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Hiking the Land of Infinite Variety

Jul 23, 2019

Katie Hunhoff and her son, Steven, walk the Gavins Point Nature Trail west of Yankton. Photo by Chad Coppess/S.D. Tourism.

We’ve always poked about for interesting trails as we travel South Dakota because we know our readers love to explore new places. A few years ago, we added a special feature to the magazine that we call “Walking in the Wild,” a simple guide to little-known nature hikes.

Most South Dakotans have either climbed to the top of Black Elk Peak or decided it’s just too high, and they know about the rocky path that circles Sylvan Lake, the Badlands Notch Trail and its rope ladder. Avid hikers have also climbed Crow Peak, refreshed themselves under Bridal Veil Falls and stood in awe atop the Stratobowl.

East River walks are lesser known, but the Sica Hollow trails near Sisseton, Falls Park Trail in Sioux Falls and Yankton’s old Meridian Bridge trail are unique and entertaining. But who doesn’t love an "off-the-beaten" path where you might be the only two-legged critter for a mile or more in either direction? Here are a few that we’ve already stumbled upon.

We walked the 3-mile Upper Spring Creek Loop on a summer Saturday. The trailhead is a 15-mile drive west of Rapid City on Sheridan Lake Road, so it’s hardly remote. Solitude on Spring Creek suffered a setback in the 1880s when pioneers constructed a 20-mile flume to divert water from Spring Creek to mines at Rockerville. Wood and stone remnants of the troughs, canals and bridges are still visible. You’ll also see numerous bird species, mountain mushrooms, wildflowers,

Ted LaFleur, the city park foreman for Madison, told our readers about the little-known nature trail in Gerry Maloney Nature Area, which is located on the north edge of his city. Though the trail is less than a half-mile long, you’ll often find monarch butterflies, darting swallows, bluebirds, wood ducks and muskrats in a little stream. The walking bridge is a favorite photo spot for wedding and graduation pictures.

Jana Lane of Yankton wrote about the Hogrefe Game Production Area, 11 miles east of Parkston. “The kids were excited by deer tracks and the slides and stumps left by beaver,” she said. “A pair of geese rose off the river and went honking out of sight. In the trees we could see bright buntings, an oriole and little drab birds I couldn’t identify. A rooster pheasant decided we were too close and took flight, much to our surprise.”

Another short hike is the Alkali Creek Trail. Take exit 34 off I-90 near Sturgis and follow a gravel road known as Old Stone Road. You’ll soon come to a bend and discover the creek. After another few hundred feet, you’ll find the gravesite of outlaw Curley Grimes. Across the road is a campground and access to the trail. Grab a brochure and look for 10 marked posts along the path, each with a story. The trail is just a half-mile long, but you can easily spend a pleasant hour there.

We’ve also hiked past ancient oak trees on a trail that circles Wessington Springs. We’ve enjoyed the shade of cottonwoods along the Missouri at the Adams Nature Preserve near North Sioux City and we’ve climbed the observation towers at the waterfowl refuges at Sand Lake and Waubay. Our many trails reflect the diversity of geography that exists in South Dakota, the land of infinite variety. We can explore mountains, prairies, wetlands, badlands and urban forests — all in the same day. Let us know if you discover a great out-of-the-way trail. We’ll tell our readers.


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