Lost On The Little Sioux River

It was a beautiful Sunday in early fall. My wife and I had been in Arnold’s Park visiting my parents. We’d brought along my solo canoe so I could paddle a local river on the way home. I needed a river route to highlight in an upcoming issue of Canoeing Iowa, the magazine I’d started publishing a few years earlier. Every three or four months I produced an issue that detailed a twenty or thirty mile stretch of river in Iowa so other people could plan outings for themselves.

Map of the section of the Little Sioux River
Map of the section of the Little Sioux River

This weekend the plan was to have Susie drop me off at Westcott Park in Cherokee on the Little Sioux River and pick me up at Ranney Knob Recreation Area near Washta. I would be paddling about twenty-two miles. With the current to push me along I estimated the trip would take me about six or seven hours. There were three or four other county parks with river access along the route so when she dropped me off at nine am, I reassuringly said, “I’ll see you in a few hours at the first park. Just hang out and wait for me there so we can gauge my progress.”

“Alright. You be careful and don’t get lost,” she said.

I gave her a quizzical look and responded, “Um. It’s a river, it goes in one direction. How could I get lost?” I responded.

“I don’t know, just don’t,” she said as she hopped in the car and left me at the boat ramp.

I threw a dry bag of food and a few extra items I might need into the canoe. Dropped two cameras on top of the pile and pushed off.

My canoe glided down the river effortlessly and it wasn’t long before I’d left the houses of Cherokee behind me. I casually meandered my way down the slow-moving western Iowa prairie stream. The river was shallow, but I easily maneuvered left or right to keep my canoe in the deeper water and use whatever current I could find.

Outside of Cherokee the valley of the Little Sioux opens up and it gave me the opportunity to view the beautiful, rolling hillsides. Pastures and fields of grass with sparse timber were more prevalent here than the more heavily timbered banks and shores of eastern or even central Iowa rivers.

While the view was pleasant, the open terrain brought something to my attention I hadn’t noticed among the buildings of town; a blustery headwind. It sent small ripples of water back upstream and slowed me down considerably. By noon I should have been to Silver Spring Recreation Area about nine-and-one-half miles from my put-in, but I hadn’t seen it yet. About an hour later I passed under the bridge and inched my way past the river access. I looked for Susie and the car in the park, but they were nowhere to be seen. “That could be bad,” I thought to myself as I paddled on.