« The Great Outdoors

Almost Too Dry To Ride the River

by Cade

Just a day after I blogged about how great the Big Sioux River is for kayaking, it's now almost too low to paddle.  A group of 4 of us did the same route I did on Sunday.  57th & Western to 14th & Cliff through the bluffs of Sioux Falls.  

24 hours made a world of difference.  The river fell close to 3 feet in only a day.  There two big factors that play into this.  First of all, there is a construction diversion set up on the river that crosses Russell Avenue on the north side of town.  So, the only water that's in the river for our trip is that of which either fell from the sky or drained in from the area.  None of the actual river water makes it past the diversion.  All of that water flows east over the spillway by John Morrell.  Once construction is finally wrapped up on Russell, the Big Sioux should be much better for recreation. Secondly, the lack of any significant rainfall this summer.  If you want to kayak the Sioux Falls route, you have to be ready to go as soon as the rain stops.  Because, once the water runs through town, it's gone.  The high levels only remain for a short time.

The first sign of how far the river dropped was the appearance of rocks at the launch site.  Those same rocks were completely submerged the previous day.  That's always a good gauge as to how the rest of the river will be depth-wise.  No rocks = Good.  That means plenty of water.  Some rocks = OK.  You can make it through, but you might scrape the bottom a few times.  Lots of rocks = Awful.  Don't even bother.  Turn around and go home.  If you see more than a handful of exposed rocks at the 57th & Western launch point that means the river is low.  Like less than a foot deep, low.  That's no fun when you bottom out every few minutes.   However, just a few exposed rocks was not going to cancel our excursion.  Once we navigated past a few of those rocks, the river was rather smooth sailing for the next hour or so.  Keep in mind, just because you can't see the bottom of the riverbed, doesn't mean it's not shallow.  In fact, the deepest part of our route doesn't exceed six feet.  Most of the time we were in 1-3 feet of water.  Plenty deep enough for a kayak.

During the three hour trek, we encountered a pair of rapids.  Far from raging, the rapids were rather docile.  What made them so dangerous was lack of water.  Our kayaks barely cleared each set.  Lots of scraping, but thankfully, no rocks penetrated our watercraft.

Our group consisted of three seasoned kayakers and one virgin paddler.  I was hoping the river would be deep, fun and fast for the newbie.  I've been out kayaking is sub-par conditions along with first-timers before.  It's not fun for anyone involved.  And, chances are that they won't want to ever try it again.  With the exception of a few low spots and the lack of any significant current, it was another solid trip.  The new guy was hooked and he will definitely try it again.  It's fun to be able to share my passion with my best of friends that way.