SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KMTV) — Dropping about 7,400 gallons of water per second over its tallest fall, the Big Sioux River anchors Sioux Falls’ top attraction at Falls Park. While observation decks offer a close view as the water roars over the falls, you can also walk alongside the river over quartzite stone, cut by years of erosion, and stand inches from the water.
Sioux Falls, located about three hours north of Omaha on Interstate 29, offers a fun weekend getaway or even a day trip if you’re up to a long day of fun. With a population of about 200,000, Sioux Falls may surprise you with its attractions and excellent dining scene. But, whether you’re a nature enthusiast, history buff, art aficionado or just like to explore, South Dakota’s largest city offers a perfect getaway.
With 128 acres, Falls Park attracts thousands of visitors year-round, with a visitors center that features an observation tower, the ruins of an old mill and a stone barn once used to house horses during the 1800s. The Falls Overlook Café is a choice spot to grab a sandwich and drink, or an ice cream treat, during your visit.
Big Sioux River trail
Falls Park anchors the River Greenway with about 19 miles of trails that connect through the area, including a paved trail leading through downtown. Explore by foot or bike, the downtown trail includes beautiful public art, with sculptures and murals — highlighted by the impressive Arc of Dreams. Created by South Dakota artist Dale Lamphere, the Arc stretches across the Big Sioux River, about a block away from Philips Avenue. The stainless steel sculpture — nearly a football field long — was designed to honor the dreams of the past, the present and the future. A 15-foot gap at the top of the arc symbolizes the leap of faith people have as they pursue their dreams.
Following a walk along the river walk, head to Philips Avenue for more public art, as the city features new sculptures along downtown’s Sculpture Walk street each year. You’ll find unique and interesting pieces, such as a giant guitar, a Sandhill crane or plenty of animals at play.
With 57 historic buildings such as the federal courthouse — built in 1891 using the Romanesque style — located around downtown, architecture fans will enjoy a nice walk as they check out the impressive buildings. Several of them are named to the National Register of Historic Places.
Constructed in 1890 using the Romanesque Revival style, the Old Courthouse Museum was built using quartzite from nearby quarries. Today, the former county courthouse serves as a link to the area’s past. A main level exhibit showcases the history of South Dakota Indigenous tribes, including an exhibit on the many uses of a buffalo. Other exhibits highlight the westward travels of pioneers, as well as the military at Fort Dakota, an old courtroom and special displays.
Families and science fans will enjoy exploring Washington Pavilion with its exhibits focusing on dinosaurs that once roamed the state, space expeditions and even an interactive quiz about the state. With more than 100 interactive displays, the Kirby Science Discovery Center challenges people of all ages. An art gallery shares the works of South Dakota artists. You can also watch a movie at the pavilion’s IMAX theater.
Butterfly House and Aquarium
While Downtown Sioux Falls features several attractions, venture to the Butterfly House and Aquarium where you can see 800 butterflies flitter about. Don’t be surprised if a few land on you. With 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 lone 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 Rhinoceros, the Great Plains Zoo offers exhibits from around the world throughout 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 American fleet. Participating in every naval battle, including the Battle of Guadalcanal, the USS South Dakota served as a standby ship during the official surrender of Japan to mark the end of the war. Commissioned in 1942, the USS South Dakota was decommissioned in 1962, and was later 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 is in the middle of the memorial, showcasing 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, which are a short drive from town. Located about 30 miles west on Interstate 90, Porter Sculpture Walk is a stroll through the strange, but fun imagination of a South Dakota artist. With more than 50 sculptures covering 18 acres, the park’s anchor is the 60-foot-tall bull head. A 40-foot-tall horse was added a couple of years ago. As you walk through the park, be on the lookout for giant goldfish, marching monks and a jockey riding a stick horse. During your visit, check in with Wayne Porter to learn the artist’s story.
About 30 miles east in Garretson, South Dakota is Palisades State Park. It offers hiking trails and a great view of Split Rock Creek from atop the quartz cliffs, some reaching 50 feet tall. Popular for rock climbing, photography and other nature activities, Palisades State Park is a fun area 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 classic burgers and dinners. Order a milkshake for dessert as a nod to the good old days.
TapHouse 41 features pub food, such as burgers and duck fat fries. But, the menu features add-ons, such as peanut butter, bacon, eggs and jalapeno bacon. The restaurant/pub also serves classic burgers. You must be at least 21 to dine here.
Where to stay
With national chain hotels well-represented, you’re sure to find the right place to call home during your stay, whether you prefer a downtown spot or away from the action. If you prefer an actual home, check out the Airbnb options. Having stayed at a few Airbnb properties, they are located in decent neighborhoods and often near the local colleges. Bed and breakfast fans will enjoy the selection in the area.
Sioux Falls is one of our favorite areas to visit as we seemingly find something new to explore with each visit. Whether you decide to make it a day trip or plan a weekend visit, you’ll find plenty of interesting and fun attractions to visit and a great culinary scene.
READ MORE: Travels in the Heartland
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