From mountain peaks to gorgeous lakes, massive caves, and beautiful canyons, the Black Hills of South Dakota is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. One of the lesser-known highlights of the Black Hills is Spearfish Canyon. This relatively small but lush canyon is home to some of the best waterfalls in the state. The best hikes in Spearfish Canyon follow the flow of Spearfish Creek and its tributaries to these amazing waterfalls, a natural waterpark, tranquil streams, and overlooks of the canyon. These are not only the best trails in Spearfish Canyon but some of the best hikes found in the Black Hills.
Locating the Best Hikes in Spearfish Canyon
Spearfish Canyon is a remote and somewhat ruggid canyon. Cell service is unreliable to none existent inside the canyon. Many of these trails are not well-signed if at all. We provide this map to help you locate each parking area and trailhead but we also list notes based on the distance from where the 14A Highway (Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway) begins in Spearfish, South Dakota.
At 60′ in height, the Bridal Veil Falls is the tallest waterfall to be found in Spearfish Canyon. I think Bridal Veil is perhaps the most overused name for a waterfall. Regardless, this waterfall is beautiful and the effort to take in is minimal.
The parking area is one of the largest in the canyon and is found 6-miles from Spearfish, SD. There is a viewing platform directly across the road but you can also scramble down the boulders on the side of the road to the base of the waterfall. Getting up close and personal with the waterfall allows the crash of the water to drown out the traffic in the canyon and makes the experience sublime.
2) Devils Bathtub
Total Distance: 1.5-miles
Elevation Gain: 250′
Rating: Moderately Difficult
The Devils Bathtub is a series of small pools found on Squaw Creek which is a tributary of Spearfish Creek. The area is like a natural waterpark complete with a stone slide for those brave enough to take it on. When we were there I was the only adult to do it but there were several kids who were enthralled with the slide. The hike is beautiful as the path follows and crosses the creek several times as it cuts through the tributary canyon. It is impossible to keep your feet dry during the hike so bring some shoes you don’t mind getting wet. The terrain is fairly flat and we found it easy enough to just hike in our water shoes.
The trail is a little hard to follow at times and very crowded. Arrive early if you are seeking seclusion especially on a weekend during the summer. The google map above shows the parking area which is large enough to accommodate a dozen or more vehicles. It is located 2-miles up the canyon from Bridal Veil Falls. From the parking lot, you will hike back down the road to the Cleopatra Place road which crosses over Spearfish Creek via a bridge. Once you are across the bridge there is a sign and the path ahead is easy to spot. If you lose the trail on the way up the canyon you can hike the creek bed itself to the Devils Bathtub.
3) Eleven Hour Gulch
Total Distance: 3/8ths of a Mile
Elevation Gain: 65′
Rating: Very Difficult
Hiking eleven Hour Gulch is a unique experience. The “path” or lack thereof climbs up a steep side canyon that typically has a trickle of water in it. This trail requires climbing over large boulders and up two dilapidated makeshift ladders. The trail is short but very adventurous. Once you find your way to the top of the gulch there is a small trail that leads back across the southern edge of the precipice allowing for some views back into the gulch. The trail ends at a slab of rock overlooking Spearfish Canyon and the 14A highway. It is a great view but the adventure is the draw of this hike.
The parking area for the Eleven Hour Gulch is a small pullout located on the east side of the 14A highway. The pullout is large enough for about three vehicles. Neither the parking area nor the trail for this hike are signed making it difficult to locate. The pullout is located about 9-miles up the canyon just past Victoria Lane near mile marker 20.
4) Iron Creek
Total Distance: 5-miles
Elevation Gain: 350′
Rating: Moderately Easy
Iron Creek is another tributary of Spearfish Creek. The hike up Iron Creek is fairly easy and sublime as it follows the flow of the creek. While the footing can be uneven the trail is wide and well established. It is one of the easiest trails in the canyon. There are a few small cascades found in the creek and the beautiful canyon walls rise up on either side. Wildflowers are abundant on the trail during the summer and there are even a few rock arches to be discovered.
The parking lot is easy to locate on the west side of the 14A highway about 11.5 miles up the canyon. It is large enough for half a dozen vehicles but does fill up fast on weekends. The terminus of the trail is the gravle road 222. Some people continue to hike or bike the road all the way to Iron Creek Lake but if you wish to visit the lake you can always drive there via Tinton Road which is a fairly well maintained (during the summer) gravel road.
5) Spearfish Falls
Total Distance: 1.5-miles
Elevation Gain: 65′
Rating: Moderately Easy
While Bridal Veil Falls may be the tallest waterfall in Spearfish Canyon, the 47′ Spearfish Falls is considered by many to be the most beautiful in the canyon. Spearfish Falls is a gorgeous cliff waterfall that plunges out of the lush foliage above the falls in five columns (depending on the flow). The history of this waterfall is very unique as well. The water from the creek was channeled away from the waterfall in 1916 by the Homestake Mining Company. For nearly 90 years the waterfall was dormant only returning to its glory when the mine shut down and the flow was restored in 2003.
The parking area and trailhead for Spearfish Falls are located adjacent to the Latchstring Restaurant in the small town of Savoy, South Dakota. Savoy is found 13-miles up the canyon and is a tiny town with only a few buildings. The top of the waterfall is located adjacent to the parking area on the east side of the restaurant. The trail to the base of the falls is located on the west side and is signed. The trail to the base descends 50′ fairly quickly and then crosses over a well-engineered bridge. The remainder of the short traverse is back up the north side of the creek to the base of the falls.
6) ’76 Trail
Total Distance: 1.5-miles
Elevation Gain: 565′
’76 refers to 1876 when men seeking fortune arrived in the Black Hills seeking their fortune in the gold rush. The gold miners of ’76 blazed the trail while traversing this rugged terrain between the gold strikes in Deadwood Gulch to the east and Tinton Gulch to the west. The ’76 Trail climbs the walls of Spearfish Canyon to a small overlook known as Buzzard’s Roost. The overlook is perched at the top of the canyon above the town of Savoy. The trail isn’t overly scenic but it is interesting to follow in the footsteps of those adventurous pioneers seeking their fortune.
The ’76 trailhead is found on the west side of the Roughlock Falls Road (gravel road) across from the Spearfish Lodge. The parking lot for the Spearfish Lodge is for guests only so day hikers will need to park a short way up the road in the lower(first) Roughlock Falls Parking Lot. The trail is actually signed with a small ’76 trail plaque. The path is short but very steep. Bring your hiking poles to help with the descent.
7) Roughlock Falls
Total Distance: 0.5-miles to 2-miles
Elevation Gain: 67′ to 240′
Roughlock Falls is a uniquely beautiful waterfall. Little Spearfish Creek flows over a lush green landscape where the water seems to pour from the trees, grass, and moss. The main column of water plunges 20′ or so over a ledge and then cascades in two fanning waterfalls another 10′ into the channel of the creek. While Spearfish Falls is a beautiful traditional waterfall, Roughlock Falls is a stunningly gorgeous waterfall in its uniqueness. Both Jennifer and I thought that this waterfall was the crowning glory of Spearfish Canyon and a hike that should not be overlooked when visiting the Black Hills of South Dakota.
There are two trailheads for hiking Roughlock Falls. The lower trailhead is found behind Spearfish Lodge in the town of Savoy, South Dakota. The path from this parking lot to the base of the falls is a mile long and very flat. It cuts through the trees as it follows the creek upstream to the falls. The second trailhead is found a mile up Roughlock Falls Road. The gravel road is well maintained in summer and easily traversed by almost any vehicle. The hike from the second parking lot is shorter but steeper as it descends to the base of the falls from above. There are several small spurs with overlooks along the way.
Best Hikes in Spearfish Canyon
Just driving the 22-mile long Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway is one of the best adventures in theBlack Hills. However, lacing up your boots and stepping out on these top 7 hiking trails is the best way to fully explore this amazing canyon. The best hikes in Spearfish Canyon visit some of the state’s most beautiful waterfalls and some challenging but scenic overlooks. Fully exploring Spearfish Canyon on these hiking trails is a great way to get the most out of a trip into the Black Hills.
Check out our post about the best of the Black Hills for more ideas about planning a trip to this beautiful area of South Dakota.
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