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:

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:


Mike said...

Hey Jay. Swan Lake looked and read like a great paddling adventure! Your paddles typify what my wife Rachel and I do during our kayaking outings. Several miles and a couple of hours in the kayak cockpit are usually enough for us! So, approximately how many paddling put in areas are within 45 minutes of your house?

Jay Heath said...

Thanks for another comment, Mike. There are at least 19 paddling opportunities within 45 miles of Sioux Falls, including creeks, rivers, and lakes. In fact, there are a few more, but I just haven't yet visited them and written a narrative. I have a new location identified in Minnesota, just across the border from SD, and that is my next site to explore - probably next week. Most people, even those from the area, are surprised to learn about the many opportunities to get out on the water.

Best regards,