By Denise DePaolo, Managing Editor
If you want to get healthier, go take a hike. For real.
As far as physical health goes, uphill hiking burns a similar amount of calories to jogging. Other benefits of hiking and walking can include improved heart health, reduced chance of osteoporosis, increased Vitamin D from sun exposure and enhanced muscle tone.
Getting out on the trails can help mental well-being in a variety of ways as well. First of all, exercise is relaxing in any form. Hiking in particular can reduce stress by immersing you in nature and putting you in touch with its rhythms. That can decrease instances of insomnia and increase in overall happiness. Basically, it gets us away from our iPhones for a little while, allowing our brains to decompress.
People living in Sioux Falls might think that travel is necessary in order to enjoy a quality hike, but really, there are some great options inside city limits and within a few miles of its ever-expanding borders.
Getting out in the fresh air and taking in the scenery can be as challenging or easy as you want, making it popular for all fitness (and motivation) levels. Also, it’s cheap – or free. We checked out a few options in the immediate Sioux Falls area that can provide a quality outdoor experience for people of any ability.
Location: 7001 W. 12th Street.
The trail through this park is hard surface and follows Skunk Creek, which makes it a good choice for a relatively short, scenic, bridge-dotted walk. This is a popular one for moms with strollers, kids with training wheels, and west-siders with limited time. At a moderate pace, you can traverse the park and be back at the parking lot in about 25 minutes. There are decent bathrooms, a picnic shelter and spots for fishing. If you follow the trail far enough, you end up in Dunham Park.
Assistant director of Parks and Recreation Dave Fischer says access to one of the Sioux Falls’ biggest outdoor attractions is what really brings people to the park, “Probably the most popular thing about Legacy is that it ties in with the main bike trail, so you can have access to the entire bike trail system there.”
Location: 1600 Riverbluff Rd.
This eastside gem boasts more than two miles of hiking trails, and more than a mile of that is ADA accessible. This park is dotted with old quarry ponds, which serve as a wintering spot for a variety of waterfowl. Fischer says you can see birds here year round, “That’s one of those places you go walking through and you wouldn’t believe that the city of Sioux Falls is, like, a mile away.”
Also at Arrowhead Park, visitors can check out a beautifully restored barn, built in 1888. The barn can be reached by vehicle or trail and is surrounded by carefully marked native plant species.
Location: 300 N. Minnehaha County Rd. 139
This park was made possible through a land donation. And although it’s relatively new and still being developed, it’s become a popular place for anglers and hikers alike.
“Basically, there’s old gravel pits there that are full of water and stocked with fish a couple times a year. There’s a walking path right now that encircles the pond. There’s a couple miles of hiking there. In the end, once the park is fully built, there will be a hard surface trail. The other thing that will happen is the main trail will be connected to the bike trail from Legacy Park. It’s something for folks to look forward to,” said Fischer.
Location: 4500 S. Oxbow Avenue
The Outdoor Campus has 2.5 miles of trails in three distinctly different settings – prairie, woodland and riparian (next to a waterway). Public relations intern Matt Stoffel says what surprises people most about The Outdoor Campus is how immersed in nature you can get, right in the heart of Sioux Falls, “It’s not like a typical city park where you can still see buildings around and cars and hear the city. Here, when you get back in those woodlands – in certain parts – you’re surrounded by trees and you can kind of forget your city troubles.”
The trails at the Outdoor Campus are not only an escape within city limits, they are largely accessible to people of all abilities.
“For the most part, it’s a fun relaxing little walk around. As far as a wheelchair, if your wheelchair can go on grass a little bit, you’d be okay anywhere. It’s not too hilly or anything like that,” said Stoffel. “And for the most part, you’d be okay with kids. It’s not necessarily about the age, but demeanor. If they’re going to run away from you, you don’t want to take them back into the woodland area.”
The Outdoor Campus offers classes as well, all of which are free.
Location: 5901 East Rice Street
It’s not just for skiing and tubing. Great Bear Recreation Park is a summer destination, too.
With nearly six kilometers of hiking trails (0.7 miles are ADA accessible), Dave Fischer says visitors get the feeling they’re in a state park without having to leave Sioux Falls. Hikers who make it to the hilltops, however, are treated to spectacular views of the city.
“It’s rustic and absolutely beautiful. There’s terrific scenic views from out there. The cathedral and other areas of town,” said Fischer. “And there’s just an abundance of wildlife out there.”
Great Bear is also a good hiking option when the summer sun gets oppressive, since most of the trail system is shaded. Fischer says the city has done a lot of vegetative management there as well, which means they’ve regenerated the growth of prairie grasses and other native plants.
“If people go out there and walk those trails, they’re going to absolutely love them. There’s nothing not to like about them,” said Fischer.
Location: 48072 270th Street
South Dakota’s newest state park is just five miles southeast of its biggest city. Good Earth State Park at Blood Run straddles the South Dakota-Iowa border, making it the first state park of its kind.
Good Earth was established to preserve the archaeologically rich area, which was continuously inhabited by Native American tribes for several hundred years. The area was ideal for settlement because of the wooded, hilly terrain and its proximity to the Big Sioux River.
Parks planning intern Aaron Stingley says people are surprised by the diversity of flora and fauna at Good Earth, “You can expect to see a lot of wildlife, especially birds. I’ve seen Great Blue Herons and Oriels actually. I didn’t know they were around in our area. A lot of wildlife. And now that summer’s underway, a lot of plants are coming into bloom. You’ll see a whole new side of South Dakota that’s so close to Sioux Falls.”
No state park pass is required to enjoy Good Earth. That’s because the park is still in the developmental stages. Visitors can access more than three miles of hiking trails now, and although some areas are steep, uneven and riddled with roots, park staff are working to make the main loop ADA accessible. Admission requirements will change once a visitor’s center is constructed and other improvements are made.
Location: 1900 Perry Place
Located on 106 acres just east of Sioux Falls, this could be an ideal place to bring the family or take to the woods. The Arboretum’s namesake wanted to connect people to nature. And although it’s less than four years old, that mission is already being realized.
“For people who are really into hiking and maybe don’t even need or want a trail – just want a place to go – Mary Jo Wegner Arboretum is a good one,” said Dave Fischer. “While there are no identified trails out there yet, it’s a big piece of property that’s right along the Big Sioux River and has a combination of oak savanna, some agricultural and some grasslands. Someone who likes going exploring on their own – someone at that level – could have at it out there.”
Also on the property is the Mabel & Judy Jasper Educational Center, which tells the story of what used to be a quarry town located at the site (quartzite was mined at nearby Arrowhead Park), complete with a recreated schoolhouse. It also boasts acres of manicured gardens, which are ADA accessible and perfect for a casual stroll.
Although these parks and nature areas are all in the Sioux Falls area, there are countless places to get out and stretch your legs in South Dakota. Here are a few resources for hiking in the state:
To learn about some native plants to watch for on your hike, click here.