Bird Watching

Waterfall, Wildlife Hikes near Sioux Falls

You don’t have to go to the Black Hills to find scenic and challenging hiking spots in South Dakota and the region.

And just because you live in Sioux Falls doesn’t mean you’re limited to Great Bear or Sertoma Park — there are several options outside of busy state parks like Palisades and Good Earth.

If you’re willing to drive a little further or try smaller parks, you’ll find some hiking gems you’re sure to love.

Here are 15 trails within an hour’s drive of Sioux Falls that you should visit:

Disclaimer: There are other great areas you should check out, they just don’t fit the 60 minute parameter we’ve set here, meaning you miss out on Yankton Hikes, Nebraska Hikes and Minnesota Lake Hikes.

Palisades State Park

Hike with elevation

Great Bear Recreation Area: Southeastern South Dakota is known more for its flat expanse than its steep hiking trails. So you’re pretty limited if you’re looking for big elevation changes for hikes. However, the Great Bear Recreation Area offers an elevation gain of 446 feet along its 3.1 mile Skyline, Cactus Hills, and Valley Trail Loop in the heavily forested park.

Newton Hills State Park (30-40 mins from Sioux Falls): Hike the 4.6 mile Blue Diamond and Woodland Trail Loop and you’ll gain 518 feet in elevation through forested valley and along prairie vistas. More than 200 species of birds visit the national park near Guangzhou every year. You will also find white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, groundhogs, rabbits, red and gray foxes, and squirrels throughout your hike.

Newton Hills State Park

Union Grove State Park (45 minutes): This low-traffic state park features a 4.2-mile, 433-foot elevation gain as it winds through South Dakota prairie, woods, and along Brule Creek. Spot deer, wild turkeys, beavers and a variety of birds as well as a range of trees and plants. This trail includes a horse trail, so be careful where you step; otherwise the hiking trail is a 1.2 mile loop.

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Hikes with a view of the meadow

Families stroll through Good Earth State Park in Sioux Falls.

Touch the celestial meadow (40 minutes): Get 360-degree views of the prairie along the 2.4-mile To The Sky Hike in Touch the Sky Prairie near Luverne, Minnesota. The prairie is dominated by native bluestem grasses and wildflowers in the spring and summer.

Good Earth State Park (15-20 minutes): Although you can take a hiking trail through the Big Sioux River Valley at Good Earth, the state park also offers acres of natural grassland. Good Earth State Park is also the largest Oneota Native American cultural site discovered to date in the upper Midwest, as an important trading center and gathering place for tribes from the 1300s-1700s.

Wildflowers and Wildlife

The sun shines on the wildflowers at Good Earth State Park in Sioux Falls.

Blue Mounds State Park (40 minutes): You don’t have to drive to Custer State Park or visit the Great Plains Zoo to see bison. Take a look at the bison herds grazing in the open prairie of Blue Mounts State Park near Luverne, Minnesota. Take the 4.1 mile Mount Loop Trail or the 6.8 mile Mound, Lower Cliff Line, and Campground Loop Trails to see the bison paddock, natural prairie, and old rock quarries. If you observe birds, tick the birds you see on the Minnesota State Park Bird Checklist.

Valley of the Giants (20 minutes): This Brandon hiking trail is a 1.5 mile loop that passes through several large trees growing along the floodplain floor of the Big Sioux River, with some of the tallest oaks and cottonwoods in the state. There are also plenty of elms, ashes, maples, and willows to traverse, and plants and animals to spot along the trail.

Oak Grove County Park (60 mins): Explore along the Big Sioux River on the South Dakota and Iowa border in Hawarden, Iowa. The Oak Grove County Park Loop is a 3.9 mile loop with an abundance of wildflowers to see in the summer. There are also two large Sioux quartzite outcrops along the trail and a cinder mound, which are the remains of a 100-year-old coal bed.

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Hike with waterfalls and waterfronts

dell rapids (25-30 mins): Hike the Sioux River Red Rock Trail, which is a 2.6 mile route that includes waterfalls along the Ace Park Trail. The city hopes to expand the trail to a 12-mile-long trail that hikers and cyclists can share through the city and along the river.

Dakota State Park (45-60 mins) What started as a municipal landfill is now a 135-acre multi-use park in Brookings with miles of paved biking and hiking trails. Use the docks and small beaches to access the water and also enjoy fishing or bird watching. If you have a kayak, three of the four ponds are connected and there is a kayak and canoe launch in the park.

Touch the celestial meadow (40 minutes): Explore this nature preserve near Luverne, Minnesota along the 2.1 km Prairie Waterfall Trail. The hike is uncrowded but full of wildflowers along a sleepy stream that leads to a secluded waterfall and pool. The area is part of the Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, which covers over 12,000 acres.

Pipestone National Monument Trail (50-60 mins): Hike along this 3/4 paved trail that crosses a tallgrass prairie, along a creek with endangered Topeka Shiner, past a waterfall, and past the working pipe stone quarry.

Jay Henjes of Sioux Falls walks his dog, Charlie, in the creek that runs through the Mary Jo Wegner Arboretum in Sioux Falls.

Historical hikes

Mary Jo Wegner Arboretum (15 minutes): Explore the Mary Jo Wegner Arboretum and East Sioux Falls Historic Site, a granite mining town that once housed 500 people. The Perry Nature Area features a handful of trails on its 23 acres that are teeming with native plants, wildflowers, and wildlife.

Follow the Quarry Trail along the old rail line to the quarry where the stonemasons of East Sioux Falls worked, then turn northeast on the House Trail to discover the remains of an abandoned house there years ago. As you continue through the natural area, explore the creek and historic Bur Oak, over 200 years old, or hike along the Floodplain Trail.

Lake Herman State Park (50-60 mins): Hop on a drive near Madison and hike the 1.25-mile Luce Adventure Loop at Herman Lake State Park. The park is the site of historic and prehistoric artifacts, including Native American villages, a historic cabin, and fossils.

You will also see many wildflowers depending on the time of the season including blue flax, blanket flower, coreopsis, coneflower, sunflower, aster, lupine, prairie clover, prickly gayfeater and yarrow. You might even spot the state flower, the Pasque flower.

Spirit Mound Historic Meadow (50-60 mins): 2.2 km hike in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark and their group during their exploration of the western United States in 1804. The group traveled a few miles north of the Missouri River to visit Spirit Mount, which was considered important to Native American tribes such as the Omaha, Sioux, and Oto tribes.

After the damming of the Missouri River, this place is one of the few sites visited by explorers that is no longer underwater. The site is being re-established with prairie grasses and other native plants. Spirit Mount features a variety of wildflowers and prairie grasses and is home to fritillary butterflies, birds, and other prairie animals.