South Dakota’s Palisades State Park is about half an hour’s drive from the city of Sioux Falls and is located a little ways off Interstate 90, which connects Seattle to Boston. We’ve been driving along I-90 since we left Chicago and will be following it all the way to Billings, Montana, where we will veer off south towards Yellowstone National Park. We needed a place to camp along the way, so we decided to stay at Palisades State Park. It ended up being the perfect spot to relax and unwind for a few days, with plenty to see and do in the park itself, and the neighboring city of Sioux Falls to explore.
Palisades State Park
The park is a bit on the small side at just over 150 acres (61 ha). It includes a campground, which accommodates both tent campers and RVs, four hiking trails, river access, and day-use picnic spots. Despite its size, it packs a big punch with quartzite cliffs to explore, a river to paddle on, and historical markers about the area.
The park fee is $6 per vehicle and campsites start at $17. The highlights of the park can be viewed in a single day, but if you have the time, I strongly suggest staying a night or two. We spent three days at the Palisades State Park Campground without getting bored. In addition to the park, there are hiking trails in easy driving distance, a golf course, historic small towns, and Sioux Falls near by.
We saw several groups of campers with kayaks and canoes, which I was super jealous of. The water moved at a steady speed past the beautiful landscape. The river itself was lined with steep cliff edges and narrow canyons that eventually folded back into the rolling hills and farmland, creating some interesting transition zones that you could only really explore from the water. The deep gouges in the middle of the farmland made the whole area feel as though it was created by accident.
Three miles north of Palisades State Park is Devil’s Gulch. It is a slot canyon with free hiking trails and water access. There’s a famous story about the outlaw Jesse James escaping capture at Devil’s Gulch. While on the run from the law, he (supposedly) convinced his horse to jump the 20 foot (6 m) gap across the gorge. There’s a bridge that spans the now famous gap, and while it makes for a great story, I’m not sure I can believe a horse made that jump. I like to think it did.
We walked along most of the hiking trail at Devil’s Gulch. It was a fairly easy hike, except for the acorns that littered the ground, which slid out from under our feet and made us slip. To our left was the ravine with its steep edges and deep water. To our right, there was rolling farmland with hardly a hint of danger. The walk was wonderful and provided another great example of the dramatic landscape of the area.
Fernson Brewing Company
Only 20 minutes drive from Palisades State Park is Fernson Brewing Company. This was an excellent little break from our outdoor adventures. It is a great place to have a few drinks, experience the local beer culture, enjoy the air conditioning, and get a little free WiFi.
My favorite beer was the Lion’s Paw Lager. The brewery says that, like the story of the lion with a thorn in it’s paw, the brewers “took a recipe that could have been aggressive and made it smooth”.
We strongly recommend spending the weekend near Palisades State Park. There is so much to see and do that we barely scratched the surface. This was our first impression of South Dakota; if Palisades State Park even hints at the beauty that this state holds, I may have to move here.
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