SIOUX FALLS, SD (KMTV) – Leaving approximately 7,400 gallons of water per second above its highest fall, the Big Sioux River anchors Sioux Falls’ main attraction at Falls Park. While the observation decks provide a close-up view as the water roars over the falls, you can also walk along the river on quartzite stone, cut by years of erosion, and stand a few centimeters of water.
Sioux Falls, located about three hours north of Omaha on Interstate 29, offers a fun weekend or even a day trip if you’re up for a long day of fun. With a population of around 200,000, Sioux Falls may surprise you with its attractions and excellent food scene. But whether you’re a nature enthusiast, history buff, art lover, or just love to explore, South Dakota’s largest city offers the perfect getaway.
With 128 acres, Falls Park attracts thousands of visitors year-round, with a visitor center that includes an observation tower, the ruins of an old mill, and a stone barn once used to house horses during from the 1800s. The Falls Overlook CafÃ© is a prime spot for a sandwich and drink, or ice cream, while you visit.
Big Sioux River Trail
Falls Park anchors the River Greenway with approximately 19 miles of trails that connect across the area, including a paved trail leading into downtown. Explore on foot or by bike, the Downtown Trail features magnificent works of public art, with sculptures and murals, highlighted by the awe-inspiring Arc of Dreams. Created by South Dakota artist Dale Lamphere, the Arc spans the Big Sioux River, about a block from Philips Avenue. The stainless steel sculpture, nearly a football field long, was designed to honor dreams of the past, present and future. A 15-foot gap at the top of the arch symbolizes the leap of faith people have as they pursue their dreams.
After a stroll along the river, head to Philips Avenue for more public art, as the city presents new sculptures along the downtown Sculpture Walk street every year. You will find unique and interesting pieces, like a giant guitar, a sandhill crane or many animals in play.
With 57 historic buildings such as the Federal Courthouse – built in 1891 in the Romanesque style – located in the city center, architecture enthusiasts will enjoy a nice stroll while discovering the impressive buildings. Several of them are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Built in 1890 in the Neo-Romanesque style, the old courthouse museum was built using quartzite from nearby quarries. Today, the old county courthouse serves as a link to the region’s past. An exhibit on the main level showcases the history of the native tribes of South Dakota, including an exhibit on the many uses of a buffalo. Other exhibits highlight the westward journeys of the pioneers, as well as the military at Fort Dakota, a former courtroom, and special exhibits.
Families and science buffs will enjoy exploring the Washington Pavilion with its exhibits focused on the dinosaurs that once roamed the state, space expeditions, and even an interactive state quiz. With over 100 interactive displays, the Kirby Science Discovery Center challenges people of all ages. An art gallery shares works by artists from South Dakota. You can also watch a movie at the IMAX theater in the pavilion.
Butterfly house and aquarium
While downtown Sioux Falls offers several attractions, venture to the Butterfly House and Aquarium where you can see 800 butterflies fluttering around. Don’t be surprised if a few land on you. At 3,600 square feet, the butterfly house is open year round and maintains a comfortable temperature of 80 degrees. The 10,000-gallon aquarium is South Dakota’s only saltwater exhibit and is home to a variety of marine life, including stingrays, tropical fish and anemones, as well as coral reefs.
Great Plains Zoo
Home to endangered animals such as the black rhino, the Great Plains Zoo has exhibits from around the world on its 45 acres. A Komodo dragon, snow monkeys and tigers highlight the views. The zoo is also home to the Delbridge Museum, which features 150 taxidermized animals in natural settings.
USS South Dakota Battleship Memorial
During World War II, the USS South Dakota was the most decorated ship in the US fleet. Participating in all naval battles, including the Battle of Guadalcanal, the USS South Dakota served as a reserve ship during Japan’s official surrender to mark the end of the war. Commissioned in 1942, the USS South Dakota was decommissioned in 1962 and was then scrapped for metal. Sioux Falls honors the ship with the USS South Dakota Battleship Memorial, a concrete monument encompassing the size of the actual ship. A museum sits in the middle of the memorial, displaying parts of the ship that were salvaged, including the ship’s bell and wooden planks. A model of the ship is also displayed.
The Sioux Falls area is home to unique attractions, located a short drive from the city. Located about 30 miles west on Interstate 90, Porter Sculpture Walk is a stroll through the eerie but fun imagination of a South Dakota artist. With over 50 sculptures spanning 18 acres, the park’s anchor point is the 60-foot-tall bull’s head. A 40 foot tall horse was added a few years ago. As you stroll through the park, be on the lookout for giant goldfish, walking monks, and a jockey riding a stick horse. During your visit, contact Wayne Porter to learn about the artist’s story.
About 30 miles east of Garretson, South Dakota is Palisades State Park. It offers hiking trails and great views of Split Rock Creek from the top of the quartz cliffs, some reaching 50 feet high. Popular for rock climbing, photography, and other nature activities, Palisades State Park is a fun place to spend a few hours or an entire weekend.
Where to eat
For a classic dining experience, the Philips Avenue Diner is a step back in time. Located in a vintage airstream car, you can sit at the counter or in a booth. Menu options include chicken and waffles, as well as burgers and classic dinners. Order a milkshake for dessert as a nod to the good old days.
TapHouse 41 offers pub fare, such as burgers and duck fat fries. But, the menu offers additions, such as peanut butter, bacon, eggs, and bacon with jalapenos. The restaurant / pub also serves classic burgers. You must be at least 21 years old to dine here.
Where to stay
With well-represented national hotel chains, you’re sure to find the right place to feel at home during your stay, whether you prefer a location downtown or away from the action. If you prefer a real home, check out Airbnb options. Having stayed at a few Airbnb properties, they are located in decent neighborhoods and often close to local colleges. Lovers of bed and breakfast will appreciate the choice of the region.
Sioux Falls is one of our favorite areas to visit as we seemingly find something new to explore with every visit. Whether you decide to make this a day trip or plan a weekend visit, you’ll find plenty of interesting and fun attractions to visit and a great food scene.
READ MORE: Travels in the Heartland
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