Founded in 1857 along the rocky cascades of the Big Sioux River, Sioux Falls is South Dakota's largest city (metro population: 230,000). It's at the juncture of I-90 and I-29, which has helped it develop into a commercial powerhouse and one of the few large retail hubs on the northern Great Plains. Visitors will find parks, a zoo, a science/art complex, water fun and more to explore in and near Sioux Falls.
View dioramas of South Dakota habitats and a 3,000-gallon stream-bank aquarium filled with native fish in a museum. The Outdoor Campus also features a butterfly garden and 2 miles of woodland and prairie walking trails (605/362-2777; outdoorcampus.org).
In the former Washington High School downtown, the Washington Pavilion of Arts and Science features hands-on exhibits at the Kirby Science Discovery Center, films at the Wells Fargo CineDome Theater, exhibitions and special events at the Visual Arts Center, and a variety of music, dance and theater performance at the Husby Performing Arts Center (877/927-4728; washingtonpavilion.org).
Overlooking the triple falls of the Big Sioux River, the 121-acre Falls Park features viewing pavilions, walkways and picnic areas. A five-story observation tower provides sweeping views of the falls and city. Nightly talks and sound and light shows (in season) highlight local history (605-367-7430; siouxfallsparks.org).
The zoo houses more than 850 animals -- from snow leopards to penguins -- from around the world. The 45-acre Great Plains Zoo includes an Asian Cat Habitat, Bear Canyon, African Savannah and a Children's Zoo. The Delbridge Museum of Natural History offers a collection of mounted animals from five continents (605/367-7003; greatzoo.org).
Three floors of regional history exhibits draw visitors to the Old Courthouse Museum, a restored 1800s quartzite building that was once the Minnehaha County Courthouse (605/367-4210; siouxlandmuseums.com).
Flanking Split Rock Creek, gorgeous red cliffs climb up to 50 feet above the water at Palisades State Park (20 miles northeast of Sioux Falls). Swimming isn't allowed, but picturesque picnic spots -- perfect for relaxing with a book -- are abundant. In fact, one summer ranger program is "Photography at the Palisades" (605/594-3824; gfp.sd.gov).
In Garretson (21 miles northeast of Sioux Falls), you can explore Devil's Gulch rock formations and hike rugged terrain. A footbridge crosses a 20-foot chasm that Jesse James allegedly cleared with his horse while on the run in 1876. Free (605/594-6721; garretsonsd.com).
On the banks of the Big Sioux River, the Big Sioux Recreation Area in Brandon (12 miles northeast of Sioux Falls) offers both woodland and prairie landscapes to explore. Plenty of trails accommodate hikers, bikers and horseback riders; canoeing, camping, bird-watching, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing are also popular in season (605/582-7243; gfp.sd.gov/state-parks).
(This getaway itinerary was published in Midwest Living May/June 2011.)
Fluffy pancakes start the day at Phillips Avenue Diner downtown (605/335-4977). As you window-shop, check out the SculptureWalk (605/838-8102; sculpturewalksiouxfalls.com). In summer, a trolley goes from Phillips Avenue to Falls Park (605/367-7430; siouxfallscvb.com). Have a sandwich at the Falls Overlook Caf (605/367-4885).
Families enjoy the science center and galleries at the Washington Pavilion (605/367-6000; washingtonpavilion.org). Or, for a bit of local history, tour the Old Courthouse Museum (605/367-4210) and the Pettigrew Home and Museum (605/367-7097; siouxlandmuseums.com).
For dinner, the sleek Wild Sage Grille serves locally raised bison (605/274-1667; wildsagegrille.com). After the Falls Park laser show, relax at the comfortably charming Victorian Bed and Breakfast. From $80 (605/376-4634; thevictorianbedandbreakfast.com).
Head outdoors! Pink cliffs frame Split Rock Creek at Palisades State Park in Garretson (605/594-3824; gfp.sd.gov). The Jesse James pontoon boat cruises the creek (605/594-2225). In Sioux Falls, Zach's Kayaks and Canoe Rentals outfits river paddlers (605/929-1122; zachskayaks.com).
Eat a tasty enchilada lunch downtown at Mama's Ladas (605/332-2772; mamasladas.com). Then, drink in the color at the Sertoma Butterfly House (pictured at left; 605/334-9466; sertomabutterflyhouse.org). For a dinner with flair, try Bracco World Cafe and Island Bar (605/338-4386; braccorestaurant.com).