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, September 25, 2012

Long Lake - 2012

Yesterday, I paid a return visit to Long Lake, a site that I last cruised with my son Derek in 2006. Long Lake has a strong appeal to me; it is located just south of Lake Madison, across an isthmus separating the two bodies of water, just west of Hillside Resort.  Access to the north side of the lake is on the south side of the road running through the isthmus and is much improved since my cruise in 2006.  Long Lake appears on the South Dakota Atlas and Gazetteer just south of Lake Madison and about 45 miles northwest of my eastside South Dakota home. 

Dave Finck and I had just finished cruising Scott Lake and decided to head north to visit Long Lake.  We arrived just after noon with a stiff wind blowing out of the west.  Long Lake is wooded on the north and south sides, and there are several islands in the lake.  The lake covers 480 acres and is, as the name implies, long and narrow.  Much of the width is about a quarter of a mile, and the lake extends for about two miles on a northwest/southeast slant.  While the lake is narrow, it is still open to a west wind; we found that the wind was brisk but presented no problem for the 17-foot aluminum canoe with two guys paddling.

Unlike Scott Lake, Long Lake was completely deserted when we arrived, and we did not come across anyone on the cruise. 

We set out from a public access area that consists of a dirt road that winds down the hill to a primitive launching site.  From there, we headed across the lake into the shelter of an island and then paddled west into the wind along the southern shore. 

Continuing west, we cruised along the shoreline, finding a passage through a set of brambles marking a channel, and moved further west for another half hour of so.

About two-thirds of the way down the lake, we crossed over to the north side and rode a following sea with the wind east back to the launching point.

There was little wildlife observable today, even relatively few birds.  Part of the shoreline on both sides of the lake is used for pasture, so we saw quite a few cows out in the sun chomping grass.  I was disappointed in the lack of wildlife, but it was mid-day with a stiff breeze, and I guess that the timing just wasn’t right.

Long Lake is really a good place to paddle in this area.  The lake is relatively large with some variation in the landscape.  It is also not easily accessible, especially for motorboats.  Lake Madison is just across the isthmus, and that is where people have their lake cabins.  We saw no cabins on Long Lake, nor any real access to the lake.  So, there is a nice sense of isolation on Long Lake.  There is a Wildlife Production Area on the west end of the lake, so viewing a variety of wildlife is likely – despite our lack of success yesterday. Also, the wooded shoreline and islands provides some shelter from the wind. 

We returned along the northern shore to our launching point and left after a cruise of perhaps an hour and fifteen minutes.

I like Long Lake and recommend it to area paddlers. If you are considering visiting Long Lake, I suggest that you review my blog entry from 2006 to add some depth to this narrative.  It provides a contrast to the large round lakes that are more common in this area.  For those interested in viewing the complete set of photos for this cruise, please access my Flickr site at the following URL:

Monday, September 24, 2012

Scott Lake - Minnehaha County

Even after several years of exploring and kayaking area lakes and waterways, I am always pleased to find a new site, particularly one within Minnehaha County.  This morning, Dave Finck and I set out to visit Scott Lake, a small secluded body of water located just one mile north and two miles west of Hartford, SD. The lake is sometimes, especially with local people, called Scotts Slough, although the official name as used by the South Dakota Games, Fish, and Parks and on maps is Scott Lake. 

This lake, like many others in the area, has no signs pointing the way and no identifying sign at the site. It is clearly marked, however, in the South Dakota Atlas and Gazetteer and there are Internet resources with maps to help in location.  Basically, the lake is located along 258th Street, just west of 462nd Avenue.  I suggest that anyone wishing to visit Scott Lake make sure that a detailed map or GPS is used to guide the way.

Scott Lake is listed by the SD GFP as covering 107 surface acres (about the same area as Lake Alvin) and described as follows: “Scott Lake is not listed as meandered public water in the State of South Dakota Listing of Meandered Lakes. Most of the lake lies within a Game Production Area (GPA) owned and managed by the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks (GFP), however, the land under the very west end of the lake is privately owned.”

A concrete launching ramp, parking area, and a wooden fishing pier extending out into the lake are provided by the SD GFP on the south side of the lake, along a road that was marked “closed.”  Unlike my weekday trips to area lakes, there were several people and a few cars at the site; a motorboat was out on the water with one fisherman aboard, there were a few shoreline fishermen, and there were also a couple of guys fishing from the pier.  In relative terms, the lake was crowded!

We were using one of Dave Finck’s aluminum canoes today and set out on a counterclockwise perimeter cruise around the lake from the launching pad. There are two islands in the lake, and we first passed by the one on the southeastern shore, easily moving through a set of reeds between the island and the shore.

Woodlands cover the southern and eastern shoreline, and the north and western shore is largely crop land or pasture for grazing. Today, there was a stiff wind coming out of the west; so after moving past the first island, we paddled into the wind as we made our way along the northern shore. 

There were a number of birds sighted, but they were spooked by the canoe and flew off before I could get a photograph.  A group of gulls was dancing along the water looking for and finding food, and there were other perching birds that looked interesting but were too elusive for me to study closely.

We continued west along the shore and approached an island in the western end of the lake.  Since it looked easy to land with a canoe, we did go ashore and did a complete walk-around of the island.

From the island, we continued along the perimeter to the western end and returned past the fishing pier to the launching ramp.

The lake today was a bit windy, perhaps 20 mph from the west.  The guys fishing on the pier were wearing jackets; some of the trees have begun changing their colors as fall advances over the landscape. It was sunny, though, and altogether a beautiful fall day to be out on a new lake, new for me at any rate. 

Scott Lake apparently is a favored fishing site for area people.  We talked to the guys on the fishing pier, and they said that kayaks from the area are sometimes on the water, although I have never heard anyone mention kayaking this lake. Dave Finck remembers visiting the lake many years ago, before there was a launching pad or fishing pier. 

The lake is really fairly close to Sioux Falls, especially to the west side of the city.  For people in the Hartford area, it is well within the neighborhood.  I think that it is good site to add to the regular circuit for area paddlers. It is certainly a good fishing spot.

For those interested in the full set of photographs of the cruise on Scott Lake, please access my Flickr account at the following URL:

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Split Rock Lake (Minnesota)

Its always good to discover a new body of water in your general area.  Recently, my paddling pal, Dave Finck, told me about how he has frequently paddled on Split Rock Lake, just north of Jasper, Minnesota. I did some research on the lake and found that is part of the familiar Split Rock Creek that originates further north and flows south through Garretson, Split Rock State Park (SD), Brandon, and into the Big Sioux River along Highway 42 near the Sioux Falls park setting at Arrowhead and the Arboretum. Split Rock Creek is a very familiar waterway, one that SDCKA members frequently kayak, especially in the Garretson area through the palisades and from Brandon to Highway 42.  I have traveled on this creek many times over the years, and narratives describing various sections are presented on the area waterways menu along the right side of this blog.

Split Rock Lake is 42 miles from my eastside home near 26th and Sycamore in Sioux Falls and only 22 miles north of Valley Springs, SD.  This morning, I drove to Valley Springs with my kayak atop the car and met Dave Finck at his home.  We loaded up the kayaks on his trailer and headed north on Minnesota State Highway 23 that took us just past Jasper to the very small town of Ihlen.  From there a sign directed us into Split Rock Creek State Park.

The park resulted from a WPA project begun in 1935 in which a dam was put across Split Rock Creek to create a recreation area.  Split Rock Lake is the centerpiece of this long narrow park of about 240 acres.  The park is exceptionally well situated for a variety of outdoor experiences.  The lake is long and narrow and is listed at 93 surface acres.  The park has an office, many well maintained camp sites, and a 2.5 mile hiking trail that follows a loop from the northern end of the park along the west side of the lake down to the spillwater and dam on the southern end.  The trail even follows a foot bridge over the spillway.

There is a deep channel that reaches up to 23 feet along the course of the creek bed that forms the center of the lake bottom.  The lake is oriented north and south. 

Split Rock Creek enters the lake from the northern end through a narrow channel flowing under a highway bridge and gains width as it continues for about 1.5 miles south to the spillway and dam. The creek continues its flow south from that point until it becomes the familiar Split Rock Creek that so many of us in the Sioux Falls area know well.

We entered the lake at a defined launching area about midway up the western side of the lake.  Right away, we turned and headed south toward the spillway along the wooded west side of the park, passing the camping, swimming, and picnic areas. 

The lake seems to be about two feet lower in depth than normal, and we kayaked right up to the wall of the spillway and dam to take a peek downstream at an historic bridge and the flowing stream that would once again become the familiar Split Rock Creek.

From there, we crossed over to the eastern side of the lake and entered a channel that took us up into the wetlands for about ½ a mile.  Split Rock Creek Park is situated between three Wildlife Management Areas (MWA) and seems an ideal place to observe wildlife.  Today, we ran across a few great blue heron, some hawks, lots of turtles, and several deer.

Exiting the channel, we continued north along the eastern side of the lake toward the mouth of Split Rock Creek.  The eastern side seemed to be shallower, although we had no trouble in navigating the route.  While the western and southern banks are largely wooded, the eastern bank is more often covered with tall grasses and reeds. 
We continued north until leaving the main body of the lake and entered Split Rock Creek.  This waterway narrowed down to perhaps 30 feet or so as we moved upstream for about ¾ of a mile.

We passed through some rocks along the way that were just under the surface with the water depth at about 2.5 feet.  Both Dave and I found ourselves caught for a moment or two on these rocks before being able to push off.

The route north passes under a bridge, but it comes to a quick halt at an electric fence just 50 feet or so past the bridge.  The parks department people have placed some markers on the fence to warn boaters; without that warning, it would be easy to get a jolt from the fence.

Retracing our steps, we returned south along the center of the lake, pausing a few moments to follow another lead into the wetlands along the eastern bank.

Our trip this morning was done under ideal weather conditions:  light winds at the start, a temperature of about 65 degrees, sunny skies, and no one else around or on the lake.  It was a great two hours of paddling in the best of circumstances.  

Split Rock Creek Park is a jewel in our area, and I am surprised that I didn’t know about it.  The parks people are friendly and helpful, the park is exceptionally well equipped and maintained, and it is a wonderful place to visit.  I especially like the 2.5 mile hiking trail that only adds another pleasant dimension to the park.  Canoes and kayaks are available for rent at the park for only $10 for four hours.  Park information can be found on their website  and by telephone at 507-348-7908. The daily fee to enter the park is $5.00. 

For those interested in the full set of photographs of this cruise, please access my Flickr account at the following URL:

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Swan Lake: Late Summer 2012

It has been six years since I last visited Swan Lake, located between Hurley and Viborg, SD, just to the west off State Highway 19.  The major access point to the lake can be reached by turning off Highway 19 at 288th  Street  and going west to 455th Avenue.  Signs at that point will provide direction into the lake community.

The put-in is a state provided access point within a developed area on the south shore of the lake.   This access point is very limited with sparse parking and no toilet. There is a shoreline road that continues around the eastern end of the lake and passes by another two public access areas, but these seemed to me to be largely provided for shoreline fishing.

Dave Finck, one of my paddling pals, came by this morning at 9:00 a.m. with his trailer, and we loaded up my kayak alongside his.  Stopping to pick up Randy, we three headed to Swan Lake.  The lake site is not easily found without a detailed map, such as the South Dakota Atlas and Gazetteer.  Like many of us, we thought that we could easily locate the lake from our memory of past trips there, so we drove around in the general direction and missed the correct turn-off.  Recovering, though, we made it to the launching site and found that we were the only boats on the lake, as is typical on a weekday after school has begun.  In fact, we hardly even saw another person, even though there are cabins along some parts of the lake.

We set off heading over to the first of two islands in the lake, the smaller one just off the southern shore.  There was a light breeze over the water, the temperature was in the low 70s, and the sky was sunny: a nearly perfect day for a cruise.

While there are cabins set along the southern shore and extending inland a little, there are also large sections of the shoreline that are wooded and free of housing.  Our route today was counterclockwise from the southern shore, along the east side, along the northern shoreline and into the shallower section of the lake in the western arm.  We returned along the southern shore to the first island and then beached out kayaks at the put-in used initially.

There is a second island located in the middle of the widest portion of the lake near the eastern shore. The eastern shore is wooded, as are the islands.  Cabins are scattered along the southeastern and northeastern shore, and there is a Christian Youth Camp located along the southwestern shore.  The western third of the lake is posted for “no motorboats.”  The northwestern shore is largely treeless with tall grass up to the shoreline.

We saw a large great blue heron that kept leaping ahead of us, but always reappearing along our cruise. Otherwise, we saw only limited wildlife along the way.

There was plenty of depth for our cruise.  Greater depth was found in the eastern portion of the lake, and depth gradually shelved in the western arm.  The lake seems two or three feet down from normal levels, although we had no problems with our kayaks as we paddled around the entire perimeter of the lake.

The lake is 208 acres in surface area, which is about twice the size of Lake Alvin.  The widest portion is in the eastern end and is about half a mile across at that point.  Swan Lake is generally oriented east and west, and the distance from those two ends is about one and a-half miles.

The wind came up out of the west as we were concluding our cruise, and we were riding a following sea on the return.  As we neared the end of our circuit, we decided to paddle around the smaller island off the south shoreline just to ride through the waves.

Our time on the water today was about an hour and a-half. It was a nice cruise over a varied landscape.  Swan Lake is about 45 minutes away from my eastside Sioux Falls home, and that puts it at the margin of what I consider a reasonable distance.  Again, my own rule of thumb is that I want to spend more time on the water than on the drive.

Interested readers can read my narrative from five years ago by accessing it on the menu of area waterways located on the right side of the blog page. In addition, the full set of photographs from the cruise today can be accessed on my Flick account at the following URL: