Big Sioux River - South Dakota

Date: June 17, 2020; Length: 16 miles; Duration: 4 hours 15 min

Put In: Lien Park (Sioux Falls)

Parking lot with short walk to the side of the river. No designated ramp, but clear enough access available with the only concern being mud.

Takeout: Hwy 11/42 Landing

Parking lot off Hwy 42 with takeout on river right just before the bridge. Not a designated ramp, but still a manageable takeout at some rocks and grass. Short trail leads back to the parking lot.

Paddling Experience = 3/5

This 16-mile section of the Big Sioux was pretty flat but with some current to it. It was wide and shallow, but no scraping or portaging occurring.

Natural Scenery = 3/5

With it starting on the edge of Sioux Falls (most populated city in South Dakota), I wasn't expecting much for natural scenery. Surprisingly, it was typically banked with trees and didn't have houses right off the river. In some of the more open areas a few farms were a little farther off along with a couple well trafficked highways.

Wildlife = 4/5

I wasn't expecting wildlife to be something that stood out about this section of the Big Sioux but it was. I must of saw just about every bird natural to this area, with geese, ducks, hawks, eagles, and more. Throw a turtle and deer in there as well and it makes for more wildlife than expected.

Gradient & Water Level

Gradient: Unknown. Decent current at times.
Experience Paddling at this Water Level: Paddling at this water level was good. It wasn't too high and flooded, which would take a lot with its high mud banks much of the way. If anything it could have used some more water, with it just getting shallow at times, but never needing to portage or serious hazards to avoid.

Gauge Information

Here is information on stream gauge readings around the date of this paddle (Note: Sioux Falls gauge, located around the put in of this section):

  • USGS Number = 06482000
  • Discharge Rate = 560 CFS
  • Gauge Height = 3.15 ft

Overall Experience

Coming back east from some time in Colorado, I wanted to find a river in South Dakota worth paddling. Just outside of Sioux Falls is the Big Sioux River, which I planned to take from Lien Park to Hwy 42 Landing. It was a 16 mile section of the river that flowed northeast, then directly south and as a result making for a short hike of about half that distance beforehand. I parked my car in a parking lot just off the Hwy 42 bridge and hiked northwest into the edge of Sioux Falls, the most populated city in South Dakota, which was not part of the plan or desire. Once I got there though, it was an easy put in on the river edge at Lien park, with parking possible there.
After inflating my packraft and strapping down my backpack, I got on the river. Right away there were two fellow kayakers at the put in, which I was hoping wasn’t a sign of more to come but it was the opposite and the only other people I saw on the river. As for my time paddling on the Big Sioux, it felt similar to other more rural southern Wisconsin rivers I’ve been on. It had a muddy brown color and down bare trees at the edges or in the middle most of the way. It was wide and shallow and calm except for a couple riffles. Banks were lined with mud but also trees higher off the river, seeing signs for the variance in water levels. For being on the edge of a big city, the river had little human development right on the river, yet houses and highways farther off in sight. As for wildlife, I came across a big turtle and a deer and was consistently spotting birds. There were two groups of a dozen-plus geese, a family of ducks, a big group of Hawks in the air, and a handful of bald eagle sightings. The Big Sioux River Recreation Area is towards the end of the south stretch of this section, and where I camped the night before by several others, yet I didn’t spot anyone while paddling by. Some riffles came in the last mile and with them some strong upriver winds, but thankfully my takeout was close by.
The Hwy 42 bridge was next up with a spot on river right to takeout and a path leading up to the parking lot. I took out and carried my still inflated packraft back up the path and to my car. The winds were still strong as I was deflating and packing everything away, but I’d take it then over while paddling on the river. Overall, the highlight of the Big Sioux for me was just experiencing a river to South Dakota, no matter how similar it felt in ways to ones I’ve been on before and since.