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.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Mary Jo Wegner Arboretum/Perry Nature Area: Dec. 2012

The Mary Jo Wegner Arboretum combined with the Perry Nature Area is in the process of a major design and construction phase that will provide one of the premier park sites in Sioux Falls.  Minnehaha County has joined with the city to provide this combined park site that is now managed by the city. 
My wife and I have considered this one of our key hiking areas within the city, and we visit the site at least once a week most of the year.  The weather in Sioux Falls has been exceptionally mild so far this fall and hiking possibilities have been extended.  This afternoon, we drove out to the Arboretum – our third time in less than a week. The temperature was about 50 degrees, the sun was bright, and winds were negligible.
The major change taking place currently at the Arboretum is within the redesigned entry and parking area.  The Mabel and Judy Jasper Educational Center is in the final phase of construction and provides a focus for visitors to the site. Interpretive signage is in place around the structure offering an historical overview of East Sioux Falls.
Our hike began in the parking lot of the Center and headed east along the old railway bed leading toward the steel building housing the Fraternal Order of Police. 
From the road running between the FOP building and the Big Sioux River, a trail leads down onto the large field to the north.  A pathway runs along the perimeter of the field with the river visible through the bare trees. 
This field road or pathway leads around the field to the west.  An old bridge over the Big Sioux River is visible within the woods; the bridge is now privately owned and not accessible.  The park border extends to the shore along the river, but Iowa land is across the river and the bridge now belongs to a property owner.
There is a line of woods between the fields that are part of the arboretum/nature center and the river, and we hiked through these woods along the bed of a draw that probably runs with water during the spring or in wet years.  Now, it is dry and filled with fallen leaves within a grove of bare trees.
We made our way through the trees for a time and then exited the grove onto the second field/meadow on the western end of the site.  There was a pathway/field road along the edge of this field as well, and we continued along until we reached a creek flowing under the main gravel road that runs through the Perry Nature Area. 
There is a picnic shelter provided just off the road and adjacent to the creek running through the area.  We generally stop at this shelter for a break during our hikes.  This is generally where our elderly miniature poodle takes a few sips of water while we are seated at one of the picnic tables.
Our hike route then takes up south across the creek again and along a trail heading west through a lowland section.  This is a part of the park that is especially popular with area birders. 
The trail passes the remains of a home from many years ago.  This part of the hike passes through private property that is not a part of the park, but it is regularly used by hikers as they move through the woods and back up onto the old rail-bed pathway.
We moved east along the old elevated rail-bed pathway toward the entrance to the park.  This pathway runs parallel to Highway 42, with the highway on the right side and an overlook through the woods into the main part of the park on the left.
This section of the trail ends at the road leading into the park.  Turning left, one can continue along to the shelter at the top of the hill. 
Our hike this afternoon took about one and a-half hours.  It was really a great stroll through a varied landscape. 
This a wonderful time to hike the trails of the arboretum/nature area, a time before the snow covers it all for the next several months.  Even then, however, I like to use this setting for snowshoeing.  There is plenty of open space for snowshoeing in a variety of terrain.  My old rawhide and wood snowshoes from yesteryear are hanging in the garage ready for the first winter hike over snow covered fields, trails, and along the river.
For those interested in how my current observations compare to those made a year ago, please check out the narrative identified in the index of area hiking possibilities listed on the right side of the blog.

The complete set of photographs taken on the hike today can be seen on my Flickr page at the following URL:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/jayheath/sets/72157632170631469/

Friday, November 16, 2012

Palisades State Park - Split Rock Creek Trail

It has been several years since we visited Palisades State Park, and then it was to wander along a short trail through great quartzite rock formations along the creek.  While these formations are stunning, we wanted to try out the longer hiking trail that begins in the picnic area south of the 1908 historic bridge and runs up and down the steep slopes and upstream along the course of Split Rock Creek past the camp lodge building.

The park manager at the Big Sioux Recreation Area recommended this hike to me yesterday, and we decided visit Palisades State Park this afternoon.

Palisades State Park is the second smallest park in the state.  The 157 acres of the park stretches a couple of miles, mostly on the eastern side of Split Rock Creek.  While the major rock formations for which the park is named are on the west side of the park, the camping and picnic areas and Split Rock Creek Trail are on the east side.

Split Rock Creek Trail begins in the parking lot along the “South Wall” and moves down a steep rocky slope and then back up to the historic bridge over the creek and along the road that leads to another hiking trail on the western side that passes through the rock formations.  

We set out heading upstream along a rocky trail that lead down to the creek and then continued north.  The trail varied from an easy pathway to a more rugged climb up and down the rocky slope.  The climb was more than our little miniature poodle could easily handle, and it became necessary at times for me to carry him along in my arms.

Part of the pathway was easy walking along the creek, only to enter another series of climbs over rocky terrain as we continued upstream.

There are great views from elevated points along the pathway.  My wife, Marsha, was apprehensive about our dog falling down a crevice or over a cliff and landing either in the rocks or in the creek. 

The trail continues past a large lodge owned by the park department and rented for large gatherings.  The lodge is up on a hill overlooking the creek valley, and the trail moves past an entrance up the slope to the building.  Continuing north, the end of the park comes into view with some private homes situated just upstream. 

At that point, we returned along a groomed trail and went up the slope to visit the lodge site.  That was a good point to give our little dog some water and the take stock of out progress.  It took us about 45 minutes to hike to the northern end of the park and then back to the lodge. 

We descended back down the trail to the creek and walked south until locating a trail that lead up the hill to the camping area along a paved road through the park.  There are a number of camping cabins along this road, and we walked along until we got to the parking lot downstream from the historic bridge. 

Our walk this morning was about one and a-half hours.  There was a lot of up-and-down climbing along the rocky pathway as well as a good long walk along the entire trail and paved road back to the parking lot.  Our legs were tired, and we felt that we had a great workout on the hike.  I would classify the path we took as one of the more rugged in the area.

We saw two other parties hiking through the park; otherwise, we seemed to be alone.  There was some birdlife to observe during our walk, most notably a hawk roaming about over the surface of the creek.

Palisades State Park is located near Garretson, maybe 20 miles or so from our eastside Sioux Falls home.  The trail we took was a great hike, and we enjoyed it very much.  In the past I have visited the rock formations and will again stroll through that fascinating landscape on our next visit. 

The full set of photographs of this hike can be found on my Flickr account at the following URL:

Further information from the SDGFP can be found at the following URL:

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Beaver Creek Nature Center: Late Fall 2012

Beaver Creek Nature Area offers one of the prime hiking sites around Sioux Falls.  My family and I have hiked the trails of this state owned nature area for over thirty years, and it remains a favorite of 

Our typical hike at Beaver Creek begins at the shelter on the east side of the park.  The Homesteader Nature Trail begins just off the parking lot and moves over an old bridge across Beaver Creek. 

The trail continues along the east and then south side of the creek, moving along a pathway through the woods and climbing in elevation over the creek.  This section of the trail had been closed for the past couple of years after serious bank collapse following a year of heavy rains.  During the closure, an alternative route was developed, and that route is still an option for hikers.  I like the original route, however, with its great view of the creek and the landscape.

The trail winds steadily along the twisting creek course, rising in elevation up a reinforced path with an overlook through the trees.  Today, the path was carpeted with fallen leaves and the sightlines were clear through the bare tree branches.   There are a couple of lesser-traveled pathways that also lead up to the highlands overlooking the creek, but our preferred route is the well-traveled main trail.

Today, we were alone in the park.  It was just Marsha and me and our little miniature poodle.  Our dog is approaching fifteen years now and has slowed down a lot.  On our walks, though, he slips back into old habits of vigor, great energy, and keen interest.  His hearing and sight have deteriorated, and he doesn’t seem to hear our commands – or he has developed “selective hearing.”  He now seems to race ahead of us and lead us down the pathways rather than walking close at hand.  Still, these walks are almost a canine fountain of youth for him.

The pathway moves up to the highlands of the park along a ridge overlooking the creek and the plain below.

The landscape changes on the ridge so that there is more open space along one side with the woods on the other. 

Continuing along the trail, the path moves back down a slope, arriving at a suspension bridge over a deep ravine.

The trail then moves up the slope to a point where set-in steps lead down to the valley floor.  The floor is heavily wooded and has always seemed like a fairyland to us. 

Continuing along the valley floor, the path continues back to the banks of Beaver Creek where it links up with the trail network and leads to another bridge over the creek.

Turning left after crossing the bridge, the path leads along the creek shoreline to a second parking lot where the homesteader cabin is located.

The cabin is located in a large open area where restrooms and picnic tables are located.  This area was homesteaded around 1870, and the existing cabin was built soon thereafter. 

A major family-style activity sponsored by the South Dakota Game Fish and Parks and the Siouxland Heritage Museum is held on this site each September – Homesteader Day.  This event usually has music provided by the South Dakota Old Time Fiddlers; lots of “old timey” crafts, such as candle making and blacksmithing; a show by the Civil War re-enactors; and tours of the cabin by docents.  It is really a fine activity, and my family has enjoyed it many times over the years. 

The hiking trail is about 1.5 miles long, and doubling back from the cabin to the east parking lot probably brings the hike up to two miles.  We usually sit around a picnic table in the cabin area for a few minutes at the end, so our total time is about an hour and fifteen minutes for the hike.

This dirt trail is classified by the SDGFP as “very difficult, extremely hilly, very uneven surface.”  There is always the possibility of seeing wildlife along the path. Today we saw a deer flashing through the woods.  The Beaver Creek Nature Area is very popular with local birders.  The YMCA also uses these trails in the summer for their adventure hikes.

Additional information about Beaver Creek Nature Area can be found on the SDGFP web site at the following URL: http://gfp.sd.gov/state-parks/directory/beaver-creek/docs/beaver-creek-trails.pdf

The full set of photos of the hike today can be seen on my Flickr account: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jayheath/sets/72157632013166422/

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Newton Hills State Park: Woodland Trail

Newton Hills State Park, just south of Canton, is one of the most popular and attractive parks in Southeastern South Dakota. While the park itself is wonderful, the distinctive feature of the site is the rolling hills amid hardwood forests.  The park is the site for the annual Sioux River Folk Festival.  Lake Lakota is also part of this park, although it is not contiguous with the main park grounds.  The attraction of Newton Hills for hikers is the set of trails that wind their way through the hills on the western side of the park.  While the park is about 25 miles south of Sioux Falls, it is one of the primer hiking areas in this part of the state and well worth the half hour drive from the city.

My wife and I normally do an annual hike along the trails of Newton Hills, and yesterday we took off with our seven-pound miniature poodle for a stroll along the Woodland Trail.  The day was glorious with a temperature of about 70 degrees, light wind, and sunny skies.

Our hike began in the main section of the park, just past the stage where the folk festival is held.  A trail leads down the slope, curving along the hill and through the forest along a dirt trail down to the paved road that circles through the lower part of the park.

The trip down the hill to the paved road takes about ten minutes.  The trail is sometimes steep, although it winds down the hill and has a wooden railing at places. Our little dog has congestive heart failure and is over 14 years old, so he sets the pace for us.  Even with his limitations, however, he sets a good pace for his elderly owners.

At the bottom of the hill, just across the road, the trail continues over a suspension bridge and leads into the forest along Sargeant Creek, a dry creek between the paved road and the trail.

This portion of Woodland Trail is well developed for hiking and moves along through a heavily wooded landscape.  In mid-September, the leaves were falling and there was tranquility about the land.  As we ascended the hillside, the landscape was carpeted with brown fallen leaves. 

The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks rates Woodland Trail as “somewhat difficult, strenuous in areas.”  The length of that section from the suspended bridge through the woodland is rated at ¾ of a mile with a walking time of one hour. An additional 20 minutes can be added for the section of the trail leading back up over the hill and through the forest to the main part of the park.

At regular intervals along the trail, there are location markers that offer a graphic depiction of the trail with present location indicated:  “you are here.”

The trail is a loop that moves up from the dry creek along a terraced path toward a hilltop bench located in the midst of a red sumac patch.

Reaching the bench is about half way along the trail, and soon it begins to move downhill through a fairyland of tall trees, a dry gulch, a carpet of leaves and decaying tree trunks.  This downhill portion of the trail is my favorite section.  It is an easy path, and the landscape is a beautiful sight.

Woodland Trail intersects with Turkey Trot Trail that leads further north for another half mile or so and meets the horse trail section at a shelter.  Yesterday, we did not continue along Turkey Trot Trail, but we have done so in the past.  That is a good extension for a hike, especially if a person drove to the trail head along the lower paved road rather than beginning above in the main section of the park.

There is a good deal of wildlife at Newton Hills, especially along the trails.  On this hike, however, we only saw a few birds, squirrels, and rabbits.  Since our hike was on a Friday morning after the summer vacations, I was not surprised to find us alone on the trails. We enjoy the feeling of solitude as we move along such hiking trails.

For the hiker in the Sioux Falls area, walking the Woodland and Turkey Trot trails is really an essential component of an annual hiking routine.  Newton Hills is one of the primer attractions in the area. Those interested in the complete set of photographs describing this hike in Newton Hills can access them on my Flickr account at the following URL:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/jayheath/sets/72157631535588896/