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.

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/

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