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How to Do the Amazing Devil’s Bathtub Swimming Hole in South Dakota

kids sliding down natural slide at Devil's Bathtub in Spearfish South Dakota

Many people have heard of Devil’s Bathtub or have driven through Spearfish Canyon and stumbled across the parking area without knowing what it is. But what exactly is Devil’s Bathtub?

Devil’s Bathtub is a popular swimming hole located in the middle of the Spearfish Canyon Byway in Spearfish, South Dakota. This 1.6-mile out-and-back trail is a short hike with little elevation gain but can be challenging for some due to having to cross the small river several times. A rare, natural waterslide is on the trail.

After several visits myself, and a few mistakes along the way, I figured I could give some of the best tips to ensure a more prepared experience for all.  I’m Brandi and I live in the wonderful Black Hills of South Dakota, so keep reading as I share everything I can to make sure you get to Devil’s Bathtub swimming hole. 

How Do I Get to the Devil’s Bathtub Trailhead?

Devil’s Bathtub is located off Highway 14A otherwise known as Spearfish Scenic Highway.  If you are coming from Spearfish it’s about a 10-15 minute drive into the canyon until you reach the parking area just about ¼ mile after the Cleopatra Place road sign.  

Cleopatra place sign towards Devil's bathtub trailhead
Homestake mining hydro plant

If you are coming from the opposite direction it will be about 15 minutes after passing Savoy where the Spearfish Canyon Lodge and Roughlock Falls trailhead are.  You will arrive at the parking area just after seeing the Homestake Mining Co. Hydro Electic Plant building.  This is a building you can’t miss.  It’s old and made out of bright red bricks.  An awesome building if you are into photography or drawing.

Now that you have parked you will follow the trail along the river downstream.  This will take you to Cleopatra Place and a long wooden bridge crossing the river and then onto the trailhead.  The signs will direct you where to go and where NOT to go. Stay to the right to enter the trail area. If you go left you will be entering someone’s private property.

How Long Does it Take to Get to Devil’s Bathtub?

On average I think 30-45 minutes is a fair time frame to get to the slide and swimming area.  It can vary depending on the season and how much time you take to enjoy the scenery and take breaks.  We usually just plow on through but take our time on the river crossings to avoid slipping on wet rocks or twisting an ankle.

You can and should most certainly take your time and enjoy some bird watching and rock hunting. I’ve heard the Black Hills and particularly Spearfish have lots of geodes and cool rocks.

How Difficult is the Hike?

The hike is not too difficult however it does have some elements that you should know about. In this section, I’ll address those things so that you can be prepared and not have any surprises.

Creek Crossing

As I said before, the hike isn’t too bad but you will have to cross the creek about 7 or 8 times to follow the trail and make it to the end.  If you go in late summer or fall the creek should have less water and as you cross over strategically placed logs or rocks that are large enough and close enough together to create a dry path you can avoid getting wet.

As for my husband and I, we prefer to just walk straight into the creek and avoid the unsteady tightrope walker dance as we try to balance our way through.  It is very refreshing!

creek crossing

If it’s spring and early summer I think it is near impossible to stay dry so just get in and embrace the wet! Take your time and watch where you are stepping.  Some areas have more current than others so be vigilant to keep steady on your feet.

Obstacles

Other areas along the trail have rocks, roots, branches, and logs that can trip you if you aren’t paying attention.  I always say look up and around to enjoy your surroundings but on this particular hike, you also want to keep your eyes on the road.  There are many, many places that could “trip” you up.

Obstacles on the trail to Devil's bathtub
Thick foliage and obstacles

Some of the trail is overgrown in areas so you will be brushing up along branches and leaves at times.  My last hike out there was after a rainy night and the branches trailed along my arms getting me wet.  That can be refreshing on a hot day, but for me, it was early morning and a little chilly. Good thing I had a lightweight jacket!

Winter

If you are hiking in the winter, I would suggest snow shoes or crampons for your shoes. These are small spikes you can buy and slip onto your regular shoes for walking on ice. Wear plenty of layers and a hat and gloves to stay warm.  There is lots of snow and ice the entire way and you will more than likely be crossing a frozen creek.

winter at Devil's bathtub
Frozen creek at Devil’s bathtub

Agility

There are also some narrow places between the canyon wall and the creek.  This was the sketchiest part for me.  I held onto the rocks and even chose to walk some of them in the creek because the path became too narrow at one point.  This is part of the trail that looks the most unique so just bring your patience and hone in on your inner mountain goat skills.

narrow path on Devil's bathtub trail

Rock Scrambles

There is also a small amount of rock scrambles that could be a tiny bit strenuous but again if you take your time it will be fine for most people.  If you have bad knees especially be careful.

When is the Best Time of Year to Hike Devil’s Bathtub?

This hike is best between June and September, but I’d recommend July or August if you can.  The creek will be more tame and the wildflowers and butterflies will be putting on their summer show.  

Fall will be pretty and if the weather is still nice then it will be a stunning hike among the yellow and orange leaves falling on the path.  I would keep an eye on the weather and bring layers because most of the hike is in the shade making it a chilly journey if not in the summer.

Winter brings its magic and the trail will be covered in snow and ice with sections of the creek bubbling like a boiling cauldron.  You won’t be able to navigate the trail as well as you would in the summer months but it’s still doable.  Dress warm!

When is the Best Time of Day to Hike Devil’s Bathtub?

I’ll always say first thing in the morning.  I like to beat the crowds and the heat.  You can also do the hike in the late afternoon or evening which will also accomplish this but at that point, I’m already home recovering from my busy day.

I also like to avoid hiking too late or close to dusk. Animals come out around that time and there’s also the possibility of staying too long and having to hike in the dark. Being that there is already a lot of shade on this particular trail and it’s in a canyon, the sun will be disappearing sooner than in the rest of the hills.

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What Will I See on My Hike to Devil’s Bathtub?

You will see so much beauty and splendor on this hike.  Countless wildflowers, foliage, birds, chipmunks, butterflies, interesting trees, cascading water, rock formations, swimming holes, and more!  One summer we must have just arrived about the time the butterflies were hatching. They were everywhere and they were landing on us and sitting on us as we sat along the water enjoying our lunch.

There’s always the possibility of running into a dangerous animal like a rattlesnake or even a mountain lion. Though I’ve never seen one on my hikes in the hills, be aware, that you are sharing the land with them too.  Often people say that you might not see them but they see you.

How Long Will I Need?

At the minimum, you will take an hour to hike in and back out. This is if you are rushing to get the hike over with.  I mention this because people come from all over the country, if not the world, and may only have one day in the canyon and want to do multiple trails.  

When I had family from out of town visit, we brought lunch and spent some time playing in the water and sliding down the rock slide.  Make sure to bring a garbage bag to pack your trash back out and even pick any up that you might encounter along the way.  I was impressed that I didn’t see garbage on the trail aside from encountering several pairs of wet socks along the way. They were spread out on rocks so I assumed the owners were coming back for them on their way back.

Who Can Do This?

This trail is doable for most people and families.  The river crossing will be challenging for those who are elderly or have physical issues like bad knees, back, etc.  Small children will be okay as long as a parent or adult can help them along the creeks and up some of the rock scrambles.

Children hiking Devil's bathtub

I wanted to mention I have bad arthritis in one knee and my good knee often is overcompensating for it.  This hike isn’t too bad and much easier than some of the other more strenuous hikes in the hills. The hardest part is the rock crossing and making sure I have my feet firmly planted before stepping ahead.

What Else Should I Know?

  • Watch for poison oak/ivy. We ran into some poison along the creek in the parking lot area.  I kept my eye out on the trail but didn’t notice any.  That doesn’t mean it’s not out there.  Many hikes in the hills have poison ivy and I’ve seen it often and even walked into it before knowing what it looked like.  
  • Download the “seeker” app if you want to be able to identify plants (especially poison oak), or birds. I have it just for my enjoyment and curiosity.
  • Bring water as you should with every hike!
  • Watch for strange obstructions on the path to the trailhead.
weird but dangerous object in the middle of path
  • Bring sunscreen or sun protection.  Even though most of this hike is shaded, there are times you will be in direct sunlight, especially while swimming and going down the slide.
  • Dogs are allowed but must be on a leash.
  • There are NO bathrooms on this trail, nor in the parking area.  The closest restrooms are going to be up at the Roughlock Falls trailhead or back into Spearfish.
  • Since you will be crossing the creek, wear water shoes or hiking shoes that you don’t mind getting wet.  I saw many families coming along with flip-flops or Birkenstocks.  With wet slippery rocks, make sure your shoes are appropriate.
  • The trail is on BOTH sides of the stream and you will cross over, as mentioned above.  
  • Many people stop prematurely on the trail, finding a swimming hole and natural rock slide that is a false ending. If you think you are there, keep going for about 10 more minutes and when you see it you’ll know.  
  • Upon leaving we found a little spot where people had put multiple shoes, and personal items left behind. I believe this is the “lost and found” area of the hike.
lost and found devil's bathtub

What Should I Do After?

If you haven’t already driven the scenic canyon drive, then I recommend doing so. Make sure to look for the mountain goats up near Bridal Veil Falls and stop to view the falls.

In the opposite direction, you can continue in the canyon to Savoy and take a trail down to Spearfish Falls. They are a short 1/4-mile hike to view and the perfect spot for a family picture. Next visit Roughlock Falls which are my favorite falls in the canyon. The trailhead is just beyond the Spearfish Canyon Lodge.  For a more detailed guide to visiting them, you can check out my article.

mountain goat
Roughlock Falls Summer

As I mentioned in all my articles in Spearfish, I’d take a trip into town and grab an ice cream cone at Leone’s Creamery or have a delicious specialty coffee at The Green Bean. Spearfish has some of the best coffee, ice cream, and food in the Black Hills.  Stop in downtown Spearfish for some shopping and a treat before your next adventure!

Is There Anything Else I Should Know?

Yes! The Black Hills and the surrounding area can be confusing because it’s huge and there are so many things to do! 

Do you need a game plan so you don’t miss out on the best things to do in the Black Hills? Check out our Mount Rushmore/Black Hills Itinerary

Most travelers want to visit the most popular sites, yet still, avoid the crowds. We have a detailed itinerary that gives you a step-by-step game plan so you can get to the best places at the right times!

But that’s not all! Our itinerary includes a free audio guide to listen to while driving, with over 2-hours of stories about the area!

MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO THE BLACK HILLS

BLACK HILLS TRIP PLANNER: To read or watch all of our content about the Grand Canyon, check out our Black Hills Homepage

AREAS: The Black Hills is home to some amazing national parks and monuments: Mt. Rushmore, Wind Cave and Jewel Cave National Parks, Badlands, and Crazy Horse.  Plus, the amazing Custer State Park

THINGS TO DO: There is much more to do than hike and look at Mt. Rushmore.  Explore the 1880 train, Reptile Gardens, slip down a natural waterslide, or go on a scenic drive

GREAT CITIES TO STAY OR CHECK OUT: Explore some amazing mountain towns including Deadwood, Keystone, Hill City, and Rapid City.

GET QUIRKY: Want something REALLY different? Check out Devil’s Tower and Wall Drug

WHERE TO EAT: Check out the best places to eat in and around Mt. Rushmore plus where to eat in each city

WATCH: Enjoy videos of the amazing Black Hills while learning our best tips for visiting by watching our Black Hills YouTube Playlist

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