With over 2.5 million people visiting the Black Hills annually, it’s still a shame that many have no idea of the magic that Roughlock Falls displays.
Roughlock Falls are cascading waterfalls located in Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota. It is one hour away from Mt. Rushmore and is part of the 19-mile scenic byway where visitors can enjoy stunning foliage, fishing, endless hikes, rock climbing, swimming, restaurants, rare wildlife like the American Dipper, and waterfalls. It can be visited in all seasons but summer and fall are the most stunning. Guests can view Roughlock Falls on the easy, 2-mile total, out and back hike or from their car via Roughlock Falls Road.
I’m Brandi and I live in the Black Hills of South Dakota just about 45 minutes from these stunning falls. I’ve visited the falls countless times, and in every season, and would love to share my experience and tips with you. Read on to learn a bit more before your adventure!
How Do You Get To Roughlock Falls?
Getting to Spearfish Canyon from Rapid City takes about 50 minutes if you drive on I-90 to exit 14. Keep left toward Spearfish Canyon Byway, turn right onto E Colorado Blvd., then left onto Spearfish Canyon Road.
If you are starting from the town of Spearfish, which is the direction I always enter, it is 13 miles from the canyon entrance. If you are coming from the Mount Rushmore area then it is 5.4 miles from 14A.
Coming from Mount Rushmore is just as easy but has many more details so I recommend grabbing a map or taking a screenshot on your phone because cell service in Spearfish Canyon can get spotty. I’ve included a map below to help you out.
Both directions from the canyon will lead you to the area of Savoy. You will turn onto Roughlock Falls Road and either park behind the Spearfish Canyon Lodge if you are hiking or continue driving until you reach the Falls parking lot.
- Visiting Mount Rushmore? Let us help you! Check out: When Is The Best Time To Visit Mount Rushmore? and How Much Time Do You Need At Mount Rushmore?
Hiking Roughlock Falls Trail
Roughlock Falls is more of a scenic walk than a hike. The journey is fairly easy and only about 2 miles round trip. This would be a great trail for seniors or families with small children and even a stroller could easily make the trip too!
This trail is so luxurious and is one of my favorite places in the canyon. The foliage is thick and lush creating a canopy for most of the hike. There is plenty of shade on the trail, especially if you do it earlier in the day before the sun is high in the sky. There are several places to stop and read the signs with great information in the canyon regarding wildlife, nature, and history. Take your time to stop and read each one.
You may also come across many species of wildlife. I have yet to make a trip to the falls without sighting a bird I’ve never seen before. Twice I’ve seen the rare American Dipper. Watch for those in the creek, especially near the falls’ lower section.
Chipmunks frequently cross the paths as you walk and I even managed to capture a picture of a buck foraging in the meadow. Bald eagles found soaring in the canyon as well as other raptors native to South Dakota are commonly spotted.
There is a long bridge near the beginning of the trail that crosses a wide part of the creek. We like to stand out on it and view the trout. On a clear sunny day, they are very easy to see through the glass-like creek. This is an area of the creek that does not allow fishing.
- Don’t miss the amazing devil’s bathtub swimming hole in South Dakota another great hike in Spearfish Canyon.
If you get tired or just want to take a break there are a few spots along the way with park benches. A good place to sit for a minute and listen to the sounds of the forest while you sip on your water or have a snack.
The trail will end up at the bottom of the falls. There are several viewpoints for these falls so make sure to follow the path up to the parking lot so that you don’t miss any of them. Each one offers a different angle, but the bottom view is the best! Here is where things look magical and something that may have inspired books like “The Lord Of The Rings”.
The creek near this bottom area is where you may see more fish and other unique birds along with that American Dipper I talked about earlier. Keep an eye out for those. The American Dipper is a plump grey small beaked bird that walks in the water and will frequently dip its entire head in looking for bugs. He’s very charming and busy and I find it a real treat every time I see one!
Once you are done admiring the lower falls you can continue the trail up to the other viewpoints plus a restroom area and picnic tables. The picnic tables also follow the creek and sidewalk where you can find some sweet hidden spots and more serene areas away from the crowds.
Once you have finished exploring the falls area you can head back down the way you came. Don’t forget to look around and enjoy the expansive canyon walls and keep your eyes peeled for birds in the sky. I often look at my feet on the trail and have to remind myself to look around and enjoy the view as well.
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When Should You Visit Roughlock Falls?
The falls are open year-round but the road to the falls will be closed in winter except for snowmobiles. Snowmobile rentals are available at the Spearfish Canyon Lodge before parking.
You can walk it if you choose. I’ve done that twice but opted for taking the road instead of the designated trail. The road was easier to trek up, because of some snowmobile tracks. Some people also use this area for snowshoeing.
The falls are pretty in the winter and completely frozen. It’s a unique site but most of the trees are bare and the landscape is just not as pretty as in the warmer months.
Spring is very doable but could be messy, and muddy, and still have some lingering snow as well as some showers. If you don’t mind getting a little muddy or maybe even being hit by late snow, spring won’t bother you.
Things will be starting to bloom and the foliage won’t be as dense, giving you a more open look around the canyon. I try to wait until very late spring or early summer before I even venture out there just to keep from getting my hiking boots too muddy.
That all said, there is something special about hiking in the rain. The colors pop, especially the green and the ponderosa pine permeate a cinnamon vanilla scent during and after the rain.
Summer is ideal in that you will have the best chance of weather and the scenery is lush, green, and stunning. There will be flowers and butterflies decorating the route and plenty of other interesting critters along the way. Maybe even a snake!
The one downside of summer will be the crowds and parking. You can get there early and have the best shot at parking and fewer people on the trail but nothing is guaranteed. It will however vary on the day of the week. Midweek or non-holiday weekends will assure you far fewer crowds.
If Summer is ideal then autumn would be second place to that and ONLY because we never know what Mother Nature is going to do in the fall. My favorite time to see the Falls and walk the trails is in the autumn.
The colors of the canyon are brilliantly contrasting with the greens of summer. Yellows, oranges and red stand out along the green ponderosa pines, and the aspens hover over the trail, sprinkling leaves over you as you walk. It’s magical and quite frankly doesn’t last long enough. The best time to witness this is the very first weekend in October but Spearfish gives a fantastic fall color report that you can find here.
Can I get to Roughlock Falls without the Hike?
You can bypass the hike and just take the Roughlock Falls Road to the parking area at the falls. This sometimes is convenient because not everyone is in the mood to hike or has the ability. Sometimes time is a factor or the weather may be unfavorable. Either way you see the falls is just as memorable.
The parking areas at the falls are small but there are many if you just keep driving along the road. Some people also will park along the road if the space allows. There should rarely be an issue with parking except maybe during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in the first 10 days of August.
- Looking for more things to do nearby? Discover Mt. Moriah Cemetary (South Dakota): How to Visit & Helpful Tips.
Things You Need To Know
- There are restrooms at the trailhead and the falls picnic area. These are vault toilets with no washing stations so bring your hand sanitizer.
- You cannot go into the falls or beyond the fencing at the falls.
- Parking may be hard to find at the trailhead during peak season so if you intend to hike, getting there early is key.
- Bring water as there is no access to water on the trail.
- Dogs are allowed on leash.
- It can get crowded so I will stress to go early.
- Weather can be unpredictable so plan accordingly. Lightning in the canyon is LOUD but AWESOME.
- The falls were named Roughlock after traveling pioneers who would lower their wagons into the canyon and roughlock the wheels to prevent them from rolling freely. This is accomplished by attaching the rear wheel to the back of the wagon to stop movement.
If you are traveling back to Spearfish after the falls I’d highly recommend grabbing a delicious scoop or two of ice cream at Leones’ Creamery in downtown Spearfish. They don’t open until noon but they stay open late.
What’s special about them? Well, they make everything homemade, they partner with local businesses to incorporate products into their flavors, and unique to other creameries they don’t use any artificial dye to color their ice cream. I finally had the chance to try the black licorice-flavored ice cream! The flavors change weekly so look at the menu and see what they have the week you visit!
- Don’t miss The Best Places To Eat In Each City Of The Black Hills for some great dining spots!
Now that you have all of this helpful information you have no excuse to get out in the glorious canyon in Spearfish and get some sunshine and movement. If you plan your day right and start early, you can enjoy the trail before the crowds, have a nice lunch at the picnic area and make it back just in time for the Ice Cream shop to open at noon and continue your journey in the Black Hills!
Anything Else I Should Know?
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