Our 2021 Road Trip #10: The Little Falls Before Sioux Falls’ Big Sioux Falls

me and waterfalls!

Please enjoy this bubbly moment of nature partially obscured by a doughy guy.

It sounds confusing but it’s perfectly simple. The city of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is named after the waterfalls that are part of the Big Sioux River, around which local civilization sprung up. They built an entire city park around the prettiest part of the river and named it Falls Park, of course after the city’s own natural namesake. That stretch of the Big Sioux has numerous falls of varying sizes along its length. Depending on how far you walk, you can see all or merely some of those falls and enjoy natural beauty in a portion size of your choosing. If you’re short on time, a falls sampler is better than no falls at all.

Also, if you saw a limited portion of the falls and felt you’d seen enough, and nobody had the unsolicited courtesy of mind-reading skills to run up and tell you, “But wait! There’s more!” you might get all the way home from vacation, let three months pass by, revisit your photos, compare them to online resources, and then discover you missed the best parts of the park.

Not that we’re bitter.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. We were each raised in a household that couldn’t afford annual out-of-state family vacations. We’re geeks more accustomed to vicarious life through the windows of pop culture than through in-person adventures. Eventually we tired of some of our self-imposed limitations and figured out how to leave the comforts of home for the chance to see creative, exciting, breathtaking, outlandish, and/or bewildering new sights in states beyond our own, from the horizons of nature to the limits of imagination, from history’s greatest hits to humanity’s deepest regrets and the sometimes quotidian, sometimes quirky stopovers in between.

We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.

Technically not even 2020 stopped us. We played by the new rules of the interim normal and wandered Indiana in multiple directions as safely as we could. This year the long-awaited vaccines arrived. For 2021 we agreed we had to go big. Our new primary objective was Yellowstone National Park, 1500 miles from Indy…

Falls Park was a couple miles northeast of our previous stop at the USS South Dakota memorial. Swinging by was easy; viewing its entirety apparently was not. We didn’t have hours to spend. We had hundreds of miles yet to travel on this Sunday. But even if we’d had unlimited free time, we had no official park map to point us to the best parts or alert us to our underestimation of its size. We made our way where the internet told us to go, parked and walked several blocks, saw what we could see, and called it a morning. At the time it seemed like a sufficient dose of calming greenery.

sculpture bird!

We parked on the park’s west border and took a man-made path with art along the way, including this bird sculpture.

Shepherd sculpture.

“Shepherd”, a 2005 piece by Sherri Treeby of Bad River Artworks.

winding path!

The winding path to the falls, which we shared with several other early-bird pedestrians.

Sioux Falls bridge!

A railroad bridge over the Big Sioux River.

pre-falls rocks!

Quartzite and pipestone abound here and there.

ducks and rocks!

Also abounding: ducks and other birds.


Going strictly by head count rather than by weight, we saw more animals at Falls Park than we would at many Wyoming and Montana attractions later in our travels.

trees and geese!

That head count includes geese loitering on the slightly duller, non-river side of the path.

Big Sioux River!

Past the railroad bridge, the rocks-to-water ratio begins tilting toward the wetter, more action-filled side.

Sioux Falls waterfalls!

This, we thought, encompassed the eponymous Sioux Falls waterfalls in all its modest splendor. It felt good enough at the time.


At far left, a reasonable number of falls to justify all the after-naming.

falls closeup!

Zooming in on the largest falls in our limited line of sight, deep in the way, way back.

tiny Sioux Falls closeup!

Without points of reference to dispute me, I could lie and say this is a 300-foot box canyon, But it super isn’t. In the grand scheme of geographic proportions, it’s just a tiny trickle, zoomed in.

Not pictured and unseen by us: the visitors center, which was probably closed due to COVID anyway, knowing our luck; an observation tower; the ruins of a seven-story mill; a barn of mysterious origin; a restaurant inside a former hydroelectric plant; and more, more, more of the Big Sioux. The waters drop 100 feet over its course from the starting point we saw to many blocks past our stopping point. A park with that many features really ought to consider providing a courtesy map on its website for curious outsiders who otherwise haven’t a clue where the falls end.

That means we can only judge the falls we saw, not the remaining falls I’ve just now learned exist. Comparing our limited Sioux Falls sampling size to past champions such as Niagara Falls, Cumberland Falls, or Minnehaha Falls, it’s unfair to call it a contest, but here I am anyway, annoyed and lashing out. C-minus.

To be continued!

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my faint signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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