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Newton Hills State Park is approximately 6 miles south of Canton, the county seat of Lincoln County. Newton Hills is easy to find. From the city of Canton,
you simply take highway 135 south out of town. Highway 135 will take a jog
to the east right after leaving Canton, and another 1 mile jog to the east about
3 miles south of town. After turning back towards the south, the road will
wind down towards the river bottom, and the Big Sioux River will be visible on
the east as forest encloses both sides of the road.
There are two entrances to the main portion of Newton Hills State Park.
The first is 6 miles south of Canton, when Highway 135 reaches a low point
near the river. This entrance, on the west side of Highway 135, leads
to a small parking lot, as well as to camping spots next to "Sergeant
Another entrance is found 1 mile further to the south, also on the west
side of the road. This is the primary entrance to the park, with an
entrance booth at the entrance where you can pay the state park entrance
fee. Several short roads can be found through this entrance, as well
as more camping spots.
One more entrance is found half a mile to the south and half a mile to
the east of the main entrance. This southern unit contains Lake
13' 8" N, 96° 34' 10" W
(coordinate of main entrance to park).
Newton Hills State Park is an oasis amongst the
surrounding prairie and farmland, where flat agricultural land gives way to
lush, thick deciduous forest amongst rolling hills. This dense
deciduous forest sits on the Prairie Coteau, a hilly region created by
glacial activity in the area thousands of years ago. The Big Sioux
River flows just to the east of the park, and has associated bottomland
forest, but Newton Hills itself is primarily characterized by upland
deciduous forest on rolling hills.
The park is divided into two units. The northern
unit (see map below) is heavily forested over much of its area. The
upland forest consists of many large trees and shaded forest undergrowth
covering rolling hills.
Sergeant Creek runs along the northern edge of the park, near the "Horse
Camp" and popular camping sites, and has different, bottomland forest
species, including many large cottonwoods (some live, some dead). The
Sergeant Creek area does indeed have a very small flow of water leading to
the Big Sioux River to the east, but multiple beaver dams cross the creek
near Highway 135, resulting in quiet and largely hidden small ponds in the
ravine adjacent to the Horse Camp area. The water, thick undergrowth
and brush, and large trees make the Sergeant Creek area one of the best
birding spots in the state, with the opportunity to see forest species that
are otherwise rare in South Dakota. Adjacent to Sergeant Creek is
thick brushy undergrowth, transitioning to thick stands of sumac a bit
further from the creek. Yet further from the creek, the sumac gives
way to a large grassy expanse, which itself eventually gives way to a
juniper-covered ridge marking the northern boundary of the park.
Further south in the northern unit lies the main entrance to the park, with
significant space devoted to campsites. From the main entrance, most
roads lead to the campsites, but one wonderful loop road leads to the north
and through the heart of the thick deciduous forest.
Several well-maintained trails are found in the northern unit of the
park. Note that for some of the trails, you may have to share space
with horses and occasionally mountain bikes. Many wonderful trails
can be found leading from the Horse Camp area, while the extremely popular
"Woodland Trail" is found around the central part of the northern unit.
The southern unit covers the northern part of Lake
Lakota, a small reservoir popular with fishermen The southern unit
lacks the thick deciduous forest of the northern unit, instead being covered
by large areas of juniper and pine trees interspersed with open grassland
areas. A small sandy beach is found on the northern edge of Lake
Lakota, and picnic shelters are also found in this area.
Points of Note (Click on the points on the
satellite map to see
photos of the locations):
The Sergeant Creek area (point 1 on the image map to the right), found right at the
first entrance to the northern unit (the "Horse Camp" area) is likely one of
most popular locations to bird in the entire state. The water in the creek
and associated beaver ponds, the brush and undergrowth along the creek, the
large dead cottonwoods, the thick stands of sumac, and the deciduous forest
species attract a wide variety of bird species along this short stretch, from
woodpeckers to warblers, sparrows to hummingbirds, and even to
Green Herons and
A bit further away from northern and western side of
Sergeant creek lies a very large open space (point 2), bordered by thick
sumac on the southern and eastern side, and by thick juniper stands on the
ridge bordering the northern edge of the park. This open grassland,
adjacent to the large area of deciduous forest in the park, is magical in
the the early spring as night settles in, when
are seemingly sprouting up from the ground and spiraling up in the sky with
their spectacular courtship displays.
Further up Sergeant Creek, the water disappears and the
ravine narrows. The large grassland areas gives way to the dense
deciduous forest marking much of the park.
Point 3, the location where
grassland and sumac give way to deciduous forest, is one of the best spots
for finding spring warblers, including some fairly regular breeders that are
otherwise quite rare in South Dakota.
Probably the most popular trail in the park with the
public is the Woodland Trail, a lovely trail going through unbroken
deciduous forest in the heart of the park (point 5). Birding tends to be less
spectacular in the heart of the park than on the habitat edges mentioned
previously, but true forest-loving species can be found here.
Especially on weekends during the summer, some of the
best birding locations, such as along Sergeant Creek, can be a little
crowded (well, crowded for South Dakota). One place I've had good luck
birding that tends to be very quiet is
point 4, along the western edge of
the park. A hike along the trails to the west leads up a good-sized
hill, and eventually to an open grassy and brushy area along the boundary of
the park. It's further removed from the water along the creek, but as
a mixed/edge habitat area, it also can often attract good variety and
numbers of birds.
Birds of Note:
Newton Hills State Park offers the opportunity to see bird species you're
simply unlikely to find elsewhere in South Dakota. Spring in Newton Hills
can be truly spectacular for a birder, especially as warblers and other migrants
move through in May. The area around Sergeant Creek often offers such
South Dakota breeding rarities as
Blue-winged Warbler, while other
warbler species can be downright abundant as they migrate through the area.
A male Prairie Warbler was found here in 2008, apparently attempting to breed with
the often abundant Yellow Warblers along the creek.
breed here, as do Eastern Towhees (and less often seen,
In recent years, nesting Barred Owls have been found near the creek, another
true rarity in the state.
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and
Woodpeckers are common here, with the Sapsuckers annually tapping into a few
semi-famous "sapsucker trees" along the creek, creating sap wells which attract
a host of other species, including
The area along the creek can also be thick with many sparrow species during
migration, while Field
Sparrows can seemingly be found in every patch of sumac throughout
the summer and fall. Both
Orchard Orioles are found in the edge habitat along the
As you move closer to the edge of the thick deciduous forest,
can be quite common, as can
Scarlet Tanagers, making a wonderful splash of color
among the green forest canopy. One of my favorite sounds in the
in Newton Hills, with birds sometimes calling from all directions.
Flycatchers, and both
Cuckoos are often found or heard as you move up towards
Sergeant Creek towards the picnic shelter. This area is also where
I've had the best luck finding
Vireos during the summer.
The denser deciduous forest areas have sometimes held breeding
as well as a good variety of woodpeckers (Red-bellied,
and the aforementioned
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers). Wild Turkeys can be found
here, as well as elsewhere in the park.
Grosbeaks offer a splash of color in the heart of the forest.
Broad-winged Hawks can occasionally be found, and
can be found here in the winter.
The vast number of juniper trees found along the ridge on the northern
edge of the park can be full of birds late in migration when the weather
turns cold, and during the winter. While
are often described as unpredictable and erratic, this is one location where
you can nearly always find some of the species.
Warblers are very common in the junipers in the fall.
The beaver ponds along Sergeant creek can be very interesting for water
birds. Wood Ducks are usually found there,
Green Herons are sometimes
common as well, and Virginia Rail
have occasionally been found here. Moving
water or perhaps a spring sometimes keeps small pockets of open water
available even in the heart of winter, leading to my discovery of a
Kingfisher above the ponds on one bitterly cold January day.
Other Birding Locations (sorted by distance):