Exploring the Parks and Nature Areas Around Sioux Falls

Sioux Falls has 76 named parks throughout the city that range from small sites suitable for neighborhood gatherings and playgrounds to large well developed nature centers such as Great Bear Recreational Park, Arrowhead Park, the Wegner Arboretum and East Sioux Falls Historical Site, and the linked park system along the Big Sioux River. The state provides outdoor recreation areas and state parks including the Big Sioux Recreation Area, Beaver Creek Nature Area, Lake Alvin Recreation Area, Newton Hills State Park, and the Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls that is a joint city/state operation.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Great Bear Recreation Park: The Northeast Loop Trail: Early Winter

The first snowfall of the season began this morning in Sioux Falls. Great Bear Recreation Park is about to assume its winter role as a regional skiing site; the park began “making snow” this week, two inches or so fell today, and the temperatures are expected to be chilly this next week, all of which supports the early opening of the park for winter sports activities.
So, my wife and I decided to take our Saturday hike at Great Bear, along the northeastern loop (Cactus Hill), as probably our last hike in this park for the season. Great Bear is one of the primer hiking locations within the Sioux Falls area and is part of the city parks department. There are two general pathways to take on a hike at Great Bear. The more comfortable and accessible route is to park near the lodge and walk down to the pond and continue along a loop of improved trail. There are several extensions along this trail; my favorite is to hike up the steep slope that leads to the top of a ridge overlooking much of northeast Sioux Falls. There is a branch trail that leads along the ridge to a bench and mounted map that points out major buildings clearly visible from this elevated point. There are a couple of other extended hikes over two rows of hills that extend east. These trails are rated as “most difficult,” but I enjoy making my way through the woods and up and down the slopes.
Access to the northeastern loop is either through the parking lot adjacent to the lodge or from the parking lot near the entrance to the archery range. With operations at the lodge gearing up for the season, we parked at the small lot near the entrance to the archery range and walked up to the trail.
This trail is rated as “more difficult” on the Great Bear hiking map and circles around a meadow before leading up the slope through the forest. The trail passes along a ravine and moves through a tunnel of trees to a rather steep climb leading to another upland meadow.
Crossing the meadow, the trail leads over to the edge of the archery range and then continues down the slope.
There is a fork in the trail with a branch leading deeper into the woods on a downward slope. The other fork continues along the border of the archery range past the clubhouse for a local archery club. There is signage along the way to indicate the border of the range so that a hiker doesn’t stray off the path. These trails join together again at the bottom.
We took the trail through the woods that leads down to the bottom of the hill and then winds along the lower meadow. There is a bench along the lower trail near a pathway that takes a hiker back to the lodge parking lot. We only went down that trail to check out the extent of snow pack that has been developed for the opening ski season. Our hike this afternoon was for about 1.5 miles and took us about 40 minutes.
Great Bear offers the opportunity to get a glimpse of wildlife in the area. We have seen many deer, an occasional coyote, turkeys, a skunk, and lots of birdlife. The area is heavily wooded, but the trails are very well maintained. The park is popular with hikers during the spring, summer and fall months. The original purpose of the park was winter activities, and skiing and snowboarding characterize park activity from December through March. I like to go to the lodge on a winter weekend to have a cup of hot chocolate and watch the activity. This winter I plan on using my snowshoes at Great Bear and will describe that experience in a month or so.
Great Bear is on the northeast of Sioux Falls along Rice Street toward Brandon. It is one of the outdoor jewels of Sioux Falls and is in our regular hiking rotation. I generally visit the park twice a week during the hiking season.

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