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, August 28, 2012

Lake Alvin and Nine Mile Creek - Late Summer

Last night the forecast was for a calm day with a temperature in the 90s, and it seemed like a good day ahead for a cruise.  I loaded up my kayak in the late evening and got ready to depart home at 6:00 a.m. for my morning read and coffee. When I walked outside, though, I felt the first few raindrops and the sky was overcast.  Still, I was ready to depart, so I headed out.  I got to Lake Alvin by 8:30 a.m. and found myself in a thundershower with lightening flashing, thunder booming, and rain falling.  Rather than give up the cruise, I hung around for 30 minutes or so until the lightening and thunder passed and the clouds began lightening in the west and north.

Today, I decided to put in at the recreation area on the north shore and paddle south to Nine Mile Creek.  The lake surface ranged from flat calm in sheltered areas to small wind waves over more open waters.

I was curious to see the latest effects of the prolonged drought we have been experiencing here on the northern plains, especially in southeaster South Dakota.  The lake is full, and there did not seem to be any change in surface conditions.  The water was relatively clear, no algae was obvious on the surface, and the level seemed only slightly lower than normal.  The dock seemed to be elevated about six inches or so more than normal; it would have been difficult to clamor out of the kayak onto the dock with waters at this level.

The real test of how drought conditions are playing out in the Lake Alvin system, it seemed to me, would be to head up Nine Mile Creek.  People had told me that passage into the creek was not possible now; but, I wanted to see how far I might make it anyway.

Heading down the lake to the south end, it is important to keep to the left bank, especially after passing the public access site on the southwest shore.  A sand bank or bar tends to develop at the mouth of Nine Mile Creek as it flows into Lake Alvin, and that condition was evident today. 

I kept to the left bank and still ran aground a few times.  In these situations, I remember what I think of as the “Pete Larson Clawing Technique.”  On a trip down Split Rock Creek a few years ago, we tended to frequently come across shallow gravel or sand bars across the waterway.  Rather than trying to pole through these shallows with the paddle, he demonstrated how you can just reach down into the water and claw your way along the bottom and ease through such shallows.  The act of clawing lifts the kayak bottom a little, and the grip through the sand or gravel propels the boat through into deeper water. I used this technique in passing over the bar leading into Nine Mile Creek today.

Once into the creek, the channel was deep enough to easily make my way upstream about two-thirds of my normal route.  Water depth tended to be 1.5 to 2.5 feet through the channel – plenty of depth for a kayak.  The narrower the course of the creek, the deeper the channel appeared.  Trouble developed mostly when the course became wider, although it was only necessary to back off a little and move over some to find the channel.

I came across lots of birds, including a great blue heron, but they generally flew off as I approached.  One duck seemed to lead me for a while through the channel.

As I neared the point where I usually have to turn back, I found it impossible to continue.  This was the first clear evidence of drought.  The flow of the creek had diminished to the point where the kayak would no longer clear the bottom.  I was able to easily turn back, again using the crawl, and move back downstream toward the lake.

After exiting Nine Mile Creek, I kept to the eastern shore and proceeded up the lake to the boat launch within the recreation area.

Mine was the only boat on the lake, and I only saw one guy fishing along the southwestern bank.  A couple of SDGFP guys were working on the road within the recreation area.  Otherwise, as normal on a weekday, I was along on the lake and in the park.

As I have often reflected, Lake Alvin is really a good spot for a cruise, especially a cruise that combines open lake and creek paddling.  Lake Alvin does not have any cabins along the shore, so it seems more secluded than some other popular lakes. It is a “wake free” waterway, so any other traffic would be slow moving fisherman or people in kayaks or canoes. But then, on weekday mornings, there are generally no other people about.

I’m glad that I waited out the passing storms and was able to enjoy a couple of hours paddling on Lake Alvin this morning.

1 comment:

Mike said...

Hey Jay! Looked like a restful and enjoyable paddling adventure for you! While I enjoy paddling with my wife Rachel, there are times when a solitary paddle is in order too! Keep up the paddling adventures up north. Enjoy reading them! FYI - I sure don't like having to conduct the word verification "exercise" each time I post a comment to your blog! It's usually very hard to identify and type correctly the photo + scrambled word mess. Wish you would eliminate it.