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Paddling the Cheyenne through the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands

An SDPB water sports specialist navigates the wily Cheyenne River.

There are paddlers who slog the Big Muddy and those who ride the white wavelets of Rapid Creek, but what about the slow-water rivers that flow East toward the Missouri — the Grand, Moreau, White, Cheyenne and Bad?

You don't hear many a paddler's tale about these rivers, and there are reasons. Access can be an issue. The navigable season is short, even in a wet year. Neck-level barbed wire is a hazard.

If you're willing to negotiate the obstacles, there are spans of the Cheyenne and White that run through pristine portions of Southern Hills and Badlands. Your SDPB Outdoors correspondent previously hipped you to the stretch of the Cheyenne that cuts through the Wild Horse Sanctuary.

Further east, you can access the river via Forest Service Roads in the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. Your correspondent started just north of the bridge near Red Shirt, on FS 7053E, a short pull-off to the West off Route 40. There's an easy takeout at the confluence with Battle Creek (catfishing?), accessible via a series of nameless Forest Service two-tracks (43.68881, -102.81586).

This route covers approximately eight river miles and passes alternately through grassy knolls where the river gashes a squid ink-black path through exposed Pierre Shale, into the arid outer badlands. A beaver kept pace for a mile or so with your correspondent. A pair of nesting bald eagles screeched as if protecting eggs or eaglets. Mother mergansers and Canada geese escorted their fuzzy young. There is one barbed wire hello, and many sandbars. People will almost certainly be absent entrirely.

A longer route could be achieved from the Red Shirt put-in to near the Creston Dinosaur, in one long day or with one night camped out on the Grassland.