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, 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/