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:

Friday, November 15, 2013

Big Sioux River: 26th Street to Bicycle Trail Bridge in Sioux Falls

Yesterday after being unable to get out on Fensterman Slough as planned, Dave Finck and I decided to canoe upstream on the Big Sioux River from just beyond the bridge over 26th Street to the rapids under the bike trail bridge, a distance of about 2.5 miles round trip.
Whatever ice had been on the Big Sioux River through Sioux Falls had melted with the warmer temperatures, the wind, and the river current.  There were only traces left along some of the shoreline; otherwise, the river was clear of ice. The water was remarkably clear after some of our cold weather.  Sometimes it was possible to look down into the water a couple of feet and see a thick carpet of leaves suspended over the bottom for 18 inches or so.  These carpets of leaves reminded me of clouds in the sky.
The current was surprisingly fast as we powered our way upstream.  Depth of the water within the channel was probably three or four feet, but the river is about 50 feet wide at this point, and there are gravel bars or mud banks along the way.  We touched bottom a couple of times in Dave’s 17 foot canoe, but did not grind to a halt until we reached the gravel bars that form just past the rapids under the bike trail bridge.
Taking a trip down the river at this time of the year is sort of a farewell to the paddling season.  The monochromatic brown tones of the vegetation going dormant is the major feature of the landscape.  Passing along the shoreline, the view into the trees is markedly different than just a few weeks ago when the undergrowth was thick and the world seemed green.
As we muscled our way upstream against a fairly strong current, we could look into the deserted YMCA camp along the right bank.  I thought of all the years that my own boys attended Camp Leif Ericson and had such a great time.  Along the left side of the river, the bike trail snakes its way northwest, and we could see riders enjoying the 57 degree sunny day.
There were a few ducks still on the river enjoying their final days on an ice-free Big Sioux River.  I wondered where the ducks go for the winter, and Dave Finck thought that they headed for the Missouri River where the water is at least partially open most of the year. 
We made it up to the rapids and ground to a halt on a gravel bar.  After turning the canoe around, we made a very leisurely return trip back to the put-in at 26th Street.  Paddling was hardly necessary, just an occasional stroke to steer the boat; otherwise, the return was mostly a float trip down a quiet river with plenty of opportunity to look at the landscape, the water flow, and the trees that have fallen into the stream.
The cruise yesterday was really a moment to reflect upon the now closing paddling season.  The forecast ahead is for colder days, and I expect to see ice on the river soon.  As we found at Fensterman, the lakes are either closed down or just on the edge of being frozen for the next few months.
Very soon, I will clean up my kayak, remove the rack from the roof of my Honda Civic, and unload all my paddling gear from the trunk and carry it up into the attic above the garage.  It will be late March or early April before there is much chance of getting on the water again here on the Northern Plains.
Dave Finck on the Big Sioux Through Sioux Falls
A full set of the photographs of the BSR cruise yesterday can be found on my Flickr page at the following URL: 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Fensterman Slough--Too Late for this Year

For a long time, I have wondered about Fensterman Slough, a long east/west oriented body of water located west on Highway 42, just northwest of Wall Lake.  I suspect that this is one of the least known paddling opportunities in the general Sioux Falls area.
Fensterman can be reached by tuning north off of Highway 42 at 460th Avenue and traveling a short distance to 265th Street.  There is a Dead End sign along 460th Avenue, but don’t let it discourage you; just continue until Fensterman Slough is in sight ahead.  Signs identifying it as a waterfowl production area mark it, and there is a road into the parking area that leads down to the shoreline.
At the western end of Fensterman, the slough is narrow and winding. Toward the east, the slough curves around heading generally northeast to a wider end through many peninsulas and bays.  The east/west axis seems to be about two miles in length, and the widest section across seems about half a mile.  There are low hills surrounding the slough, although tree cover is scattered. 
There is a rough road leading from a parking area down to the shoreline.  The bank is several feet high, and it is a challenge to get down to the water’s edge.  I managed it easily enough by grabbing handfuls of tall grass to balance my descent and to pull myself back up.  It would be easy enough to launch a canoe or kayak at this point.
Dave Finck and I had set out this afternoon at 1:00 p.m. in his van pulling a canoe trailer heading west out of Sioux Falls, past the Wall Lake turn-off, hoping to find Fensterman and take a cruise around it. All we had was a copy of the South Dakota Atlas and Gazetteer to point the way. The temperature had been up to around 50 degrees in the past few afternoons, and we hoped to find the slough still ice-free.  As we drove west on Highway 42, however, we saw ice covered ponds near the road and began to fear that we were too late for this exploration. 
Finding Fensterman was something of a challenge.  Of course, there are no signs indicating the slough, and we had no idea where or if there was an access point.  So, we drove about the area trying various roads, generally circling the slough site.  Finally, we reviewed the map and decided to go back down to Highway 42 and look again for a north route that might lead us to Fensterman.  Earlier, we had passed a “dean end” sign and thought that the dead end might indeed be the shore of Fensterman Slough.
Proceeding north on 460th Avenue, we passed the dead end sign and continued on until we saw blue water ahead.  There are a few homes in the area and a road leading up to a grassy parking area and a sign indicating boat access.
Walking down a pathway through the browne grass, we reached the shoreline and looked out over a lake covered with ice.  Perhaps the surrounding hills prevented the west wind from breaking up the ice over the lake, even in the 57-degree temperature of this afternoon.  Launching a canoe was just not possible today, and it seems as though the long winter has taken hold of Fensterman Slough for the next several months.
We wandered down a long narrow path along the southern shoreline through the grass and looked over the slough from several vantage points.  The slough looks like a fine place to paddle, and the nature of the waterfowl protection area suggests great bird watching ahead.  There were some unidentifiable white birds sitting out on the ice a couple hundred yards off shore.
We saw an island located a hundred feet or so off the southern shore, and I thought of how next year I will step onto the island and walk around it.
Fensterman will be on my list of waterways to paddle early in the spring.  I am looking forward to paddling the entire shoreline of the slough as soon as spring arrives and the ice is gone for the season.  Sometimes I wonder about the distinction between a lake and a slough.  Scott Lake, just north of Hartford, for instance, was called Scott Slough until some point when the slough was dropped in favor of lake.
I have been visiting the rivers, creeks, lakes, sloughs, and ponds of this area for a number of years.  It is very pleasing to find a new waterway in the area, especially one relatively easy to visit.  Flashing paddles, next year, on Fensterman Slough!
To access all the photos taken at Fensterman Slough today, please see my Flickr page at the following URL:

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Lake Poinsett: A Guest Narrative from “Patricia from Omaha”

The following is another guest narrative from “Patricia from Omaha.”  She has become a regular guest contributor to this blog, describing her paddling adventures on area lakes and waterways that I may not have visited.  The narrative this time presents a cruise on Lake Poinsett, one of the largest lakes in South Dakota with a surface area of 7,886 acres. The lake is northwest of Brookings, just a few miles west of Estelline, SD. (JAH)

On my way to a campout with my sister from Fargo, I spent a night at the Lake Poinsett Recreation Area.  I checked out the rec area's boat ramp on the south shore but decided against using it.  Poinsett is a big round lake, and my philosophy is that if I can see the whole lake from the ramp, there's no need to put the kayak in the water.  However Google Earth showed both an attached lake and a river to the north, so I went in search of an access on that side.

I started driving clockwise around the lake; at about the 9 o'clock position I found a beach with a boat ramp, but it wasn't close enough, so I pressed on.  The campground host had described a ramp on the north shore and that was my goal.  I was following roads close to the lake, and found a promising ramp at the end of NW Lake Drive off of Highway 28/192nd Street. A little further east on 28 and just after the 458th Street intersection, I saw a boat ramp sign and a road that led back to a sandy beach.  I found nothing further, so this is where I returned.  I backed the van close to the water and unloaded the kayak, glad not to have to paddle across the entire lake to get here.
A large flock of seagulls watched me put in and paddle to the left past them, looking for the river.  It was late afternoon with a light wind and a pleasant temperature.
I arrived at the north inlet quickly; it was very shallow but the water was flowing strongly from the lake side and help push me across the soft sand (more about that later).

Around the turn lay a body of water with a bay to the left, full of trees and ducks.  I paddled that direction for a bit; the ducks all flew off but I did snap this turtle catching the afternoon sun.
Back in the main body, I paddled further north, coming to the bridge on Highway 28, from which I had spotted this waterway.  Near the bridge were more gulls and a solitary pelican.  The bridge was high and easy to travel under, so I pushed on.
Like a rerun on TV, on the other side of the bridge was a body of water with gulls and… another bridge, on 459th Avenue.  This one was a different animal however; it had massively heavy metal plates hanging on the other side and a mechanism for lowering them.  I learned later that it is a dam to keep too much water from flowing back up from the river.  Looking at its pictures on Google Earth, it was pushed hard back in 2011.
I confess I felt very uneasy paddling under the pieces of the dam and relieved when I was past it. On the other side was a long and narrower stretch of water, more quiet and agrarian.  There were rushes and a heron on the shore, and farm buildings with cows further up.

Paddling on, I came to my third bridge, this one on 192nd Street.  It was a fairly ordinary and solid looking roadway and I passed under it easily.  Now my waterway was definitely a river, with odd square blocks placed across it at one point.  I wasn't sure if the blocks were meant to stop boats or were just leftover from some former structure.  They were far enough apart to allow easy passage, so I kept going.

The river turned into the twisty and intriguing path that I enjoy exploring, just to see what's around the next corner…and the next and the next. Believe it or not, around one of the corners lay my fourth bridge.  It looked smaller and more rickety than the previous three, but was still easy to paddle under.  Finally the usual combination of tiring muscles and decreasing sunlight caused me to turn around.

On the way back I saw these farm buildings and tall pines that make a graceful picture.  A strangely bent tree caught my attention, reminding me of a Japanese torii arch.  It's funny how one spots new sights on the return trip, or how the aspect of something familiar changes.

So I paddled back, past the rickety bridge and the plain concrete one and the bridge with the scary dam plates and the pretty concrete one.  I reached the narrow spot where the water rushing in had eased me over the sand.  The current was not working in my favor now and I was having a difficult time.  I paddled hard but the spot where the channel was the thinnest and the sand highest stymied me.  Just like Platte Creek, I have no pictures from this part as I was busy trying to make some progress.  The sand was too soft for any leverage.  I was contemplating getting out (and wet) when I tried one more tactic.  I paddled up to the troublesome spot, leaned almost flat forward in the kayak, reached my arms and paddle as far to the fore as they could go, and dug into the water on the other side of my obstacle.   It was enough to get me up and then over, and with relief I paddled along the lake shore back to the beach.
            My adventure continued however.  After I wiped off the kayak and loaded it in, I found that my van was having a similar problem as the boat; it just couldn't get going in the soft sand.  I had backed too far down the beach. With no cell phone reception there and being on my own, I needed a solution.  Rocking the van back and forth didn't work and neither did trying a lower gear.  Finally I remembered that I had some small logs for campfires in the back.  I laid them in front of my tires like a wooden road, and with that (and a prayer) I got out of there.  
            The park ranger later explained to me that the place I used as an access used to have a boat ramp, but it was washed out in the flood of 2011 and there were no plans to replace it.
            The river north of Lake Poinsett was a great paddle, excluding the sand traps.  I would have liked to explore even further, and I would use that same access, although I would keep my van up on the hard surface and carry the kayak to the water.  As it was, I re-learned a valuable lesson about being aware of your surroundings.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Split Rock Creek: Garretson City Park Through the Palisades

As we slip into November here on the Northern Plains, paddlers are either putting away their gear for the season or taking every opportunity for what may well be a final cruise of the year. As a retiree, I have some advantage over my working pals and can go out on a weekday during “working hours.”  As a matter of fact, I revel in that status!
Today seemed like the best day of the week for paddling, so Dave Finck and I met at the city park in Garretson for a cruise up through the palisades.  This has come to be something I have done toward the final days or weeks of the paddling season for the past several years.
It was sunny, about 42 degrees, and quite windy as we arrived at the put-in.  The wind was blowing down through the canyon that forms the creek bed at about 25 miles per hour. 
The high quartzite cliff walls that rise up along both banks tended to provide a lee along the cliff face and to reduce the force of the wind.  Still, we were paddling into a stiff head wind as we made our way upstream from the put-in just above the dam.
Paddling along this magnificent waterway, the seasonal shift into winter was evident.  Much of the leaf cover is gone and the grasses have turned brown.  There is little evidence of waterfowl now, although we did see a flock of robins that seemed to have delayed in their flight south.
The sun was bright over the cliffs, providing interesting shadows across the water.  I steered my kayak from cliff face to cliff face along alternating sides in order to experience the varying effects of sun and shade.
We made our way upstream to the riffles that lead into the impoundment formed by the dam within the park.  Some years ago, there was a single home located at this point, but now there is another large home visible from the creek. 
This is the point, about 1.25 miles upstream, where paddlers turn and head back downstream.  Along the way back, we came across a flock of 15 turkeys moving through the grass on the right bank.  They were spread out in a line that moved across the landscape into a grove of trees.
Along the return route, little paddling effort was required.  The wind just blew us back, and only an occasional paddle stroke was needed to track the course downstream.
As has become a feature of a Garretson cruise, we moved under the arched bridge and into Devil’s Gulch.  The wind here was also brisk, and it blew us up the waterway, past other sets of quartzite cliffs to the feeder stream flowing in from the woodlands.
We paused within the Gulch to view the changing landscape and then paddled back under the railroad bridge, through the arches, and into the main stream just above the “take-out.”
Our cruise this morning was for about an hour and fifteen minutes, and the distance was about three miles.  As we loaded up the kayaks, the wind was reported as 23 mph, and the temperature was in the mid 40s.  We had on jackets, boots, hats, and gloves this morning.  As usual, once we were off the water and trying to load up the kayaks, the cold seemed to intensify.  My fingers didn’t work all that well as I worked on the knots for the ropes that secure my kayak atop the car. 
This was a great weekday morning cruise, and I found myself enjoying the way the kayak cruised through the water.  We all know that there is little time remaining in this paddling season.  Still, I am expecting to get in at least a couple more cruises this year.
A full set of the photographs for the cruise this morning can be found on my Flicker page at the following URL: