State 4 of 50 South Dakota: Redwater River

Fun rapids, swift current, clean water – one portage
Date Paddled:  August 5, 2016
Nearest City: Belle Fourche
Put-In:   Old Belle Road Bridge
Take-Out: Wyatt Campground
Duration: 3 hours
River Miles: 6.5
Shuttle: 6 miles
Weather: low 80’s, low humidity
Difficulty:   .75 flatwater, quickwater, Class I, Class II
Cfs: 130

As we looked for rivers to paddle in South Dakota and especially in the Black Hills area, it soon became clear that there is very little water in this part of the state after the spring freshet. We did note on the American Whitewater website, that the Redwater River was running. The Redwater River was created long ago by flood waters that were instrumental in forming the western part of South Dakota and especially the Black Hills.

We were excited to be paddling whitewater, but had fairly low expectations for scenery since the Belle Fourche area is on the northern side of the Black Hills. We were however, pleasantly surprised.  The scenery was quite intriguing even in those locations skirting farmlands. The banks were everywhere decorated in wildflowers and the distant views were engaging.

The first couple of miles were quite challenging. There were some class II rapids that normally would be plain old fun, but the river was very narrow and filled with meanders. Since we had no idea if a strainer was ahead or if the water we were hearing was riffles or class II, it lead to some adrenaline filled moments!DSCN2109 (2)

DSCN2110 (2)Fortunately, there was always a way around the few strainers. As the paddle continued, the meanders weren’t quite as tight and the river was a bit wider, so we relaxed.DSCN3043Occasional distant views stretched far and away.DSCN2115Even the farmlands were made more interesting by our bovine neighbors.DSCN3033Our least favorite part was a nearly mile-long stretch where the river backed up behind a dam. The dam is quite a drop so we  took the easy portage path around it.  Since this dam was built to divert water into the local irrigation ditches, the river below the dam, robbed of some of its flow, became a bit scratchy.DSCN3059There was not much more left of the paddle after that as we beached at the campground and packed up to head to Colorado with the Colorado River on our minds…..IMG_2556

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