Adventures on the Missouri River: Kayaking and Canoeing in South Dakota

Embarking on a journey through the winding waters of the Missouri River in South Dakota offers not only a chance for adventure but also a unique opportunity to connect with nature, history, and community. From the efforts of conservation and inclusivity to the rich tapestry of cultural heritage and the thrill of fishing, kayaking and canoeing in this region is a multifaceted experience. This article delves into the various aspects of paddling in South Dakota, highlighting key events, opportunities for involvement, and the sheer joy of being on the water.

Key Takeaways

  • The South Dakota Canoe and Kayak Association (SDCKA) plays a pivotal role in promoting paddling through conservation, education, and recreation.
  • Annual events like the Lake Sharpe Cleanup and the ‘Jake Jaunt’ memorial race combine environmental stewardship with community engagement.
  • Nighttime paddling events like the Full Moon Paddles offer unique experiences while emphasizing safety and preparation.
  • The Missouri River is a hotspot for anglers, with conservation efforts balancing the sport of fishing with nature’s sustainability.

Paddling with a Purpose: Conservation Efforts on the Missouri

Lake Sharpe Cleanup: Combining Fun with Environmental Stewardship

The annual Lake Sharpe Cleanup event is a prime example of how environmental stewardship can be both impactful and enjoyable. Volunteers gather along the shores of Lake Sharpe, a reservoir on the Missouri River, to remove litter and debris, contributing to the preservation of the river’s natural beauty and ecological health. This event not only helps protect the habitat for the diverse wildlife that calls the Missouri home but also ensures that the river remains a pristine destination for recreation and exploration.

Participation in the cleanup is straightforward and open to all who wish to lend a hand. Here’s what you can expect if you decide to join:

  • Pre-cleanup briefing: Organizers provide instructions and safety guidelines.
  • Supplies distribution: Volunteers receive gloves, bags, and other cleanup tools.
  • Teamwork in action: Groups spread out along designated areas to collect trash.
  • Post-cleanup celebration: A community gathering to thank participants and share experiences.

By taking part in the Lake Sharpe Cleanup, you’re not only enjoying the camaraderie of fellow nature enthusiasts but also contributing to the Missouri River’s history of conservation. The event is a perfect opportunity to explore the unique regions of South Dakota and experience the river’s various offerings, from steamboats and dams to state parks and outdoor adventures.

Adaptive Paddling: Inclusive Adventures for Everyone

The South Dakota Canoe & Kayak Association (SDCKA), a proud member of the Paddle America Club with the American Canoe Association (ACA), is at the forefront of making water sports accessible to all. The ACA’s commitment to serving the broader paddling public is evident in the educational and training events they offer nationwide, which SDCKA brings to local communities.

Adaptive Paddling programs are designed to ensure that individuals with physical or cognitive disabilities can participate in paddling sports. These programs provide specialized equipment, such as modified kayaks and canoes, along with trained instructors to create a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone.

These events not only offer a chance to enjoy the beauty of South Dakota’s waterways but also foster a sense of community and empowerment among participants. Whether you’re looking to try something new or seeking an inclusive activity, Adaptive Paddling opens up a world of adventure on the water.

Joining the Current: How to Get Involved with SDCKA

Membership Perks: Why You Should Join the SDCKA

Becoming a member of the South Dakota Canoe & Kayak Association (SDCKA) is more than just joining a community; it’s about embracing a lifestyle that cherishes the waterways and the great outdoors. Membership with SDCKA opens the door to a wealth of resources and experiences that cater to both novice and seasoned paddlers alike.

As a Paddle America Club member with the American Canoe Association, SDCKA provides access to top-notch education and training, ensuring that every adventure on the water is both safe and enjoyable. Members benefit from a calendar brimming with events, from serene full moon paddles to the adrenaline rush of the ‘Jake Jaunt’ race, each designed to deepen your connection with paddling and the environment.

Here are some of the standout benefits of joining SDCKA:

  • Exclusive invites to member-only events and trips.
  • Discounts on gear rentals and purchases at partner outlets like Nybergs ACE.
  • Opportunities to participate in conservation efforts, such as the Lake Sharpe Cleanup.
  • A supportive community that values safety, education, and the preservation of South Dakota’s waterways.

In addition to these perks, your membership supports vital conservation and educational programs that ensure the sustainability of paddling sports in South Dakota. By joining SDCKA, you’re not just part of a club; you’re part of a movement that promotes paddling, recreation, safety, education, and conservation in the region. Explore the diverse outdoor activities that South Dakota’s state parks offer, from camping in scenic landscapes to navigating the waters of the Missouri River. Whether you’re drawn to the Western, Central, or Eastern regions, unique experiences await.

Volunteer Opportunities: Making a Difference One Stroke at a Time

The South Dakota Canoe & Kayak Association (SDCKA) is not just about enjoying the serene waters of the Missouri River; it’s also about making a tangible impact on the environment and the community. Volunteering with SDCKA is a rewarding way to contribute to conservation efforts and ensure that the natural beauty of South Dakota’s waterways can be enjoyed by future generations.

As a volunteer, you’ll have the opportunity to participate in a variety of activities that align with your interests and skills. Whether it’s helping with river cleanups, assisting in adaptive paddling events, or supporting races like the ‘Jake Jaunt’, your efforts will help foster a culture of stewardship and inclusivity.

To get involved, simply reach out to SDCKA at or visit By joining the ranks of dedicated volunteers, you’re not just paddling; you’re powering a movement that cherishes and preserves the diverse outdoor activities South Dakota is known for, from hunting and fishing to horseback riding and biking across regions like Western, Central, and Eastern SD.

Upcoming Events: Mark Your Calendars for Paddling Fun

Kayaking South DakotaThe South Dakota Canoe and Kayak Association (SDCKA) offers a vibrant calendar of events for paddling enthusiasts. Stay updated and never miss out on the fun by marking these dates in your calendar.

For those looking to test their skills or enjoy a leisurely paddle, the Midwest Paddle Racing series is a must. With events like ‘The Gritty’ and ‘Kawloween’, there’s something for every level of paddler. Check out their website for more details and registration information.

  • June 1: Midwest Paddle Racing Shootout
  • July 20: ‘Jake Jaunt’ Memorial Race
  • September 14: The Gritty Growler
  • October 20: Midwest Paddle Racing Kawloween

The Full Moon Paddle events in Pierre, hosted by Patrick Wellner, are a unique experience not to be missed. Paddling under the night sky adds an element of adventure to the experience.

  • June 17: Full Moon Paddle
  • September 20: Full Moon Paddle
  • October 19: Full Moon Paddle

For those interested in conservation and community service, the Lake Sharpe Cleanup and the Adaptive Paddling days offer a chance to give back while enjoying the river.

  • July 10: Lake Sharpe Cleanup
  • August 1 & 15: Adaptive Paddling

Remember, dates may change due to weather or other factors, so joining the SDCKA Facebook group is the best way to stay informed. It’s also a great platform to connect with fellow paddlers, ask questions, and share experiences.

Navigating the Night: Full Moon Paddles in Pierre

Glowing Waters: What to Expect on a Full Moon Paddle

Embarking on a Full Moon Paddle in Pierre offers a serene and enchanting experience, as the moon’s silver glow casts a mystical light over the waters of the Missouri River. Prepare to be immersed in a tranquil atmosphere where the usual daytime bustle is replaced by the gentle lapping of water against your kayak and the distant calls of nocturnal wildlife.

The Full Moon Paddle events, organized by local enthusiast Patrick Wellner, are not just about the paddling; they’re a chance to connect with nature and the paddling community. These night-time adventures are scheduled around the full moon phases, ensuring that participants have the best natural lighting for their journey. Here’s what you can expect:

  • A guided tour that takes advantage of the full moon’s illumination
  • Opportunities to spot local wildlife that are more active at night
  • A unique perspective of the river’s landscape under the moonlight
  • A chance to meet fellow paddlers and share in the experience

Remember to reach out to Patrick Wellner for specific details and to secure your spot for an upcoming paddle. The dates are subject to change due to weather or other factors, so staying updated through the community’s Facebook page is highly recommended.

Preparation and Safety Tips for Nighttime Kayaking

Venturing out onto the water under the starry sky can be an enchanting experience, but it requires careful preparation and adherence to safety guidelines to ensure a memorable and secure outing. Always check the weather forecast before setting out, as conditions can change rapidly at night. It’s crucial to have a clear understanding of the weather to avoid being caught in a precarious situation.

When planning a nighttime paddle, visibility is key. Equip your kayak with proper lighting, such as a white light visible from all directions, to alert other vessels of your presence. Reflective tape on paddles and life jackets can also enhance visibility. Here’s a quick checklist to help you prepare:

  • Personal flotation device (PFD) for each paddler
  • White light and backup light source
  • Reflective tape on gear
  • Whistle or sound-producing device
  • Communication device (waterproofed)
  • First aid kit

Familiarize yourself with the paddling area during the day, especially if you’re new to the location. This will help you navigate more confidently in the dark. Additionally, paddle in a group if possible, as there is safety in numbers. Lastly, inform someone onshore of your plans, including your expected return time. By following these guidelines, you’ll be set for a safe and thrilling adventure on the glowing waters of the Missouri River during a full moon paddle.

Connecting with the Community: Patrick Wellner’s Paddling Initiatives

Patrick Wellner’s dedication to paddling in South Dakota goes beyond the water’s edge. As a central figure in organizing Full Moon Paddles in Pierre, Wellner has created a unique opportunity for community members to connect and enjoy the serene beauty of the Missouri River under the night sky. These events, marked on the calendars of local enthusiasts, are not just about paddling; they’re a platform for fostering a sense of camaraderie among participants.

Wellner’s initiatives are a testament to the power of community-driven efforts in promoting outdoor recreation and environmental appreciation. By providing a space for paddlers of all levels to gather, share experiences, and learn from one another, these initiatives contribute significantly to the local culture of paddling.

For those interested in joining the next Full Moon Paddle or other paddling events, staying updated is key. The South Dakota Canoe and Kayak Association (SDCKA) and platforms like Paddling Magazine are excellent resources. Here’s a snapshot of upcoming dates to keep in mind:

  • August 1 & 15: Adaptive Paddling – Terrace Park, Covell Lake
  • August 17: Full Moon Paddle – Pierre
  • October 19: Full Moon Paddle – Pierre

Remember, dates may change due to weather or other factors, so connecting with fellow members on Facebook is the best way to confirm plans. For direct inquiries, Patrick Wellner can be reached at his email provided in the event listings.

Cultural Currents: Exploring South Dakota’s Rich History

The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center: A Journey Back in Time

The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Chamberlain, South Dakota, serves as a gateway to the past, offering visitors a chance to immerse themselves in the epic journey of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Situated on the banks of the Missouri River, the center provides a comprehensive look at the explorers’ significant contributions to the mapping and understanding of the American West.

Visitors to the center can follow the footsteps of the historic expedition, gaining insights into the challenges and triumphs faced by the Corps of Discovery. The center’s exhibits and programs are designed to bring history to life, making it a must-visit for anyone interested in the early exploration of the United States.

Here’s what you can expect during your visit:

  • Engaging exhibits detailing the journey of Lewis and Clark
  • Artifacts and interactive displays that paint a vivid picture of the era
  • Educational programs that delve into the historical context of the expedition

Whether you’re a history buff, a nature enthusiast, or simply looking for a unique experience, the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center is a treasure trove of knowledge waiting to be explored. As you plan your visit, remember that South Dakota offers diverse attractions, including museums, parks, and regions that showcase the state’s rich history and unique experiences across Western, Central, and Eastern regions.

The Missouri River’s Role in South Dakota’s Heritage

The Missouri River is not just a body of water; it’s a central thread in the tapestry of South Dakota’s history. The river has been a lifeline for the region, providing essential resources for Native American tribes, early settlers, and modern communities alike. Its banks have witnessed pivotal moments that have shaped the state’s identity and development.

South Dakota’s Central Region, home to Pierre and Mobridge, is renowned for its outdoor adventures and rich heritage. The Missouri River, in particular, offers top hunting and fishing spots, inviting visitors to experience the natural beauty and historical significance of the area. The river’s influence extends beyond recreation, as it has played a crucial role in the state’s economy and cultural narrative.

Historical events such as the Great Sioux Uprising of 1862 and the construction of significant dams have left their mark on the region. These moments in history are not just footnotes; they are chapters that tell the story of resilience and transformation. The river’s presence has been a constant, shaping the lives of those who reside along its course and contributing to the unique character of South Dakota.

Fishing from the Flow: Angler’s Guide to the Missouri River

Casting into the Current: Top Fishing Spots Along the Missouri

The Missouri River, with its powerful currents and rich history, is a magnet for fishing aficionados. Lake Oahe, in particular, stands out as a premier destination, stretching over 231 miles and offering a variety of fish species. Anglers can expect to reel in walleye, northern pike, smallmouth bass, and catfish, among others.

South Dakota’s diverse landscapes provide a backdrop for numerous fishing hotspots. Here’s a quick guide to some of the top locations along the Missouri River:

  • Lake Oahe: Known for its massive size and abundant fish populations.
  • Lewis and Clark Lake: Offers a mix of tranquility and potential for trophy catches.
  • Francis Case Reservoir: A hotspot for walleye fishing, especially in the spring.

Each of these locations not only promises a bountiful catch but also a chance to connect with nature and enjoy the state’s scenic beauty. Whether you’re a seasoned angler or a novice, the Missouri River’s offerings are as vast as the river itself. Remember, South Dakota offers diverse hunting and fishing lodges in different regions like Western, Central, and Eastern SD, each providing a unique experience for visitors.

Conservation and Catch: Balancing Sport and Nature

The Missouri River is a treasure trove for anglers, offering a diverse range of fish species and picturesque fishing spots. However, the pursuit of the perfect catch must be balanced with conservation efforts to ensure the river’s health and biodiversity for future generations. Sustainable fishing practices are not just a choice but a responsibility for those who frequent these waters.

In South Dakota, the Department of Game, Fish and Parks actively promotes a ‘catch and release’ culture, particularly for species that are under environmental stress. This practice allows anglers to enjoy the thrill of the catch while contributing to the conservation of fish populations. It’s important to be aware of the local regulations and size limits, which are designed to maintain a healthy fish ecosystem.

Here are some tips for anglers to practice conservation-minded fishing:

  • Familiarize yourself with and adhere to all fishing regulations.
  • Use barbless hooks to minimize injury to fish.
  • Handle fish with wet hands and release them gently back into the water.
  • Support local conservation initiatives, such as habitat restoration projects.

By following these guidelines, anglers can enjoy the rich fishing experiences the Missouri River has to offer while playing a part in preserving its natural heritage. As highlighted in the article Restoring Balance: Grayling in the Lower 48 – A Fishing Life, similar conservation concerns have led to the Montana Arctic grayling being categorized as a fish of “special concern” due to its reduced numbers in the upper Missouri River.

Tournaments and Tales: Local Fishing Events and Stories

South Dakota’s Missouri River is not just a haven for anglers seeking the thrill of the catch; it’s also the stage for a variety of fishing tournaments that bring together the local fishing community. The camaraderie and competition at these events are as rich as the waters they fish.

From the adrenaline-pumping ‘Jake Jaunt’ memorial race to the family-friendly atmosphere at the Downtown Sioux Falls Riverfest canoe rides, there’s an event for every type of paddler and angler. The ‘Gritty’ hosted by Midwest Paddle Racing is a testament to the skill and endurance of participants, while the Full Moon Paddle offers a serene yet challenging experience under the night sky.

For those looking to mark their calendars, here’s a quick rundown of upcoming events:

  • July 20: ‘Jake Jaunt’ Jake Riter Memorial paddling race
  • August 16: Midwest Paddle Racing The Gritty
  • TBA: Downtown Sioux Falls Riverfest canoe rides
  • August 17: Full Moon Paddle in Pierre

Remember, whether you’re a seasoned pro or a novice, South Dakota offers accessible fishing with a simple license purchase. Explore hunting & fishing lodges in different regions for unique experiences. And don’t forget to sign up for updates on South Dakota happenings to stay informed about the latest events and conservation efforts.

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Great Faces. Great Places.

South Dakota is an incredibly unique state in that each region offers a completely different experience then the others. Check out each of the regions to see what each has to offer!


Western South Dakota

Featuring the Black Hills, Badlands, the Sturgis Rally. This region tends to be the most popular.


This region of South Dakota offers some of the best hunting and fishing in the entire central US. 

Eastern Region

The eastern region is home to the largest city in the state and provides visitors with a true "prairie" experience.