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:

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Big Sioux River: Lake Alvin to Klondike Mill

After completing a water sampling project on Lake Alvin, fourteen paddlers moved across the highway along the Grandview Road to the “put-in” at the public access area on the South Dakota side of the Big Sioux River. 

After arranging a shuttle of vehicles down to the Klondike Mill along the Iowa side of the river, the group launched through a muddy ramp into the river for the eight-mile cruise downstream.

The river was running moderately fast and full, the depth was adequate, and the wind was mostly at our back.  There were no threatening strainers or rapids. The dark skies had disappeared and there was nice sun on us all the way.  It was a perfect afternoon for a river cruise.

Experience among the paddlers ranged from novice to highly experienced.  I was, as usual, the oldest paddler, but there were also two young people with their dad in rented kayaks. 

We traveled as a group more than is usually the case.  While we were stretched out for a few hundred yards, most of the time nearly all the kayaks were visible.  A couple of the more experienced paddlers brought up the rear so that slower paddlers would not become isolated and out of sight.

There were lots of perching birds about, but I did not see many waterfowl or shore birds.  I did not see any mammal life along the banks.  This is to be expected, however, when a flotilla of 14 boats with paddlers in social conversation among themselves pass through their waters.

This is a beautiful stretch of river.  There are high cut banks along parts of the route and four-foot high banks along much of the rest.  The banks are consistently wooded, and this tree cover and high banks moderates the wind force. Several beaches were available for people to stop for a stretch, and we took a twenty-minute break along one of them on the Iowa side.

Over the course of the year, those segments of the Big Sioux River between Sioux Falls and Newton Hills are traveled several times on SDCKA cruises. It is usually a tranquil and social time for paddlers, a time to become better acquainted with others who share the sport.

Paddlers in the area are lucky to have Dave and Mary Finck and Larry Braaten as cruise and shuttle organizers.  They lead many cruises on area streams and rivers from March through November, and we all benefit greatly from their generous efforts. 

For those interested in viewing the complete file of photographs of this cruise, please feel free to access my Flickr account at the following URL:

SDCKA Water Sampling Project: Lake Alvin

For the past five years, the SDCKA has worked with Dakota Water Watch to chart water conditions and collect water samples from area lakes for analysis.  This work has contributed to establishing a base line and interval data regarding the quality of water in our waterways.

Over the years, the SDCKA as an organization has done this in Grass Lake, Diamond Lake, and Lake Alvin.  Individual members have also taken on sampling assignments in other waterways of the area. Yesterday, SDCKA returned to Lake Alvin with sixteen kayaks for this annual service project.

A facilitator from Dakota Water Watch provided the necessary training for the paddlers, demonstrated the equipment, and made team assignments.  Each team was assigned two sites where they were asked to record a variety of data regarding current conditions on the lake and to collect two samples of water from these assigned locations.

The teams were made up of two kayakers, one paddler to manage the equipment and the other to record the data.

The teams then moved out to assigned sites around the lake to make observations and to collect the water samples.

The skies were a bit threatening at 9:00 a.m. when the group gathered, but no bad weather developed.  There was a bit of wind down the lake, but nothing that impeded the collection of data.  As the day wore on, the weather improved markedly.

We spend about an hour gathering our samples. Dave Finck and I had the assignment for sample collection at the mouth of Nine Mile Creek.  After finishing our task, we then headed back to turn in the samples and then paddle north on the lake to meet those with the assignments at the greatest distance.

Dave and Mary Finck were gracious enough to bring along a grill, and Dave grilled up hotdogs for us.  There were also chips and bars – a nice treat on a Saturday morning.

With the Big Sioux River just across the highway from Lake Alvin, a cruise downstream had been organized from the access point along the Grandview Road to Klondike Mill.

For those interested in viewing the complete set of photographs of this event, please go to my Flickr account at the following URL:

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Beaver Lake: June 2012

 I haven’t been out to Beaver Lake since last August and have been feeling the need to revisit this relatively large prairie lake on the edge of Humboldt.  The forecast issued last night for today indicated sunny skies, cool temperatures, and very mild winds.

So, this morning after my routine stop for a bagel, coffee, and an hour reading time, I headed west on Interstate 90 toward Humboldt and Beaver Lake.  These prairie lakes are not easy to find; the signage isn’t great and there are few landmarks to point the way.  They seem to be secluded spots for those “in the know.” 

Much to my surprise, there were two vehicles and trailers in the parking area by the launching ramp.  I passed close alongside one of the boats with two guys fishing just offshore of the island.  One guy aboard told me that they were hoping for perch but had caught only bullheads so far.

Beaver Lake is about 300 acres in area, perhaps three times as large as Lake Alvin.  The lake is relatively open to wind, and I often find a strong breeze out of the west blowing across the mile-wide east/west axis.  When I arrived at 7:30 this morning, the wind was light, but there still was a chop sweeping out of the west strong enough to break on the bow of my kayak.  Unusually, it seems to me, the wind actually diminished over the course of the morning.  In the lee of the island, the water was flat calm for most of the time that I was on the lake today.

As usual, I first headed north to the island.  Kayaking around this large island is always a treat to me.  It is heavily wooded and full of bird life. While I heard a steady cacophony of birdcalls from within the island, there were few large birds visible today from the water.  I did see a few egrets, but they were high over the trees and I was unable to get close to them.

From the island, again my routine cruise, I headed over to a passage along the northeastern side that leads into a slough including a pond that is generally full of beaver lodges and many types of shore birds.  The landmark for this passage is an old windmill looming above the trees just inland of the lake shore.  

The water depth seems down a couple of feet.  My way into the slough was gradually restricted from shallow water and heavy marine growth.  Finally, I was unable to proceed further and could not reach the pond.  My paddle sunk a couple of feet into the muck, and I realized the mess I could have experienced if it were necessary to get out of the kayak.

Backing out and turning back, I proceeded down to the far northern shore where another slough normally leads west inland a couple hundred yards. This passageway was totally dry, no hint of any water route inland.

I headed back south and crossed over to the northeastern shoreline.  The wind had dropped as I headed back toward the island and along the shore.  With decreased water depth, there was a beach line along much of the shore.  I pulled my kayak up onto the sand and strolled along the beach, looking at the tracks of critters in the soft sand and mud.

My cruise this morning lasted a little over and hour and a half.  It was disappointing not to able to enter the sloughs to check out the wildlife, especially birds.  The island is always a treat, but again there was not much shorebird life visible from the boat today. Most of the shoreline opens into pasture or grassland, the tree cover is spotty except on the island.

For more information from past cruises to Beaver Lake, check out the narratives under that keyword on the “area waterways” list on the right side of the blog.   For a complete set of the photographs of the cruise today, refer to my Flickr account at the following: 

Saturday, June 09, 2012

SDCKA Takes Part in Opening River Greenway Ceremony

The South Dakota Canoe/Kayak Association was invited to be a part of the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for the opening of Phase 1 of the Downtown River Greenway project.  Sioux Falls has over 3,000 acres of parkland, which includes 72 developed parks. The Greenway through the heart of the city along both sides of the Big Sioux River is envisioned to be a highlight of the city. The event took place yesterday, June 8, 2012, and large numbers of people were there for the music, speeches by community leaders, and the vendors. 

Eight kayaks and a substantial group of bicyclists took part in the ceremony, largely serving as a representation of how all elements of the community will enjoy this major improvement to the downtown area: walkers, cyclists, kayakers, and  people just hanging out. 

The kayakers gathered just off the parking lot of Kilian College at 4:00 p.m., launched and began cruising up and down the river between Kilian and the shoal waters just upstream of 8th Street.

There was a good breeze and current, and we just moved up and down this stretch of the river, stopping along the steps leading up to the river walk to chat with the crowd of people gathered for the event.

The kayaks were just there for a visual effect, a reinforcement that the river development serves the entire community.  In effect, we were props for the event; still, it was also a demonstration of how popular kayaking has become in the past several years.

Part of the development includes a kayak/canoe launching site.  It is easy to launch or land a boat at this spot, although it seems to me to be a difficult portage up the steps and down the bike trail to an access into a parking lot. 

This river development seems a wonderful addition to the sense of community.  Later in the evening, my wife and I strolled through the area surrounded by lots of people.  We sat in the amphitheater eating ice cream and listening to a band, with the Big Sioux River and the buildings across the water forming a backdrop.  Regular events along the riverfront are planned all summer.  This is one more of the continuing community improvements in Sioux Falls. 

The growing popularity of kayaking in the community seems recognized through inclusion in events such as this.

For those interested in viewing my complete set of photographs from this event, please check them out on Flickr at the following URLs: and

Saturday, June 02, 2012

SDCKA Paddling Fair: June 2012

Each year the South Dakota Canoe/Kayak Association hosts a paddling fair, an event designed to offer people who are interested in trying out a kayak the opportunity to be fitted into one and coached through the experience.

The paddling fair this year was held this afternoon at Family Lake in western Sioux Falls.  Family Lake is a park largely built to provide for fishing within the city.  It is two connected man-made lakes built over an old gravel pit near the intersection of the Tea/Ellis Road and Highway 42.  The lake is just right for novice paddlers; there is a dock and an easy launching area for kayaks – it is a nearly perfect spot for the SKCKA paddling fair.  Importantly, it is located right on the western edge of the city.

The event got underway at 1:00 p.m. and continued until about 4:30 p.m.  This year, the paddling fair was sponsored by the SDCKA, Sun 'N Fun in Sioux Falls, and the Sioux Falls Parks and Recreation Department.  In addition, Team River Runners contributed several boats and personal coaching for paddlers.

About 234 people took part in the paddling fair, and there were about 40 boats provided by SDCKA members, Sun and Fun, and Team River Runners.

A variety of boats were available for paddling, including a selection of kayaks, both solo and tandem and in lengths from short river kayaks to long sea kayaks; several stand-up paddle boards; canoes, both solo and tandem; and even two Hobie kayaks with the pedal powered propulsion device – one was inflatable, the other a fishing rigged boat.

The event was characterized by families out to enjoy the day and try their hand at paddling; there were lots of families where the adults and kids each had a kayak to try and some where families filled up a canoe.

 It was not at all unusual to see parents with a small child seated in the forward section of a kayak cockpit.

There were at least two SDCKA members out on the water at all times serving as safety observers.  Other members were in action in the water, on the beach, and at the dock working to secure a kayak and helping new paddlers launch and move out on the water.  

The on-water SDCKA members also assisted with paddling techniques for those who were just learning.

For so many people on the water, there were few incidents requiring assistance.  I helped one young kayaker who had tipped and filled the hull with water.  On another occasion, I towed a young person back to the dock when she became unable to continue in the light wind.  There were very few such incidents. 

Those trying out the stand-up paddle boards sometimes took a tumble into the lake, but those were situations where the paddler just lost his or her sense of balance on the board.  It was a safe experience for these novice paddlers.

This was a great day for those who wanted a shared family experience.  It was also a great time for anyone who has had a yen to go out in a kayak for the first time.  Some of us took the occasion to try out another type of boat.  I was very interested in trying the Hobie kayak with the pedal drive, and I took the inflatable one out for a short spin around the lake.  I have been looking at these boats on the Hobie website and had a strong interest in them as a possible next craft.  My experience today did not increase a desire to get such a boat.  Maybe I didn’t spend enough time on the boat, but I left feeling that the traditional kayak might better suit my needs.  

I also tried out an Old Town Pack 12 foot solo canoe, and I did like the feel of that craft.  Years ago I had a solo canoe and have always regretted letting it go.  The older I get, the more attractive the notion of a solo canoe to replace my kayak.

People attending the paddling fair seemed very happy for the experience.  More than one person passed along a message of gratitude for this event.  The motivation for the organizers of paddling fair is to encourage a love of paddling sports and to expose more people to this really wonderful way to enjoy another aspect of outdoor life.

In years past, we would sometimes have 10 to 20 people take part in our paddling fair.  Last year there were about 75 people, and this year about 200.  It is apparent that kayaking has become a very popular sport in the Sioux Falls area.

The paddling fair fits alongside the many cruises, the pool training sessions, the winter conference, and the South Dakota Kayak Challenge as ever increasingly popular activities sponsored by the SDCKA. 

For those interested in viewing all the photos that I took for this narrative, please check out my Flickr account at the following URL: