from the rest area along Highway 81, we had to claw our way out into the lake through water less than a foot deep.  Even up to 50 or 60 feet offshore, the depth was frequently only 18 inches or so. 
Rocks Showing in Shallow Waters
Throughout our cruise, we rarely came across depths that exceeded four feet.  When the South Dakota Game Fish and Parks survey crews reviewed lake in 2008, the maximum depth was seven feet and the average depth was 3.5 feet.  So, while we did not have to get out of the canoe to drag it off a shallow spot, a common characteristic of the lake today was shallow depth.
Flocks of Birds Over Silver Lake
The lake is described by SDGFP as 393 surface acres, nearly four times the size of Lake Alvin.  It is oblong in shape with an east to west width of about one mile and a north/south length of also a mile, including a large bay located on the southeastern end of the lake. The shoreline generally includes a thin fringe of trees, usually only one or two trees deep.  The western shore is largely open, leaving the surface susceptible to prevailing westerly winds.  It would not take much of a breeze to create major wind wave action across the surface.
Island in Silver Lake
There is a low island located in the central area of the lake, and I found it impossible to resist landing on the island for a stroll around.  This island has no trees, only bushes set in sandy soil.

Pelicans off Island in Silver Lake
There were many pelicans loitering about the eastern shore of the island; the interior seems ideally set as a rookery for geese and other waterfowl during their nesting season.
On the Island in Silver Lake
We walked around the island looking at the plant life, shells, rocks, and traces of birds and fish.  The water seemed deeper around the island than in some central areas of the lake itself.
On the Island in Silver Lake
The flock of pelicans left the island shore as we approached and flew off to another spot on the northeastern shore.  
Pelicans on Silver Lake
There must have been nearly 20 pelicans in the group, and I was surprised to see them still here. Temperatures during the night have been falling to the high 20s or low 30s, and it seems time for these magnificent birds to wing their way further south to more agreeable climes.
The Bay on Southeastern Side of Silver Lake
Our tour of the lake continued past the public access area on the eastern side and into the large bay on the southwestern end.  We were able to enter the bay and paddle a hundred yards or so before being stopped by the shallow depths. 
Dave Finck Paddling on Silver Lake
We backed around through the muddy bottom and continued our clockwise cruise back to the “put-in” at the rest stop on Highway 81.
Contrails Above the "Fly-Over" State
The water was quite calm and the only navigational difficulty was the shallow water and occasional rocks that would normally have been deep under the surface.  We were concerned about the possibility of having to get out of the canoe to drag it through shallows; the deep mud suggested that we would sink up to our knees in the mud if we had to exit the canoe.  As it happened, though, we were able to continue without incident for a two-hour cruise around the shoreline. 
Waters of Silver Lake
It is always gratifying to be able to go out in a canoe or kayak this late in the season.  The water is cold, and soon the lakes will start to freeze.  There are only a limited number of cruise opportunities left in the year, and many of us want to squeeze whatever we can out of the remaining season.  By the time we got off the water around noon, the temperature had risen to about 50.  It was a great day to be out on the water!

For those interested in the full set of photographs from this Silver Lake Cruise, please access my Flickr Account at the following URL:

To view my 2006 narrative of the first Silver Lake cruise, please look at the area waterways menu along the right side of the blog for the Silver Lake link.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Big Sioux River – Brandon-to-Brandon: Fall 2012

A little over two months ago, Dave Finck and I canoed down the Big Sioux River from the new put-in along Rice Street at the edge northeast end of Brandon to the take-out at the Big Sioux Recreation Area, a river-distance of about 2.5 miles. The river level was quite low in the first week of August, and we wondered what it would be like now after more than two months with only a very little rain over the intervening time.

We set off from the developing SDGFP launching site near the Brandon bridge over the Big Sioux River at Rice Street.  The river looked much as it did two months ago; as the drought has continued, the river has tended to become narrower.  Still, there is a channel that provides enough depth to easily float a canoe or kayak.  The problem, of course, is to find and keep to that channel going downstream.

The temperature was in the 30s as we set off under sunny skies with no noticeable wind, and it climbed to about 50 degrees as we finished the cruise.  The width of the water flow varied from 50 feet or so to perhaps 6 feet in narrow passages.  In those narrow slots, the depth would sometimes reach deeper than the length of a paddle and the velocity of the flow would markedly increase. 

At other times, the width would increase with a corresponding decrease in speed and water depth.  On the wider stretches, we would sometimes miss the channel and find ourselves scrapping along in water only a few inches deep.  On a couple of occasions, we jumped out of the canoe to drag it off a bar and into deeper water.

The banks of the river, the temporary beaches along the lower shore, and the tangle of dead trees that could be strainers during times of high flow were all highlighted during this time of exceptionally low water during the drought. These sights offered a marked contrast to the spring and summer landscape when the river is fuller and faster.

The fall is rapidly descending across the landscape.  It has been a couple of weeks since the first “killing” frost, and the leaves are dropping from the trees.  The landscape is assuming the bland winter look along the river. 

We saw a mink and lots of birds.  A few fish were jumping.  But, I didn’t see any bugs.  Perhaps the arriving frost and the first temperatures into the 20s has caused the insect population to burrow down for the next months.

The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks is further developing the two launch sites along this 2.6 mile section of the river.  I would think that this short cruise will become increasingly popular over time.  The river flows through park-owned land, and this provides the background for a scenic cruise and the likelihood of wildlife sightings.  It really is a pleasant one-hour cruise that I will probably take many times over the years. 

For a contrast in the appearance of the landscape from mid-summer to mid-fall, you can check my last Brandon-to-Brandon cruise.

Those interested in viewing the complete set of photos of the cruise can access them at my Flickr set.