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Chasing Jesse James at Split Rock Creek and Devil's Gulch Parks in Garretson, SD

While researching a story for the upcoming winter issue of Living Here Midwest magazine, I had the opportunity to check out Split Rock Creek in Garretson, SD at Split Rock Creek Park and Devil's Gulch Park, two city parks almost adjoining, and they were so cool!

Where are Split Rock Creek and Devil's Gulch?

Split Rock Creek Park and Devil's Gulch are both in Garretson, SD, right next to each other but separated by some railroad tracks. 512 5th Street is the official address for the Split Rock Creek Campground, and Devil's Gulch doesn't seem to have a specific address, but it's hard to miss:

Split Rock Park

Split Rock Park overlooks Split Rock Creek, including the Split Rock Dam, which was built in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration.  At the park, there is a campground for RV and tent camping, as well as a day use area with a nice playground, benches and a picnic shelter, and a cute bridge with a view of an even more scenic train bridge over Devil's Gulch, which branches off from the creek to wind between towering Sioux Quartzite cliffs. There's also a bathhouse which was another WPA project, which is open during summer and has a mini museum and souvenirs featuring Jesse James. 

North of the dam, there's a small lake that's perfect for swimming and kayaking. Or launch from south of the dam to head to nearby Palisades State Park for even more breathtaking Sioux Quartzite formations. And during the summer, there are Jesse James Pontoon Tours for visitors who'd like to take in the sights and the tall tales from the water. 

Split Rock Park is separated from Devil's Gulch Park by not just the gulch and the quartzite cliffs (basically, Split Rock is at the bottom and Devil's Gulch is at the top) but also a set of railroad tracks, so you do have to get back in your car to drive over to Devil's Gulch Park. Here's why that is so worth the two-minute drive:

Devil's Gulch Park

Devil's Gulch Park's star attraction is the pedestrian bridge crossing Devil's Gulch at the spot where Jesse James may have jumped across with his horse while escaping from a bank robbery in Minnesota, with a posse in law enforcement in hot pursuit.
His brother Frank was already across the river, and Jesse had to make the leap or he would probably hang for his crimes, so he may have been desperate enough to make such a risky move. For the full story, be sure to grab a copy of the winter 2024 issue of Living Here Magazine, or head to Devil's Gulch to read more on the interpretive signage and in the log cabin visitors center where you can find artifacts, historical photos, and more from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

But besides the Jesse James legend, there's also beautiful scenery as you enjoy the trails along Split Rock Creek's Sioux Quartzite cliffs and a small waterfall.

Unfortunately, the trails are not accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. I'd love to see them add some accessible paths around the park in the future even if the existing trails can't be adapted, because it's so pretty there and it would be great if they could open that up to more people.

The Gulch Bar & Grill

While you're in Garretson, be sure to stop by The Gulch for a bite to eat. It's just a couple blocks from the parks, and you'll recognize it by the illustration of Jesse James making his leap on their signage and menus. They have great chislic including both beef and mutton options, plus tons of other classic South Dakota pub fare and a children's menu. I met the owner Tracey while I was there, and she was super nice and hardworking. I bought an order of the mutton chislic and it was absolutely delicious, served with fries and garlic toast.

For more information about Garretson fun

To find out more about Split Rock Park, visit the City of Garretson's Split Rock Park page or the Split Rock Campground website. For more about Devil's Gulch, visit the city's Devil's Gulch Park page. For more info about The Gulch Bar & Grill, connect with them on Facebook


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