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:

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Big Sioux River Clean-Up: September 2013

Clearing debris from the Big Sioux River as it flows through Sioux Falls is one of the public service activities of the South Dakota Canoe/Kayak Association.  In the past two weeks, members gathered twice with their kayaks and canoes to pick up debris from the stream and along the banks.  On each occasion, about 400 pounds of litter were gathered for pick up by the city.  The first section of the river clean-up was from 57th Street to Tuthill Park.
Last night, members met at the canoe launch area along 26th Street to begin a sweep upstream to the bike trail bridge over the river, a round trip of about 2.5 miles.
The group was made up of 11 kayaks, a canoe, and others who remained to clean the launch area, the woodlands nearby, and the parking lot and trails.
Paddlers in the kayaks headed upstream to work the shoreline.  Most paddlers had attached a receptacle of some kind to their boat for refuse collected.
Often paddlers got out of their kayaks in shallow water to more effectively collect items along the shoreline.
The canoe moved upstream to collect full cargos of refuse from the kayaks and transport it back downstream to the launching point.  
Along the trip upstream in the canoe, we came across two deer that were in the woods between the bike trail and the river.  One crawfish was found among the debris in the bottom of one of the kayaks.
There was ample depth to the river as we all moved upstream.  The kayaks were able to get up to the rapids under the bike trail bridge, but the loaded canoe ground to a halt in the shallows about 50 yards from the rapids.
The kayaks set off upstream about 5:45 p.m. and the canoe followed about fifteen minutes later.  The job was finished at twilight, about 7:30 p.m., and the debris was stacked for pick up later by the city.
In addition to the public service, an event of this sort builds a narrative of shared experiences and reconnections among the SDCKA members.  The association holds only one general conference a year, in January at the Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls, so opportunities to build relationships take place on organized cruises and at public service events of this sort. We all get to know each other a little better through these reconnections.
Although we all got a bit dirty in the activity, it was also a beautiful early fall evening on the Big Sioux River.  
As we all packed up our boats and gear in the deepening darkness, it seemed to me that there was a general feeling of satisfaction with doing something good with our paddling friends on a fine evening.
A full set of the photographs from this clean-up cruise can be found on my Flickr page at the following URL:

Monday, September 23, 2013

Scott Lake: September 2013

It has been a year since Dave Finck and I last visited Scott Lake, and this seemed like a good time to return.  I had some anxiety last night as I saw a forecast for winds of 25 mph and thought of waves cresting on the lake, so we made a fairly early start of it this morning and left Sioux Falls about 7:30 a.m. for an arrival time of 8:00 at the lake shore. The only hope for a good cruise on one of the area lakes facing that sort of forecast is to arrive early.
Scott Lake was known as Scott Slough until being reclassified at some point in the last several years.  The lake is just north of Hartford, SD, and is oriented roughly east and west.  The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks has developed a good public access area with plenty of parking off a gravel road, a fishing pier, a launching ramp, and a vault toilet. It is a popular fishing spot for people in the Hartford area.
The lake is about .75 miles long and perhaps .25 miles wide.  There is a slough-like area on the southeastern side, just east of the public access area, with a lot of bird life, including great blue heron. 
The wind was nearly 20 mph out of the south as we set out on the lake.  The south side of the lake is fairly sheltered with trees, so there was quite a variation in surface conditions on the water, ranging from nearly calm in the extreme lee of the shoreline to rolling waves out on the north side away from any sheltering landscape or trees.
For a variation this time, we took one of Dave Finck’s canoes with a side-mounted electric outboard motor.  We thought that we would try “geezer canoeing” with the motor and just cruise along the shoreline.  As we cruised along within the lee shore, I felt like I was riding on a motorcycle rather than a canoe.  My seat was in the bow, so I was just holding on to the gunwales with my hands and keeping my knees on the side of the canoe.
As we did last time, we started out from the ramp and turned east, entering into the slough to cruise among tree and weed stumps and very calm water. There is a beauty to this sort of waterway with the underwater growth clearly visible, the bird life around the shoreline, and the tree cover.
We entered the slough on the eastern end and paddled through this calm backwater to a grass-clogged slot back into the main body of the lake.
Heading back across to the northern side, we encountered rolling waves.  Dave Finck engaged the electric motor, and we cruised silently along the northern shore. 
As we moved along, we came across a lone pelican on the water that did not fly away upon our approach.  Instead, the pelican remained nearly in place.  As we got closer, the great bird flapped off a few feet but did not fly.  It seemed that an injury prevented flight, and I wondered about its fate as the season deepens into winter.
As we watched the pelican, we suddenly found ourselves “high-topped” on a large rock just below the surface in water a few feet deep. This is a situation that can easily result in a capsize, especially in a large flat-bottomed canoe.  Fortunately, we were able to inch the canoe off the rock and continue into the waves.
There is an island in the western end of the lake, and we landed the canoe for a stroll along part of the shoreline.  Last year, we were able to walk around the island, but this year there was more water in the lake and more growth along the shore of the island.
Still, we did move about the shore and observed the tracks of birds and small animals, probably raccoons. 
Fighting the wind, we made our way back to the southern shore and coasted along in the lee toward the public access area. 
The wind today sometimes was just too much for even the electric motor on the canoe.  When broadside to the wind while crossing from north to south, we had to use paddles as well as the motor to keep from being blown into the rocks or the shore.  Finally, we decided to just rely on our paddling rather than fiddle with the electric motor.
Since the lake is rather small, we decided to return to the slough to check it out in more detail and then to go over the northeastern shore.  From there, we returned to the launching pad in the public access area and wrapped up the cruise.  Our time on the water this morning was just over an hour and a half.
I had been interested in the notion of motor-canoeing, and this experience with an electric motor was something that had appealed to me for some years. I don’t know that I would want to do a lot of motor-canoeing.  Dave told me that you have to be in calm conditions in order to enjoy the sensation.  As I think about it, I guess that physical exercise is one of my motivations for paddling; I suppose that motor-canoeing is sort of like sailing my kayak, a change of pace, something to add a new twist to cruising.  
For the complete set of photos of this cruise, please refer to my Flickr Account at the following URL: 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Split Rock Lake (MN)

It has been almost exactly one year since Dave Finck and I visited Split Rock Lake, an impounded section of Split Rock Creek – the stream than begins north near Pipestone and flows into the Big Sioux River south of Brandon, SD.
The lake is the centerpiece of Split Rock Creek State Park along Highway 23 just outside of the small town of Ihlen (MN), between Jasper and Pipestone. The park is a jewel: beautifully maintained with campgrounds, a swimming beach, fishing pier, a 2.5-mile hiking trail, and kayak rentals.  This little park is really a wonderfully tranquil spot that seems to me like a hidden treasure.  A Minnesota park sticker or a daily admission fee is required for entrance.
The fleet of rental boats available in the park is a special bonus.  The rental price is only $10 for four hours, and the park manager told us that midweek rentals are easy – they were all available while we were there.  Reservations for rental boats is not an option, they are first come, first served.
We arrived to a deserted lake, just as with most area waterways on a weekday late summer day.  The weather was magnificent: no wind, sunny skies, and a temperature of about 68 degrees.  It was a great day to be retired!
The lake is about .75 miles long from the dam at the southern end to the entrance of Split Rock Creek, then it extends north into the creek for another .75 miles.  At its widest spot, the lake is about .4 miles across.
There is an inlet on the east side of the lake that extends eastward for about .3 miles into the reeds until reaching a bridge that we could not pass – the water level was too high to permit passage of the canoe.
The lake gradually transitions into Split Rock Creek on the northern end.  We continued northwest until reaching a bridge on the eastside of Ihlen.  Passing under the bridge, we encountered the single wire of an electric fence, the same fence we found last year.  There was no passage possible under or around that fence.

The chief attraction of Split Rock Lake is the serene setting and the pleasing range of trees, bushes, and aquatic reeds.  Last year, we encountered a deer standing at the water’s edge.  This year, we did not see much wildlife: there were a few birds, including a great blue heron that flew up upon our approach.  Also, we saw a few groups of carp swimming along in shallow waters on the northern end of the lake.
There was plenty of depth to the lake this year.  The muddy eastern side and a rocky entrance into Split Rock Creek that we encountered last year were covered by much more depth this year.  We had no difficulty easily moving along the circumference of the lake, including the eastside inlet and the northern entrance to Split Rock Creek.
A hint of fall was in the air with some trees and bushes changing their color.  Those first signs of fall are like an electric prod for paddlers:  we need to get out on the water more often because a big change will be upon us in only a few weeks.  With fall, the long winter is on the horizon!
Our cruise this morning took us about an hour and a half, and we covered about five miles.  We stopped for lunch in Pipestone.  What a great way to begin the day!
The full set of photos for this cruise can be found at the following URL:
Dave Finck on Split Rock Lake

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

OLLI Paddling for Seniors

Over the past three years, I have been increasingly engaged in classes offered by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), a national lifelong learning program offered primarily for seniors throughout the nation.  A center has been established under the sponsorship of University Center here in Sioux Falls, and a wide range of programming is offered to the membership.  Part of the programming is a range of activities to promote fitness, especially for seniors.  A contribution of mine has been to offer sessions on kayaking and hiking in the Sioux Falls area. 
This morning, I presented a two-hour session on an introduction to kayaking.  It was held in collaboration with the Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls, a program of the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks.  We began with an orientation to kayaking in the auditorium and then moved to the large pond on the campus behind the main set of buildings for our on-water segment.
Ten OLLI members came to the session, most of them with no or very limited kayaking experience.  This was a first attempt in what seemed an interesting activity for them.
Working with me in the activity was Derek Klawitter, a SDGFP naturalist who is an experienced instructor in watercraft operation and safety.
Following the orientation, we all moved out to the boathouse by the pond.  Derek had already set out the kayaks needed for our class, and we fitted all participants with lifejackets and paddles. 
Derek and I helped all participants into the kayaks and launched them from the beach; they didn’t even have to get their feet wet. 
Soon all ten participants were on the water and padding easily about the pond.  There were small conversation groups for some, and others were happy to just move about the pond. 
While Derek supervised from the shoreline, I moved about the paddlers encouraging and coaching them.  Within minutes, the paddlers seemed to have picked up enough technique to easily move themselves along. There were lots of smiles and feeling of accomplishment, and a good time was had by all.
We spent about an hour and fifteen minutes on the water.  As the session concluded, the paddlers drove their boats up onto the shore and we pulled them up so that they could just step out of the kayak. Nobody even got their feet wet throughout the cruise.
This was a great opportunity for seniors to have a tailored introduction to kayaking, to try out the boats, and to consider whether they might want to continue with this fitness activity.
We in Sioux Falls are fortunate to have the Outdoor Campus and the OLLI program available for seniors.  The Outdoor Campus, by the way, is a gem for the community.  There are lots of paddling opportunities for anyone through the facilities of the Outdoor Campus, including paddling classes and opportunities at the campus pond, Family Lake, and the Big Sioux River.  They are even willing to put together special group events for those wishing to have a paddling experience.  More information is available at the Outdoor Campus website and through contact with the staff there.