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, April 26, 2013

Mud Lake - At Last, a First Cruise of the Season

Public Access Area on Eastern Shore of Mud Lake
At last spring seems to have come to the Northern Plains, at least in the Sioux Falls area.  Just a few days ago snow covered the landscape and the notion of approaching spring seemed elusive.  It seemed like we were in an endless winter.
Game Production Area on East Side of Mud Lake
Today, however, the temperature was forecast to rise to the high 60s or even 70 degrees.  This is the warmest day since last fall, and people are walking around in shirtsleeves and heading outside.  This was the first reasonable day for an initial canoe/kayak cruise of the season, although some hardy people have ventured out a little earlier. 
Marker for the Shaeffer Game Production Area at Mud Lake
Dave Finck and I decided to explore Mud Lake, a little known body of water located in Turner County, just a few miles northeast of Hurley, SD.  We took one of Dave’s Wenonah 17-foot Kevlar canoes atop his van and drove south on Interstate 29 out of Sioux Falls to Highway 44 and then west to the highway that continues south out of Chancellor to Hurley.  There is a public access point on the east side of Mud Lake, along 458th Avenue.
Dave Finck Coming Ashore at Mud Lake
The public access point on the east side of the lake is also known as the Shaeffer Game Production Area.  There is a parking area and a very primitive boat launch, although the lake has receded so much over this drought that it would not be feasible to launch a boat from that point.  In fact, it is difficult enough to launch a canoe through the shallow water and mud.
On Mud Lake, Turner County, SD
We shoved off into the lake from this public access area, but it was difficult to make our way through the mud and water that was only a few inches deep, even out several feet from the receded shoreline.
Along Northeastern Shoreline of Mud Lake
We scrapped along through the shallow water until we got a foot or more of depth and then headed south along the eastern shoreline.  We saw large segments of the normal lake bed where the only sign of water was extended mud flats.  The lake is down at least two feet, maybe more.  The exposed shoreline is up to 20 feet from the existing surface of the lake.
Pelicans on Mud Lake, SD
Still, we made it around the northern end and then along the western side heading south.  There are large sections that include bays and channels into the marshland that are dry now.  The lake is described as being about 180 surface acres, nearly twice the size of Lake Alvin, but the reduced body is perhaps half of what it might be in times of normal moisture. 
This is probably a group of Wilson's Phalarope on Mud Lake, SD
Mud Lake seems like a wonderful environment for birding.  Today, we saw a large flock of pelicans, many geese and ducks, lots of shore birds, hawks, and perching birds. There are large trees along parts of the shoreline and many nesting areas among reeds. 
Pelicans on Western Shore of Mud Lake
Moving down into the southern portion of the lake, we found more depth to the water.  Still, depth ranged from only a few inches along some parts of the lake to perhaps a little less than three feet in other spots. We sometimes glided into water too shallow to float the canoe and had to pole our way out.  The mud was deep enough to sink the paddle for 18 inches or so in most spots.  The bottom seemed to be mud throughout, and thus, I suppose, the name of the lake!
Abandoned Rowboat on Western Shore of Mud Lake
It took about 45 minutes to slowly make our way around the perimeter of the lake.  We decided to come ashore in a place that seemed a bit more solid; still, I sunk into the mud for 8-9 inches just getting up onto the beach. 
Receding Waters on Mud Lake
Because of the receding lake surface, there is a beach about 20 feet wide extending down the shoreline.  This beach varies from sand to stones to packed and dried vegetation on top of the dried mud.  We walked half a mile or so down the shoreline to soak in some sunshine and watch the bird life out on the water.
Wenonah Canoe on Mud Lake
Mud Lake would be a very nice cruise if the water rose a couple of feet.  The area is isolated, hard to find, and rich in birdlife.  The SDGFP area on the eastern side is fine for parking and then launching a canoe or kayak.  As it is, though, the water is just too shallow for a relaxing cruise.  It reminds me of a cruise we made on Silver Lake last fall.  It is interesting to me that some area bodies of water seem almost unaffected by the drought, Lake Alvin and Split Rock Creek above the Garretson City Park dam being two of them.  Others, such as Silver Lake, Lake Lakota, and Mud Lake are very negatively affected by reduced rainfall.  
Pelicans on Western Shore of Mud Lake
A complete set of the photographs taken on this cruise on Mud Lake may be accessed at the following Flicker URL:

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