Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is just shy of half way between Minneapolis – where I’m coming from – and Rapid City, South Dakota – where I’m going. Driving straight through is doable, but I decide to stop in Sioux Falls, have lunch, see a few sights, stay the night and head out the next day.
This is supposed to be a vacation after all.
My first stop is the Visitor Information Center, located in the city’s famous Falls Park. I ask about a good place to have lunch and where they suggest I go for a leisurely afternoon of sightseeing.
The centerpiece of the park is a beautiful cascading falls that has been the center of recreation and industry since the founding of the city in 1856. The hiss of the water is soothing after several hours of driving; I am already glad I made the stop.
At the suggestion of a helpful woman at the visitor’s center, I have lunch at Falls Overlook Café housed in what once served as the Sioux Falls Light and Power Co. building, completed in 1908. The power company used the falls and mill race from nearby Queen Bee Mill to power its generators to produce electric for the frontier city.
After a delicious salad, I am off to the first attraction: The Sertoma Butterfly House and Marine Cove.
I wanted relaxing and I found relaxing. Walking through lush gardens with colorful insects flitting from flower to flower is always a joy to me. But the butterflies aren’t the only stars. In a separate area are aquariums filled with tropical fish and coral, and a shark and stingray touch pool.
Children clamor around the pool to get a close-up look and then move on to the pop-up dome aquarium that offers them a close-up look at the fish swimming around their heads.
After an hour or so I decide to walk across the street and investigate The Outdoor Campus, a joint project of the South Dakota Department of Game Fish and Parks and the City of Sioux Falls Parks and Recreation Department.
As I enter the massive glass-fronted building, a group of young archers file by with their instructor. I soon learn this is a “try-it” destination, a gateway to a lifetime of outdoor adventures.
According to the website, “through the careful guidance of staff and volunteers, you will find yourself drawn into activities you had never considered: hunting and fishing, cross-country skiing, shooting a bow and arrow, cooking wild game in a Dutch oven, gardening for butterflies and more.”
For me, I took a hike around a lake where children are learning to canoe.
My last stop of the day is southeast of the city. I set my GPS and head for South Dakota's newest state park, Good Earth at Blood Run, a National Historic Landmark.
What I find are meadows filled with yellow and purple and pink and orange blossoms.
I start down a wide path into the meadow and begin to photograph the flowers. The park straddles the Big Sioux River in Iowa and South Dakota.
The website explains “the river, abundant wildlife and wood for fuel, fertile flood plains, availability of catlinite (pipestone) and protection from winds made the area a crossroads of Native American civilization from A.D. 1300 to 1700 and possibly even longer.
“Occupants were primarily Oneota Indigenous Peoples, including Omaha, Ioway, Oto and Yankton Sioux Tribes. The site is a time capsule of Indigenous culture. No other Oneota site of such size and integrity is known to exist in the United States.”
I continue my walk, alone, surrounded by flowers, rustling leaves and birdsong, the perfect way to end my Sioux Falls adventure.
Back at the motel, I settle in with my take-out food, a soda and a brochure outlining everything there is to do in the city. I’m glad I chose a ‘natural’ adventure, but visitors have so many other options as well.
For example, take the Sioux Falls Trolley, stop and admire the sculptures along downtown streets and go shopping at locally owned boutiques and gift shops. Into history? Explore the South Dakota African American History Museum, Sioux Empire Medical Museum, and Pettigrew House and Museum.
For culture, the city offers the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra, Main Stage Ballet & Dance Academy and several art galleries. There’s a lot for families to do as well from miniature golf to go-cart racing.
So if you’re on your way west, or you’d like to travel to a friendly city with lots to offer for a weekend or a week, consider Sioux Falls.
If you go:
Falls Park Visitor Information Center is located at 900 N. Phillips Avenue; (605) 367-7430.
Comfort Inn & Suites is conveniently located just off I-229 at exit 1C and offers several amenities including free internet, indoor pool and complementary breakfast; 3721 W. Avera Drive; (605) 275-9577.
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