With a population of only 924 people, Garretson, South Dakota is a small spec on the map northeast of Sioux Falls, South Dakota off of Interstate 90. Home to Palisades State Park, considered by most the second best state park in South Dakota, Garretson offers so much more. Features include not one, but two incredible parks that offer history, folklore, camping, paddling, and boat tours, excellent food at a number of restaurants and wonderful shopping. With each twist and turn Garretson offers so much that one rapidly concludes that staying for just for one day does not do this secret wonder justice.
On September 7th, 1876, Jessie James, his brother Frank, and the Younger brothers walked in to the First National Bank in Northfield, Minnesota. By the end of the day, All of the James gang, with exception to Frank and Jessie were dead or captured, and Jessie and Frank James, both wounded, were on the run from the largest posse every assembled in US history. Pinned against the canyon at Split Rock Creek in Garretson, South Dakota, Jessie James faced certain capture or certain death. Deciding to go for broke, Jessie jumped the 20 foot gap on his horse over Split Rock Creek and forever into local history at the spot now know as Devil's Gulch. Devil's Gulch is now Devil's Gulch Park (605) 594-6721 which has several short hiking trails into the gulch and over the very spot where Jessie James made his now infamous leap into history. While there make sure to hike down to the waterfall. It is a scenic wonderland of oak and quartzite, with an almost still creek running through the bottom.
Jessie James holed up in a cave on Split Rock River near Devil's Gulch where he waited for things to settle down. Inside the cave his name is carved in the quartzite stone and local folklore confirms that an area farmer assisted Jessie and Frank with food and medical supplies before their escape. The mouth of the cave is only accessible by boat and is privately owned, so access is forbidden without permission. However, you don't have to bring your canoe to get to Jessie James Cave.
Jessie James River Run Pontoon Rides (605) 594-2225 runs daily excursions (reservations required) up Split Rock River from Split Rock Park in Garretson, South Dakota. Bruce Rekstad, owner, offers a superb trip up the Split Rock and back in time, ending at Jessie James Cave. At only $6 per person, it is a wonderful diversion while in the area, or camping at nearby Palisades State Park. Bruce is a gracious, witty, and informative host on your 40 minute tour of the Split Rock.
Jessie James River Run Pontoon Rides launches from Split Rock Park (605) 594-6721 a public park run by the town of Garretson. The facilities at Split Rock Park rivals state parks across the nation. Not only do they feature a playground, a boat launch, and picnic areas, there are 28 campsites available, some with spectacular river views right on the banks of the Split Rock. The sites are heavily wooded for eastern South Dakota and the park is within reasonable walking distance to Devil's Gulch Park and downtown Garretson. A small store is run during the summer months offering local goods and some basic camping supplies. Sites are relatively small and there are no hookups or showers available. A dump station is located at Devil's Gulch Park, but with overnight fees ranging from only $4 to $6, a nights stay at Split Rock Park is a bargain.
The near still water of the Split Rock River, controlled by a low head dam located at Split Rock Park makes for ideal paddling even for the absolute beginner. You can head up Split Rock River all the way to Jessie James Cave, where it turns into a creek and is no longer navigable by any watercraft. Be aware that private property is on both sides of the river, so get permission before wandering off on the banks, or becoming tempted to jump off the quartzite cliffs into the river below.
While visiting the Garretson, South Dakota area parks and along the Split Rock River, you have tremendous opportunity to view a wide assortment of wildlife. Whitetail deer, mink, muskrat, woodchucks, raccoons, wood ducks, redtail hawks, great horned owls, and cliff swallows with their mud nests attached to the rock walls along the Split Rock River can all be seen.