The park is actually divided into two units. The largest is north of Lake Lakota where most of the park activities and facilities are found. To the south, a small strip of Newton Hills sits on the northern shores of Lake Lakota, the hills sloping down so sharply it would seem that the water should just drain out.
As you turn north into the park you quickly realize that this region isn't like the prairie that surrounds it. Gnarled black oak trees immediately surround visitors to the park. The northern side of the park is heavily forested while areas around the campground and picnic facilities are more open.
A minimum visit to Newton Hills includes taking the spectacular Woodland Trail, pictured. This 3/4 of a mile loop follows the northern bank of Sargeant Creek (that is the correct spelling) before heading further north into the woods. The trail is an excellent place to find white-tailed deer and wild turkey. Be sure to look for coyote footprints during cooler months in the soft mud along the edges of the trail. At the trails eastern side a small opening reveals a section of mixed grass prairie, of which less than one percent of the original coverage in South Dakota remains. Sargeant Creek has many legends associated with it, including a legend of lost gold.
The story goes that a United States military expedition was attacked by a band of Lakota Sioux warriors who chased the small unit to the Sargeant Creek Drainage, which now sits in the heart of the park. Out numbered and out gunned, the military expedition took a defensive position in the step drainage, and buried the cache of gold they were carrying. The unit was killed off and the gold was never recovered. Despite many searches both in and out of the park, no one has found any gold, or traces of a battle. Archeological studies have revealed other artifacts within the park. Burial mounds have been found indicating that Native Americans lived in this area starting around 300 B.C.
Newton Hills State Park has excellent facilities for equestrian activity. A large horse camp sits at the eastern edge of the park and is connected to six miles of trails that provide a number of different views and passes through a variety of ecosystems. These mixed-use trails also allow hiking and mountain biking through very challenging terrain. Mountain bikers will especially appreciate the two short loops closest to the horse camp.
From the parking lot at the horse camp visitors are offered three different routes, and we recommend the eastern most one. The trail climbs upward very steeply for 3/10 of a mile before coming to a spectacular overlook. The Big Sioux River can be seen heading southeast on its way to the Missouri River surrounded by black oak and cottonwood. Further to the east, the open fertile farmlands of South Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota spread out before you.
If you elect to take the trail system further north into the park you are rewarded with scenic beauty that seems very much out of place. On the highest ridges of the hills, stands of evergreens grow, defiant against the relentless winds that blow across the region. On the high plateau, mixed grass prairie grows surrounded by hardwoods. This entire section of the United States is a biological crossroads. Even marmots, which prefer to live at much higher elevations, call Newton Hills State Park home.
On the southern side of the park, Lake Lakota provides visitors with fresh water fun. A picnic area, including a picnic shelter, beach and boat ramp can all be found in this small section of the park. The lake is a popular spot for fishing, using personal watercraft, and paddling. Paddling can be a bit of a challenge on the exposed waters. If the wind is blowing be sure you don't get into conditions outside of your ability.
A summer concert series is held at Newton Hills each year. Artists from around the country play a wide variety of music including jazz, fusion, and folk on the weekends. The highlight of this series is the Sioux River Folk Festival, which will celebrate its twenty-second year at Newton Hills in 2001. Featured artists this past year included nationally recognized singer and songwriter Dave Moore.
When the snow starts to fly in South Dakota, which has been a rare occurrence since 1997, things at Newton Hills State Park are just warming up. Eight miles of trails are groomed for cross country skiing and snow shoeing. Although South Dakota is a very snowmobile friendly state, snowmobiles are not allowed in the park and visitors can enjoy peaceful wintertime solitude.
Newton Hills State Park has 122 campsites in three loops. Electrical connections are provided at 110 sites. All campsites have picnic tables and fire grates, but they are not created equally. The best campsites are numbers one to seventy-eight. The two western loops sit in groves of oak trees, although the sites are packed together. The rest of the campsites sit in a fairly open area with little privacy. Tent campers get the worst spots of all near the playground in an open and exposed area. The group campsite, numbers 112 to 117, sits at an ideal location on the northern edge of the campground. Campground facilities include an amphitheater, two playgrounds, hot showers, flush toilets, vault toilets, a dump station, and potable water.
The park also has three austere cabins. The cabins can sleep six and have a porch. The views are less than spectacular but they are ideally located close to the playground for families. Although clean, the one-room cabins provide bunk beds and electricity. There aren't any kitchen facilities or linen provided so you will have to bring coolers, cooking gear, sheets, pillows, sleeping bags, and anything else to help you keep comfortable. Despite their limited offerings the cabins are an excellent place to spend a cool summer evening watching for fireflies and listening to the songbirds that call the park home.
Whether you are looking for a diversion while driving on Interstate 29 or you want to spend a quiet weekend away from Minneapolis or Omaha, Newton Hills State Park offers four seasons of fun. From the music festivals of the summer, to autumn hiking, to cross country skiing in the winter, to walking through the new growth of spring, Newton Hills can offer something to anyone who loves the outdoors. For more information you can contact Newton Hills State Park, 28771 482nd Avenue, Canton, South Dakota 57013, (605) 987-2263.
Just The Plain Facts
Name: Newton Hills State Park
Location: Southeastern South Dakota
Nearest Major Air Service: Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Sioux City, Iowa, Yankton, South Dakota
Fees & Permits: Park access is $5.
Why Visit: Unspoiled section of the Coteau des Prairies. Summer music festival, 12 months of activity on scenic multi-use trails.
When To Visit: May to November.
Essential Gear: Depends on a wide variety of activity. Sunglasses, hat, sunscreen, lip balm, camera, binoculars, light jacket and drinking water. Other gear is strongly recommended.
You Should Know: South Dakota weather can be unpredictable, be prepared for a variety of weather conditions. If you are hiking, be watchful for horses and mountain bikes on the multi-use trails. Summertime reservations are strongly recommended. Park is in a remote area, make sure you vehicle is in good condition.
More Information: Newton Hills State Park, 28771 482nd Avenue, Canton, South Dakota 57013, (605) 987-2263