Sioux Falls in the Snow

Jan and I headed up to Sioux Falls the weekend before last.  I had planned to ride the Omaha Jackrabbit, a 125 mile gravel grinder through the wilds of eastern Nebraska, but a confluence of events had caused me to reconsider.

First, I’d started a new job the week before and was in Dallas right up until the day before the event.  I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to get to Nebraska in time to start.  Second, weeks of heavy rain had turned the roads in these parts into a quagmire.  I decided to bail on the event before I left for Dallas and it turned out to be the right decision.  Nobody finished.  The two guys who made it the furthest covered around 90 miles in 14 hours.  It hurts just to think about it.

Downtown Sioux Falls. Sasquatch is a local hero. I like that.
The twenty mile bike loop makes it easy to get anywhere in Sioux Falls by bicycle.
Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny…not.
But I ride on because that’s what I do.
I am rewarded for my troubles. Just beautiful.

So we headed up to Sioux Falls instead to explore a little corner of the country I’ve passed through many times but never paused to check out.  For those who don’t know, Sioux Falls is the largest city in South Dakota with a population of around 175,000.   It’s located in the far southeastern corner of the state, not far from the point where South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota come together.

Named for the waterfalls on the Big Sioux River in the heart of town, it’s a delightful little city.  Downtown was vibrant and fun and they have a trail network that forms a 20+ mile loop around town.

We stopped into Two Wheeler Dealer, the local Surly/Kona bike shop and learned a little about the local cycling scene.  People here are friendly and helpful as can be.  Just about any place in town is accessible by bicycle, and bike racks are a common sight.

We also discovered that motorists here are probably the most mellow and cautious of anywhere we’ve ever been.  Nobody’s in a hurry.  They typically come to complete stops (and sit, and sit, and sit) at stop signs.  This is pretty typical in this part of the world, but if anything it seemed even more pronounced here.

Climate is a little drier than the Twin Cities and north central Iowa, which means that temperature fluctuations are a little more extreme.  The highs are higher and the lows are lower.  This is exactly what happened during our stay.  Saturday was delightful with lazy sunshine and highs pushing 70 degrees.  We rode in shorts.  A cold front passed through late Saturday night and we woke to three fresh inches of snow on Sunday morning.  It was snowing hard, so even though the sun wasn’t up yet, I headed out figuring it was only going to get worse before it got better.  It wasn’t a big thing except for the fact that I’d brought the wrong pair of gloves with me.

Sioux Falls is decidedly Midwestern, but in many ways it felt more like a Rocky Mountain town to me.  There’s a little bit of Boise here.  The vibe was more laid back than is typical in the heartland.   The local river runs fast and clear.  There were restaurants with rooftop decks and mountain gear stores.   If you looked towards the horizon and squinted, you could almost see the peaks.

The falls up close. 
The big picture from the city run observation tower. It’s free.
Most places wouldn’t allow you out on the rocks. I like this…a lot.

On a scale of one-to-five, I’d rate Sioux Falls a solid four in terms of cycling experience.  There’s not much to dislike here, though I suspect that winters are pretty brutal.  Snowfall totals vary widely, with a recent low of 15 inches in the winter of 2011-2012 versus a recent high of 69 inches just three years later.    I don’t know if they plow the trails like they do in Minneapolis.   The average January low is a bone chilling +7°F.  December is +10° and February is +12°.  That’s three long months hovering around single digits if you ride early in the day.

Great Outdoor Store. We did some serious damage here. The sales racks are upstairs.

If you find yourself heading this way, I’d recommend checking out the Clubhouse Inn and Suites on South Louise Avenue.  It’s located right on the bicycle loop and just minutes from everywhere.  It was clean, quiet and breakfast was awesome.  We got a suite, and it was a real suite as opposed to the pretend suites so many places sell these days.  There’s a strip of typical chain restaurants including Chevy’s and Granite City within walking distance.  Downtown is five minutes by car, fifteen by bike.

Must visit stores downtown include Duluth Trading (our first visit and lots of fun) and the absolutely delightful Great Outdoor Store if you’re into outdoor gear.

You also have to visit Falls Park.  Pictures don’t do the falls here  justice.  They’re quite a bit larger than they appear to be when viewed in two dimensions, and the  surrounding park is just delightful.  Sioux Falls isn’t into protecting you from yourself, so you can scramble right up to the water’s edge on the rocks.  This will probably change soon enough, but for now it’s still possible and one more thing that made me fall in love with this quirky little Rocky Mountain town hidden deep in the heart of the Great Plains.