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.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Big Sioux Recreation Area: Prairie Vista Trail - Early Spring

For the past several weeks our hiking has revolved around weekday visits to the Big Sioux Recreation Area (BSRA) and weekends at the Wegner Arboretum/Perry Nature Area. There is a popular route at the BSRA that begins at the gazebo and leads down the bike trail to the parking lot for the shelter at the bottom of the hill. From there, we generally take a path that leads to a couple of cabins within the camping area and onto the paved roads winding around the campsites. We move along the camping loop twice and then head back down the trail that leads to the shelter, back onto the bike trail, and on to the gazebo. That route takes us about an hour. On the weekends, the BSRA area option is heavily used by people who live in Brandon, many walking their dogs. So, on the weekend we normally shift our hiking to the arboretum on the far eastern side of Sioux Falls.
Today, we thought that the mud had dried up enough on the trails leading from the park shelter across the river to the Prairie Vista trail. While there was a little mud along the trail leading to the Big Sioux River, the edges were sufficiently dried out to easily make our way to the bridge over the river.
Once across the river, the trails were just perfect. We headed toward the ridge overlooking the river valley and turned left onto the archery trail that leads around the backside of the hill forming the ridge.
This is a very scenic stroll through the grasses and along a ravine that separates most of the archery targets from the trail. The trail circles around and offers a gradual climb up to the ridgeline. There are alternative ways up the hill, but this one adds something to the hike and provides great views of the grasses, trees, and elevation of the landscape.
Once up on the ridge, there is a spectacular view of the landscape along the Big Sioux River valley. It is easy to gaze up and down the landscape to see if there are any other people hiking along. This is a multi-purpose trail that allows for hikers, mountain bikes, and horses. Since we take out little dog with us on these hikes, it is good to be aware of any other people along the trail. Seen from that elevation, there is plenty of time to anticipate meeting anyone.
Along the ridge, there are two large old cottonwood trees. These trees can be seen from the park entrance far away on the horizon in silhouette. They are dominant features of the landscape, and a walk along the ridge leads past them. Over the last thirty years, I have come to see these magnificent trees as old friends.
A park bench is situated along the ridge near the point where the trail begins to descend toward the river. This is where we take a break and provide some water for our aging miniature poodle.
The trail then leads down off the ridge through wooded patches and plum bushes.
The lower trail follows the course of the river back toward the bridge. There are many good spots to view the river as it flows south. I have traveled that stretch of the river several times on a cruise from Lien Park in Sioux Falls to the canoe access point at the edge of the BSRA – a trip of about 12 miles.
We crossed over the bridge again and walked through the dry flood plain to the bike trail and then over the disc golf course to the shelter and the parking lot.
This walk up along the ridgeline is my favorite hike in the Sioux Falls area. Adding in the loop through the archery range provides a trip of about three miles. Most of my hiking is done on weekday mornings, and most of the time I don’t meet anyone else on the trip. I always anticipate the view across Brandon and into Minnesota. Sharp eyes, or binoculars, will pick up the wind generators near Beaver Creek, Minnesota. There is generally lots of bird life to see, especially large raptors riding the thermals from the hills forming the ridge.

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