The park covers over 143 acres as the Big Sioux River makes its way over the rocky quartzite landscape and tumbling down a set of falls and rapids through the park, resulting in approximately 7,000 gallons of water going through the falls every second. Visit the falls by climbing around the rocky structures, going across a bridge landing, or on top of the five-story observation tower – which sits attached to the Falls Park Visitors Center. Another great viewing vantage point is on the observation deck at Falls Overlook Café. Bring a camera because you will have plenty of photo opportunities while visiting the falls.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota – Perfect Spot!
Sioux Falls is a beautiful destination by itself for vacation or travel and tourism, but it is a great place to stop and gather yourself as a sleep-over spot en route to the Bad Lands and the Black Hills. Sometimes, Sioux Falls is considered a gateway destination for the Black Hills (still a good 5 – 6 hour drive across the state of South Dakota) but if you were driving from the Eastern part of the United States, it could be a consideration for a stopping destination.
It’s interesting to see this area and get a bigger picture of what the infamous Wisconsin Glacier did to this area thousands of years ago. Giant rock formations being drug state by state, carving out valleys and bluffs, with East and West rivers being pushed to redirect North and South. It’s a geological wonder and a beautiful place to come and watch a beautiful waterfall.
OPEN YEAR ROUND
One last bit, is that Falls Park is open year round. In fact, one of the bucket list items that we DID NOT get to cross off our list this year was attending the spectacular winter fest lights at Falls Park during the winter months. Locals will attest that no other time matches the beauty of the falls like the decorative and festive lights of the holidays! The lights and sounds bring it all together in winter wonderland fashion! I promise to update this post next year and bring you some festive pictures of Falls Park in the winter.
If you are driving East or West on I-90 or North and South on I-29 in South Dakota and are near Sioux Falls, it’s worth a visit! You can find Falls Park at 131 E. Falls Park Drive, Sioux Falls – South Dakota.
One thing that was for certain in 2020, the pandemic made us think twice, about our travel plans. For some, it was travel and tourism as usual, but for many, it was an abrupt adjustment to our style and our travel goals. 2020 (in my opinion) saw a resurge and return to the “Great American Road Trip”. One perfect way to do this was to take notice of our scenic-byways (both nationally and by state). Yet, another perfect way to enjoy travel was to adjust the trip to a more “socially-distant friendly” vacation. 2021 might be on the way to recovering some of those travel plans – but searching for the perfect, socially-distant, and quiet trip might be exactly what’s best. We might need more time to adjust and feel safe enough to travel to a larger more populated area’s OR maybe we surprisingly discover our best vacation is located in a place like N.W. Iowa! Specifically, north of Ruthven, Iowa, in a place called Lost Island Lake.
Three Big things to do at Lost Island
Hike Lost Island Lake County Park
If you love nature, you can never get enough hiking and exploring our local state and county parks! They offer a variety of activities and opportunities to be outside and take in the beauty of the world around us. Lost Island Lake County Park is no exception to that rule and sits nearby several campgrounds in the area – and nestles itself along the eastern shore of Lost Island Lake. The area isn’t gigantic, so finding the park on a GPS mapping system or simply exploring the area will have you running into the park quickly.
The park offers two separate trails for difficulty, a paved hiking/biking trail, and a more difficult rock and dirt trail that leads you closer to the lake (Both hikes are featured in the above video). The county park also offers plenty of places to picnic with shelter houses and restrooms and runs against the Nature Center and Huston Park (which leads to the Lost Island Beach on the northside).
2. Check out Lost Island Nature Center/Palo Alto County
The nature center is not to be missed! Hours are April – December: Wednesday, Thursday & Friday, 9 am – 4 pm, Saturday & Sunday 1-4 pm.
You are greeted to this nature center by a beautiful log-cabin style building that overlooks the lake and sits near the county and Huston parks! Also, the paved hiking/biking trails run right next to it as it wraps around the lakeshore. The site is home to different exhibits including a history lesson of the area and conservation and appreciation of the wetlands. Sitting directly behind the building is Dewey’s Pasture and Bird Conservation Area (at the 2:54 mark on the video above). If you are a nature enthusiast the bird-watching area is a nice peaceful place to observe the local wildlife.
3. Playing at the beach
Lost Island Lake is like a hidden secret. It sits off of Highway 18 a few miles to the north, and you don’t see it until you are practically on top of the lake. Not only that, but it gets overshadowed by some of the bigger more popular lakes around the Iowa Great Lakes region (which is only a 30-minute drive away). However, what Lost Island DOES provide is the exact opposite – peaceful, quiet, relaxing, fewer people, fewer crowds, and a great atmosphere around the 6th largest natural lake in Iowa!
The beach is fairly large and offers plenty of time to swim, kayak, or just simply wade along the shore and put your feet in the water. It’s a natural lake, carved out from the Wisconsin Glacier approximately 12,000 years ago – so the water is cold, but offers a refreshing escape from the summer heat.
The area used to have a larger lake which was home to “Anthony’s Island”, but due to a stagecoach company’s heavy traffic to the area, the low spots were eventually filled in with road causing the island to essentially be lost – and giving the name to Lost Island Lake.
The history of the area also plays into folklore with stories ofThe Jesse James Gang hiding out in the area and buying eggs from local farmers around Ruthven.
Along the south side of the lake – there is a street that runs east and west called “electric park” and this was the area of the historic park that ran along the lakeshore and attracted visitors from all over to stay at the lakes hotels and resorts. The park was named Electric Park because developer Frank Tishenbanner placed several cement poles and supports along the southern waterfront and strung electric lights along the shore. Electric lights at the turn of the 20th century were an attraction onto themselves and made the park a popular tourist attraction.
But the thing that grabbed my attention to the area’s history was a local blarney stone which sat near electric park on the south side of the island. The rich Irish heritage around the Lost Island Lake region gave significance to the blarney stone – which replicated the famous “kissing blarney stone” in Ireland. People would drive hundreds of miles to simply kiss the blarney stone for eloquence and persuasiveness (an Irish tradition). However, when I was shooting the video of the area – I couldn’t find the stone. Several locals I interviewed were completely unaware of its existence! Yet, some of the old history tales tell a story of the stone and how it was used to help anchor steamers that would tour the lake and make frequent stops at the famous Baldwin Hotel.
The Search Begins…
I have started gathering research for this “Lost Blarney Stone” and have a 2nd episode for a video and blog coming. Watch for the second part of this series as we explore history around the Ruthven, Iowa area and Lost Island Lake.
2020 brought many challenges to the traveling and tourism communities. Covid-19 shut down most places, and put restrictions on anything far and between. The year of road-tripping took off and became a popular idea and many felt safer in their cars than mixing with larger crowds. Camping, hiking, and outdoor living also became more popular in 2020 – and with 2021 looming on the horizon for us here in the Midwest, I wanted to extend our outdoor activities deep into the winter season. So, I purchased snowshoes! I thought about purchasing cross-country skis as well, but felt snowshoeing was a great entry-level winter activity to start. It’s not too difficult, offers great exercise, and is a wonderful way to extend your summer and fall hiking season!
We quickly realized as we researched “where” to snowshoe, that there are many places across the Midwest to do this great activity. Basically, anywhere there are trails that you can hike during the offseason – you can snowshoe (as long as they are unpaved paths). A great starting place to search for trails is with your county, state parks, and outdoor recreational areas. Below we highlight 3 areas in Northwest Iowa that offer winter wonderland snowshoe trails.
#1- Oneota Recreational Area – Clay County Iowa
Oneota County Recreational Area and Park
It’s located right inside the town of Spencer- Iowa, and offers miles of trails, and diverse habitats for deer and other wildlife. As you walk along the trails you can often see the evidence and tracks left behind by the wildlife. There are two separate trails, one for snowshoe, and along the outside, there is a cross-country ski trail. Both trails follow back along a prairie area and run along the Little Sioux River. It offers beautiful scenery of rural Midwest while giving access to great outdoor winter activities.
Below is a short video on our first time snowshoeing in Oneota – Check it out.
(Make sure you dress warm – the best times to snowshoe is when it’s a little colder and allows the snow not to be as sticky. Some of the areas at Oneota were in the side open away from the tree line and being caught in the wind dropped the temperature from 20 degrees to a “feels like” temperature of fewer than 10 degrees!)
#2 Praire Heritage Center – O’Brien County Iowa
2.Prairie Heritage Center – Off of Highway 10 Between Peterson and Sutherland, Iowa.
This area offers miles and miles of trails. It’s unique in that it runs along the banks of the Little Sioux River and shows off the natural habitat carved out by the Wisconsin Glacier 14,000 years ago. The bluffs and some of the unique rock or boulder formations can be found around the area, left behind by the massive glacier.
It also runs along with one of the scenic byways in the state – The Glacial Trail Scenic Byway. Mixing a snowshoeing activity with the visitor center and the unique experience of discovering and viewing Prairie Bison are just a few of the fun and unique activities that this area offers! It’s certainly worth a winter trip to Northwest Iowa – not to mention just a short 2-hour driving distance from Sioux Falls, Sioux City, and about 3 hours from Des Moines.
The rolling hills around the area make it a breathtaking scenic experience – again just make sure you dress warm for the occasion as it’s a fairly good hike back to the parking area.
#3 Horseshoe Bend – Dickinson County Iowa
3. Horseshoe Bend Wildlife Area sits between Milford, Iowa and Spencer, Iowa – just off of Highway 71. It’s more known in the area for the sledding hill (which has been closed for some of the season due to Covid-19). However, the area surrounding the sledding hill offers wide-open spaces and great areas for hiking, snowshoeing, and horse riding. The area gets its name for the “bend” in the Little Sioux River and winds its way through Dickinson County and south nearly 250-plus miles to the Missouri River. The river supplies the area with a beautiful wooded habitat for deer, beaver, and other wildlife.
Plus – for snowshoeing it’s perfect! Miles of trails leading near and around the river creates a scenic winter hike. Just make sure to bring plenty of warm clothing and gear, as the warming lodge used for sledding and other activities may not be open – be sure to watch for closures on Horseshoe Bend Winter Sports Area Site.
More Snowshoe Options Coming…
The fun part of researching the area for hiking and snowshoeing is learning the number of different options! I love to not only write about what I’ve discovered but shoot some video footage as well! Just in the Tri-State area alone between Iowa, Minnesota, and South Dakota, there are dozens of options to choose from and hundreds to choose from within the Midwest! I would LOVE to hear any suggestions from you and gather the footage! Let me know and I look forward to a few more Midwest snowshoeing posts ahead!
Nestled between the Des Moines River and a little park (Loomis Park) sits an old abandoned concrete silo – turned into a rural masterpiece on the outer edges of Fort Dodge, Iowa.
Guido van Helten (Australian Artist)
The Australian artist, Guido van Helten, was commissioned through various donations and grants to transform an old abandoned silo (within the Fort Dodge, Iowa city limits) into a masterpiece.
Guido van Helten was able to take some of the local stories of cultural pride and individual character and display them on a 360 degree concrete canvas on the silo.
Iowa’s Tallest Mural
The 110 foot tall mural boasts the state of Iowa’s tallest mural – and upon finding the mural, it’s breath taking. Who would have thought that something that once was seen as an ugly back drop could possess beauty and character? That’s exactly what van Helten accomplished!
How to find the mural
I am usually one for adventure and my Youtube video below shows the adventure of setting out and trying to find the mural WITHOUT directions. I figured – “Hey – it’s a 110 foot silo on the edge of Fort Dodge – How hard can it be to find?”
Well – I found it! But let me save you the trouble of wandering around the back roads of Fort Dodge!
The Silo Mural can be found at:
727 Hawkeye Avenue, Fort Dodge, Iowa
The mural is breathtaking and it takes you off guard! When you head down Hawkeye avenue and come up on the silo, it overlooks the Des Moines River and calls out to the art admirers, rural wanderers, and tourist alike “I have a story to tell”.
I encourage you to find this mural in Fort Dodge, Iowa. Do yourself a favor and add items like this to your bucket-list. These rural spots in Iowa and the Mid-West are perfect destinations to explore! Often times the Mid-West (especially rural Mid-west) is seen as unimportant “fly-over” spots between destinations. However, scattered along the country side, there are pockets of interests and things to be discovered and explored!
Go out and visit these places! Follow along on either my vlog or blog here at http://www.countrypilgrim.com and see what places exist in rural America! Come along as I vlog and blog real life in America’s Heartland!
Iowa’s tallest mural is worth a short visit – whether exploring the community of Fort Dodge, or passing through on Highway 20 to the south. Mark it down as a destination of interest – it’s worth the trip!
Fall in Northwest Iowa brings in harvest, with the crops in the field, apples in the orchards, and most especially pumpkins! Should I even start to get into the different varieties? Different colors with oranges, yellow’s, whites, and the different range of our seeded friends from miniature to huge!
Don’t forget the squash! Whether it’s from acorn, butternut, or spaghetti squash. The list goes on and on from gourds, and other fun treats found in the local rural pumpkin patch!
This specific patch Solsma Punkin Patch – has been around and in business for over 21 years outside Sanborn and Hartley, Iowa.
If you are curious about the mis-spelling of “pumpkin patch” – well, there is a story behind that too! You can check out the Solsma video below – but the story behind it is how the owner’s grandpa used to call her “Punkin” so the name stuck!
The Pumpkin Patch – A rural delight
I love pumpkin patches and everything they have to offer. If you are looking to escape into a rural setting, and want to have a fun time exploring, playing, picking out pumpkins and other items, getting into Fall decorating and festive moods – there is no better place then the pumpkin patch. It shouts “Rural-America” and why is that such a big deal? Because it helps you escape the hustle and bustle of urban life – even if you’re simply in a small town. Get out in the country and take a stress-free stroll through a pumpkin patch!
Corn Maze Adventure
Another thing I would check on is if the pumpkin patch has a corn maze? I found myself reliving my childhood and finding delight in walking through and exploring the Corn Maze at Solsma Punkin Patch. There were twists and turns, different paths, cross-roads where decisions needed to be made – some that led you down the right path towards exiting the corn maze and some that led you further down the wrong path to a dead-end. Insider Tip – It’s easy to get lost in a corn maze – ask for a map! If you have children – sometimes its wise to ask for a “marking device like a flag”. I was thankful that the owner talked me into a map they made! I took a few wrong turns!
Seriously, the entire trip to a pumpkin patch is not only adventurous, but it’s fun! Many different activities can present themselves at the local patch – including a corn maze (shown above) and below there can be other activities from games, bouncy houses, food and beverage vendors, and even a little basketball shootout (pictured below) in rural fashion!
There are many great pumpkin patches to visit! Solsma Punkin Patch is found in O’Brien County in Northwest Iowa. The map and directions are listed below. If you are nearby or passing through stop and give them a howdy from the Country Pilgrim! (If you miss pumpkin patch season – never fear! – They have fireworks and other things for sale in their shop! Check out their website and plan a visit! It’s worth the trip!
You can find the Solsma Punkin Patch at 6190 320th – Sanborn, IA 51218 –