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:

Saturday, May 26, 2012

South Dakota Kayak Challenge 2012

The 2012 South Dakota Kayak Challenge got underway this morning at 7:00 a.m. with 158 kayaks and canoes departing from Riverside Park in Yankton bound for Sioux City, Iowa, 72 miles downstream on a free-flowing natural section of the Missouri River.

The Challenge began and continues as a project managed by Jarett Bies and Steven Dahlmeier in association with a number of companies and agencies, the South Dakota Kayak and Canoe Association among them. The first race took place in 2010 with 90 kayaks and canoes participating.  There was a second race planned for 2011, but it had to be canceled because of the heavy flow of water through the dam system as floods advanced along the Missouri River. 

This second edition of the Challenge got underway this morning with a 50 percent increase in participation over 2010.  The day began at Riverside Park in Yankton with a stiff head wind, grey overcast skies, and a chill in the air.  People were wearing jackets as they got their equipment in place
Pat Wellner - "Pirates of the Missouri" Blog:

Boats were stacked in three ranks along the riverbank as they prepared for a send-off by the Yankton VFW color guard with their rifles as starting guns.  Steven Dahlmeier served as the Beach Master getting boats entered on his check list, Cory Diedrich, the Check Point Boss, organized his large corps of volunteers who manned the check points and assisted in a variety of organizational and logistical tasks, and Jarett Bies officially started the race.
Cory Diedrich and Steven Dahlmeier Checking In Boats

Jarett Bies Starting the Race

Steven Dahleier Explaining the Procedures

Cory Diedrich - Check Point Boss

There was a great variety of boats entered in the race, including sleek surf skies, long fast kayaks, tandem canoes and kayaks, a stand-up surf ski, and single kayaks of many shapes and lengths.

There were several classes into which the racers could enter their craft.  Paddlers came from a number of states, some as far away as North Carolina and Texas.  Some of the paddlers were highly competitive, and their boats were sleek and fast; a few others were novice paddlers and some were even in nine-foot recreational boats.   At Check Point 1, there was a spread of almost four hours between the first boats through and the last ones to arrive.

Within just a few minutes, the armada of boats had cleared the park area and fanned out across the water.  The first of four check-points was Myron Grove, just over 18.4 miles downstream on the South Dakota side.
Joe Zellner of Grand Marais, MN, first place in the SDKC, passing Check Point 1

The first boat across Check Point 1 was a single kayak that made the trip in just over two hours. The experienced and competitive racers did not stop at the first check-point and instead just confirmed their assigned number and continued downstream toward the second check-point, 12.1 miles further down on the Nebraska side. 

Other paddlers stopped for a breather or a refill on their water.  Some rested for a while before continuing.  By this first check-point, however, thirteen paddlers had decided to drop out of the race.

My volunteer role this year was to assist at the send-off where needed and then to serve as one of the officials at Check Point 1.  A team of us recorded the numbers and times for paddlers as they passed through.

By noon, the day had improved markedly; the sun was out, jackets were flung off, and the wind seemed to subside, at least in the shelter of the check-point. 

The major purpose of the Challenge is for paddlers to stretch themselves on the big waters of the Missouri River.  The challenge is to test one’s self in the face of a large river with a variety of wind and current conditions.  Most of the paddlers have no intention to win the race; they are just out on the water having fun with a large group of people with the same goals.  There are, however, some paddlers for whom the race is a personal challenge with a strong sense of competition involved.  That is why, of course, there are several classes within the Challenge.

This is the greatest paddling event that we have in South Dakota, and it rivals other endurance river races in neighboring states.  The success of this effort is directly linked to the strong leadership corps that made it all possible.  It is a great collaboration of many agencies within the state working together to further the sport of paddling.

As I looked at the paddlers getting ready to set off into the teeth of that SE head wind and the grey skies, I was glad to be a volunteer rather than a racer.  After all, I am an old man, and hopefully I realize my limitations.  By the time I watched the boats pass at Myron Grove, though, I wished that I were moving along with the pack.  Maybe another time, I will go on the first stage – just do the 18.4 miles in a respectable time and enjoy that sense of accomplishment and inclusion. Maybe I can say that I just want to go along and get some on-water photographs.  Or, maybe I will just let that enthusiasm pass and serve as a volunteer check-point official again.

Details of the race can be found on the following sites:

My complete set of photographs from Riverside Park through the Myron Grove Check Point can be seen at:

Monday, May 21, 2012

Springtime on Grass Lake

With a good forecast for this morning, I loaded up my kayak last night for an early departure this morning to Grass Lake.  Leaving the house at 5:45 am and taking an hour for my early morning read, bagel, and coffee, I drove west on Highway 42 to the turn-off for Grass Lake and arrived by 7:30 at the public access point.  As has always been the case, I was alone on the lake this morning.

It has been a year since I last visited Grass Lake, and there has been little change.  Some work has been done on the rocky ramp so that fishing boats can be launched, but it is still pretty primitive in comparison to other state access points on area lakes.

The morning was sunny, still, and cool – just right for a lake cruise.  As I set off on my counterclockwise cruise around the shoreline of the lake, the surface was mirror calm.  The lake is about two miles long on a northwest/southeast axis and about ¾ of a mile across at its widest point. While the wind was calm when I began, it slowly rose out of the southwest and produced a light chop across the water.

The stillness of the morning allowed the sounds of birds and the light splash of the paddles to produce a tranquil and contemplative movement across the water. I found myself gazing into the shoreline growth and looking at the plant and bird life.  There were a few turtles out in the morning sun.

About three quarters of the way down the lake, there is a rocky shoal where pelicans and gulls usually gather.  I always look forward to checking the pelicans out and taking photos of these magnificent birds.  Today, however, the lake is higher than normal and the shoals are underwater. The only pelican in sight circled above me and departed without landing.  There were a few geese, but they kept their distance from my kayak today.

A surprising amount of algie for this time of the year has appeared.  It ranged from a solid cover of thin scum along the lee side to streaks and then fading to just a screen of green particles on the windward side of the lake.

The old windmill at the northwestern end of the lake is still in place, although perhaps a bit more skeletal each year.

The first house built overlooking the lake has appeared since my last visit a year ago. I have wondered how long it would be until a community of large homes along the lake was developed. I noticed a sign advertising available land near the lake shore, so I assume that such development is likely to occur when the current financial troubles finally pass.

Grass Lake seems to experience heavy algie cover most years, and this probably makes it less attractive than some other areas; I would not want to swim in this water, and I even worried about open cuts on my hands and leg.  Still, the view is great and kayaks can easily make it through algie cover.

My cruise around the lake took about an hour and forty-five minutes.  The flat calm that greeted me at 7:30 a.m. had transitioned into a light chop across the lake from the west by 9:30 a.m.

This was a pleasant way to start the week, and I thought about the many times that I have visited Grass Lake over the past six years.  There has been almost no change to the environment over that time.  While I did not see any “critters” on this cruise, there have been many others where I did see interesting animals.  Grass Lake is one of the best lakes in the area to spot wildlife.  For additional narratives of past cruises on Grass Lake, please check out the inventory of area waterways on the right side of the blog. For a complete set of the photographs of this cruise, you may visit my Flickr site at:

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

SDCKA Wetlands Clean-Up

 The wetlands along the Big Sioux River extending out from the canoe launch site at 26th Street and Southeastern Avenue has been adopted by the South Dakota Canoe/Kayak Association for periodic clean-up.

The City of Sioux Falls expects a clean-up of the area at least twice a year, and tonight was the first occasion for the current year.  In the past, the SDCKA has done a cleaning project in the river itself, usually upstream from this point, and this partnership extends to the wetlands area along this segment of riverfront.

Eight members of the SDCKA gathered at 5:30 p.m. tonight to begin the clean-up. We fanned out along the banks and into the wetlands and woods adjacent to the river to gather liter.  With large garbage bags, we collected debris and created a large pile of trash and discarded materials for removal by city employees tomorrow.  

We joked about the collection of ticks that seemed likely as we moved out into the brush.  One member reminded us that we did not need to collect the ticks; one of the officers of the association said that the person with the largest number of ticks on his or her person would get a free membership next year.  Despite being out in the bush for over an hour, I did not find a single tick on me.  Up until the time we disbursed from the area, no one else had found one either.

Taking on a section of the riverfront that centers on a canoe launching site seems like a great fit for the SDCKA.  It is the sort of civic project that fits the goals of the association and focuses its energy on environmental improvement.  I enjoyed taking part in the effort tonight.

Activities of this sort not only accomplish a specific project, they also strengthen the sense of a common spirit that links members of the association.  Talk naturally turns to upcoming cruises and other paddling ventures.  This evening, there was discussion of an upcoming cruise on Split Rock Creek and the SD Kayak Challenge that takes place in two weeks on the Missouri River. We all get to know each other better through these shared activities.

See full set of photographs of the clean-up at:

Monday, May 14, 2012

Ocean Rowing Expeditions Underway

For the past few years, I have followed the adventures of paddlers heading off on expeditions that most of us can only dream about.  These adventurers have developed blogs with real-time electronic route maps, day-to-day narratives, current photos, and some have satellite telephone reports to add an even more compelling quality to the story.

I am currently monitoring the following expeditions:

Sarah Outen is a young British adventurer who is doing a 2½-year expedition using human power to circle the glob.  She travels by bike, kayak, and rowing boat.  This venture began in London, continued by bike across central Asia to the Siberian coast, then by kayak and rowing boat across to Japan and on to the west coast of America.  She set out for America two days ago and is now at sea.  You can follow her at:

Charlie Martell is also on a cross pacific row, and he left from the same location in Japan 10 days ago in his specially made rowing boat.  His goal is to make a solo and unsupported row into San Francisco.  You can follow his venture at:

Finally, Roz Savage, a British adventurer who I have followed on her rows across the Atlantic to America, from California to Hawaii, on to Tarawa in the Gilbert Island, then to Fiji, and finally to Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, is on the move again.  She had planned to retire after her voyage of three years or so, but she has agreed to fill in on a rowing voyage with Andrew Morris across the Atlantic from Newfoundland, Canada, to the UK. They have been delayed due to icebergs in their projected route, but will be underway within a few days.  You can follow her adventure at:

These three blogs offer the promise of vicarious adventure to all of us who would like to be involved in such adventures but find ourselves caught up in the routines and obligations of a constrained life.  Electronics makes this fanciful adventure available to us all. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Lake Vermillion: The West End Again

Last night the forecast for the Sioux Falls area looked reasonably good for kayaking; the only cautionary note was winds from 15-20 mph.  So, I loaded up the kayak in the evening, got up at 5:00 a.m., and set out for an abbreviated morning read, bagel, and coffee at my morning spot before heading west to visit either Beaver Lake or Lake Vermillion.  I would make up my mind en route while observing the wind effect as traveling west on I-90.

The trees seemed to be blowing in a south wind as I approached Humboldt and the exit to Beaver Lake.  Remembering the ease with which waves develop on that open body of water, I decided to pass it by and go on instead to Lake Vermillion State Recreation Area, located between I-90 and Highway 42 along SD Highway 19.

Arriving at the recreation area about 7:20 a.m., I found a couple of fishing boats being launched from the large well-developed parking area. I got my kayak unloaded and underway in the wake of the first boat; as they headed left toward the main body of the lake, I paddled west under the bridge over Highway 19 toward the wetlands and feeder creeks flowing into this west end of the lake.

As I moved out of the shelter of the launching area, I could feel the wind increasing and the waves building out of the south.  Traveling west required me to paddle across the southwest wind with a following sea. 

I skirted the northern shoreline as I headed toward the wetlands and Battle Creek. At the end of this western arm of Lake Vermillion, there are two main creeks that flow from the surrounding wetlands; it is easy to paddle into these creeks and continue upstream through the twisting and increasingly narrow waterways.

Shortly after entering the Battle Creek flow, I came across a very large beaver lodge.  As I approached the lodge for a closer look, I saw a large beaver working just outside the structure.  After I managed to get close enough for a quick photo, the beaver disappeared underwater.

There were a lot of ducks in these feeder creeks; as I approached, these flighty creatures rose up and flew away, sometimes in groups of five or six, to avoid my kayak.  I found it impossible to capture them on camera because of their rapid response to my presence.

As is my custom, I followed the creeks as far as possible into the wetlands.  On the first entry along this waterway, I came to a point where it seemed as though I was in a pasture in the presence of many cows.   Rather that spook the cattle, I just turned around and proceeded to the second creek entrance.

This path led me past a large home build on a bluff over Battle Creek and into a rather long waterway that twisted itself along the contours of a hilly landscape.  This waterway was increasingly narrow but deep.  Even as the waterway grew so narrow that I wondered if I could turn around, the water remained 4-6 feet deep.

I continued deep into the wetlands and was not too concerned as the waterway narrowed to just two or three feet.  The kayak moved easily along this course up to a point where I could just not proceed further.  By that point, I knew that I would have to back downstream; there was no room to turn around.  But, I found that I could not negotiate the curving course of the waterway backwards.  I had to heave myself out of the kayak, drag it up on top of the bank, and turn it around for the return trip.

It is not easy to get out of a kayak with relatively high banks and a deep waterway. This sort of maneuver can easily lead to a spill; while not likely to be dangerous, it a way to ruin my camera and fall into the deep slit of a waterway. In any event, I made it okay and began the return trip.

The wind had continued to increase out of the south.  This meant that I would have to fight the waves as I returned across their march north.  For the first mile, there was a shelterbelt of tall evergreens and a reasonably high bank on the lee side.  I could cruise back east while looking at the whitecaps on the lake off to my left.  This uneventful passage continued until I passed under the bridge again and hit the main body of the lake.  The wave action had become heavy and I had no alternative than to paddle across building waves on my way to the launching area on the north side.

I had some anxiety as I hit these whitecap waves that were coming broadside to me.  My response was to keep close to the bank and maneuver the kayak so that I could keep out of the trough of the waves.  The bow was buried in oncoming waves and spray blew back into my face and soaked my clothing.  A sprayskirt would have been nice, but I don’t have one. Taking photos of the wave conditions did not seem like a great idea to me at the time.

Still, I made it back okay after being out on the water for about two hours.  The west end of Lake Vermillion is much more interesting than just proceeding up the main body of the lake.  I like exploring the flow of the Vermillion River as it transitions into the lake, but that requires a long paddle north – too far for me anymore.  Although there must certainly be fishing boats that venture up the western end of the lake, I have never come across one.

For other narratives describing past cruises on Lake Vermillion, please check the inventory of area waterways on the left side of the blog.  To access the full set of photographs of this cruise, please access my Flickr set inventory at the following URL: