Trip OverviewI grew up spending weekends every summer at Lake Tschida in Western North Dakota. I've always wanted to boat down the Heart River west of Lake Tschida, starting at a bridge about 10 miles north and west of the lake, but I didn't have a canoe or kayak and knew the water was way too shallow for our boat. This past winter I bought kayaks for myself, my wife and my son. My birthday was last Thursday, and one of my birthday "wishes" was to kayak the Heart River this weekend. Saturday morning we packed lunches, waters and some other provisions, and my wife took me, my 9 year-old son and a lake neighbor / friend out to the bridge.
As we crossed the bridge, a pick-up came down the hill from the opposite direction, slowing to meet us. As I got out of my car, the driver pulled up and greeted us. He asked what we're up to (as if the kayaks on the trailer weren't a pretty clear indication), and I told him we were trying to figure out how we were going to get our kayaks down to the water. He gave us permission to back up about 200 feet, open the gate, close it behind us, and drive down close to the water, a little downstream. This is what we did, and it was really slick. He also told us we should have done the trip a week earlier, because the water was about a foot higher, after some recent rain.
We put in at about 10:20 a.m. The river current surprised me, because you can barely feel a current closer to the lake (where I've been swimming and skiing many times).
This was my first, ever, long paddle. It was a long, six-hour paddle, and my 9 year old got tired out a couple times during the trip. Things we experienced along the way: beautiful, tall cliffs, light "rapids," lots of fish, a turtle, some cattle in the river at one point (they heard us talking as we approached and moved out of our way), two bald eagles, some ducks, a turkey vulture and several beaver dams. There were also maybe three or four sets of very light "rapids," which were fun to cross. I'd never gone over any rapids in a kayak, so this was probably a nice, mellow introduction.
My son put a fishing line in at one point and caught a big, strong fish that pulled his kayak all over the place. I don't know what it was, but suspect it was a catfish. I didn't get to see it. It broke his fishing line and disappeared with his fancy lure. He said he didn't want to fish anymore after that, because he thought it was pretty cool that he'd caught a fish after only fishing for a few minutes and didn't want to spoil the experience.
There were probably 3 or 4 points where each of us got "hung up" in shallow water. It was never a big deal, though. For all but one, all I had to do was put my fists down into the sand and "scoot" myself off the sandbar. I only had to get out of the boat once to get off the sandbar. We also had to cross a couple barbed wire fences and one electrified fence along the way. (The farmer had warned us about the electrified fence, and told us which side of the river would be better for going underneath it.) I'm thinking those fences might all be illegal, but I don't know. Either way, they weren't much trouble to cross, so I'm not going to worry about it. That's cattle country out there, and those ranchers do need to keep track of their stock.
In the second half of our journey, as we got closer to the lake, we also came upon a young fellow and his date -- who'd decided to "get away from the crowds on the lake" -- parked on a beach with their personal watercraft (PWC). Later we also came upon a couple pontoons full of weekend partiers, a North Dakota Game and Fish Department (like a DNR) officer, and a couple more PWC's. Otherwise, we didn't see a soul for the whole 6 hours.
We had arranged to have someone (our spouses) pick us up at the mouth of the river with a pontoon, and tow us back to the cabin. A couple miles before the mouth I sent a text message to my wife asking them to come get us. (She got the message, by the way, which surprised me considering how remote the river is.) I'm glad I did that, because there was lots of wind and big waves on the lake, and the 9 year-old was pretty wiped out after the long paddle in the heat.
I'd estimate it would have taken another 3 to 4 hours to paddle the rest of the way to the cabin area. I know my son didn't have it in him to go that much further, and I might not have, too. I'll need to get in a little better shape before I try that.
All in all, it was a great experience, and I hope to do it again. Maybe I'll make it an annual Birthday adventure.
Accommodations:There are no accommodations and no facilities. We did see a porta-potty / spiffy-biff about 50 or 75 feet up a river bluff at one point, but we had no idea what it was doing "out in the middle of nowhere."
Fees:No, though I would recommend asking the farmer for permission to open his gate to get your kayaks down to the water near the starting point.
Directions:From the Crappy Creek area on the North side of Lake Tschida, drive back out to Highway 49 and head back towards Glen Ullin. There's a road (51st St. SW) that goes to the West, immediately on the North side of "Heart Butte." (http://tinyurl.com/Hwy49and51stStSW) Turn west there, following 51st St SW for about 10 miles (the road has a couple bends and turns in it). Once you've gone the 10 miles, you'll see the river valley to your left/south, and the bridge and road as it goes up the other side of the valley. You'll need to take a left turn (I think it's 77 1/2 Avenue), or you'll end up heading North, towards Hebron, away from the river. The bridge is about a quarter mile south/west from that turn.
As we got out of our car to figure out how we'd get our kayaks down to the water, we happened to meet the land owner who owns the land to the west of the river of the bridge. He gave us permission to open a gate about half-way back towards the intersection where we'd just turned. We were able to open the gate, drive through (closing the gate behind us) and drive our trailer in closer to the water. You can see where we put in in about the middle of this satellite photo link http://tinyurl.com/HeartKayakStart. You can also pan around to see the area.
Resources:No. Had looked at the route on my GPS cell phone mobile Google Maps program before going. Did not have cellular service for most of the trip, but the maps were still in cache. I looked at that occasionally, just to check our progress.
- Skill Level: Beginner
- Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)