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Things you can’t miss on your first visit to beautiful Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota

Photo of Spearfish Canyon

Spearfish Canyon is a beautiful canyon in the Black Hills of South Dakota that should definitely be added to your itinerary if it hasn’t been already! I wish someone would have urged me to visit this place on my first trip to South Dakota.

This article will focus mainly on Spearfish Canyon, a Scenic byway in the northern Black Hills of South Dakota but I will touch on some of the other “must-see” sights and places to grab a bite to eat in the cute town of Spearfish as well.

So keep reading to find out how to visit this delightful canyon!

Where is Spearfish, South Dakota?

Spearfish is a small town located in the northern Black Hills of South Dakota with a population of roughly 12,000 people. It is located between Devils Tower and Mount Rushmore.

map of the black hills

What is Spearfish Canyon?

Spearfish Canyon is a 19-mile stretch of scenic highway that is engulfed in beautiful scenery, wildlife, streams, and waterfalls.  This canyon is stunning as it transforms four times throughout the year.

It’s not surprising that they chose it as the location of some of the scenes in the classic movie, “Dances With Wolves,” starring Kevin Costner.

How to get to Spearfish Canyon?

Getting to Spearfish Canyon is really straightforward.  It’s nestled in the small town of Spearfish, South Dakota, along Interstate 90. The northern entrance is off exit 10 or 14. Signs will take you directly into the Canyon on 14A, you can’t miss it!  

Map of spearfish canyon

For the southern entrance take Highway 85 east from Wyoming or west from Lead/Deadwood. When you get to the Cheyenne Crossing junction head north on 14A. This entrance takes a little less than an hour to drive to from Rapid City and about 20-minutes from either Deadwood or Sturgis.

How long does it take to drive through Spearfish Canyon?

It would be easy to spend an entire day exploring the many trails and waterfalls alone but doing the drive without stops takes about 45 minutes. Stopping to view the waterfalls and wildlife will obviously add to your journey. Don’t forget the many opportunities to take pictures!

I highly recommend taking time to get out of the car and explore.  

What is the best time of the year to visit Spearfish Canyon?

The best time is any time. Literally any! But let me break down the seasons a bit and I’ll let you decide for yourself.

Winter (Late November to early March)

In the winter the canyon looks like a Christmas card.  What a great location to take those family Christmas photos. Be sure to bundle up because it can be frigid.  Check the weather before you go, it may be as frosty as 5 degrees or sunny and 50 degrees.  

Hiking through the canyon looks like a winter wonderland.  The snow and frozen waterfalls are magical. Some spots of the creek might not be frozen making it look like a cauldron of boiling water.  We hiked the Devil’s Bathtub and it was serene and quiet. We didn’t come across one other person.

Frozen Bridal veil falls with ice climbers.
Frozen Bridal Veil Falls with ice climbers.

Spring (April – May)

Springtime is another quiet time in the Canyon.  Tourist season has yet to start so you won’t come across too much traffic.  It can be cold and still a bit icy or it can be warm and sunny, once the trees and flowers begin to bloom. Most people say when you see the first Pasque flower, spring has begun. It’s a sight to see!  

Summer (June -August)

Summer is the busy season as visitors from all over come to see what the hype is all about and they are not disappointed.  The lush green of the canyon is coming back to life, flowers are abundant on every trail and the water is flowing.  It’s genuinely stunning.

There is a bit more traffic in the summer, but I’ve never seen it too bad.  The first week and a half in August is the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The canyon is one of the hot spots for bikers around the country to cruise their bikes.  Just take your time and enjoy the drive.

Crossing river on Devil's bathtub trail
Devil’s bathtub trail

Hiking in summer can also be a lot of fun and keep you cool as you walk along streams to see waterfalls.

See below to learn more about hiking in Spearfish Canyon.

Autumn (September – October)

I saved the best for last because Autumn is my favorite time to visit the canyon. The colors of the leaves as they change will take your breath away.  The Aspen shimmer and glisten in the sun.  When the wind blows it looks like you are transported into a magical world. The leaves trickle around you and the sun’s beams filter through the trees.  Truly an experience. 

river by spearfish falls trail
Off the trail of Spearfish Falls

If you are planning a trip in the Fall you can check the fall canyon color report to make sure you see it at its peak performance. 

You really can’t go wrong no matter when you visit the canyon but don’t skip it!

More things to do in the canyon

Wildlife viewing

One of the coolest things to see (in my opinion) is the wildlife.  If you see cars pulled over that is usually your sign that there could be animals.  Keep your eyes peeled for the mountain goats.  They could be on the side of the road chowing on the vegetation or balancing on the rocks straight above you.  

Mountain Goat

If you enjoy bird watching there are over 200 species of birds including the bald eagle! I was fortunate enough to see two of them together the last time I visited resulting in a traffic jam.  If you have binoculars, definitely bring them!

Hiking

As I’ve mentioned there are many hikes in Spearfish Canyon. There are hikes to waterfalls, along streams, up mountains, and through the canyon.  You can find trails from easy to expert.  

Roughlock Falls

Roughlock falls is my favorite hike to date. Roughlock falls is a 1-mile out-and-back hike that is rated easy. There are four different places and/or vantage points to view these falls. The water babbles over so many rocks, moss, and foliage that it brings an element of fantasy to it.  The only way I can describe them is that they look like something that belongs in the Shire in Lord of the Rings.  

Roughlock Falls
Roughlock Falls in the fall

Park at the designated lot just past the Spearfish Canyon Lodge.

Spearfish Falls

Spearfish Falls is a moderate hike directly behind the Latchstring restaurant. This trail leads you to view an amazing 47-foot waterfall. This is about a 1.5-mile round-trip hike. There are benches along the way to take a rest and absorb the sounds of nature.

Spearfish Falls
Spearfish Falls (Canva)

76 Trail

If you are looking for a difficult trail then take the 76 Trail. You can access this trail across from the Spearfish Canyon Lodge parking lot. The trail is only about 2.4 miles round trip and the steep incline leads you up a 564 ft elevation gain to impressive panoramic canyon views.

Community Caves Trail

If you’re up for a real challenge then Community Caves Trail is for you. This .6 mile, out and back hike is really worth the trek up. You will cross the creek, duck below trees, and scramble up plenty of rocks.

This trail is rated hard and I’d say it is more difficult because of the vertical stretch, loose rocks, and it’s also possible to get lost. The trail ends with a seasonal waterfall, wondrous caves, and gorgeous views so it’s totally worth it!

Community Caves
Community Caves

This trail is a little harder to find so look for mile marker 13 off of Hwy 14A, about 2.7 miles from the Colorado Blvd turn-off in Spearfish. Immediately after the curve, there will be a parking area on your right. You will cross the highway and walk down the ditch to the creek below.

The hike isn’t marked so good luck!

Devils Bathtub

Devil’s Bathtub is a moderate 1.6-mile out and back hike. You will criss-cross the creek multiple times and you will get wet. The trail is mostly shaded and has a few technical spots. You will know you made it to the end when you hit the swimming hole with a natural rock slide. It is refreshing on those hot summer days!

This summer butterflies were plentiful and even landed on us as we sat in the shade eating our picnic lunch.  It has some technical stuff along the river but the kids 4-8 did great and enjoyed it too!

Devil's Bathtub rock slide
Devil’s Bathtub rock slide

While the summer brings flowers and wildlife, the winter has its own quiet charm. Snow and ice cover the creek making it easier to cross but the trail can be a little more confusing.

Note: If you are interested in hiking and haven’t already downloaded the AllTrails app then I suggest doing so before venturing off. It will give you everything you need to know about each hike as well as a place to read reviews, rate them, and add your own pictures.

Fishing 

Freshwater fishing on Spearfish Creek is a popular activity for some. Wild rainbow and brown trout are what’s for dinner.  It’s not unusual to see some fly fishing going on while driving through the canyon as well.  Make sure to grab your fishing license and a copy of the Black Hills fishing guide.  

Places to eat in or around Spearfish Canyon

In the canyon

If you want to stay in the canyon for a meal with a view, the Latchstring Inn Restaurant is open year-round and seating is available inside or outside, weather permitting. I would sit outside if at all possible and soak in the fabulous cliffs in the canyon and breathe in the sweet smell of the Ponderosa Pines.

It serves American cuisine for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  Try the walleye, which is a very mild fish and popular in South Dakota, or try their signature dish of Trout Almondine.

Breakfast

The Green Bean Coffeehouse
The Green Bean Coffee House

For other food options, you can head back into the town of Spearfish.  Some of my favorite places include first and foremost coffee at The Green Bean.  Hands down my favorite coffee place in the Black Hills and worth the 35-minute drive for me to grab a latte.  They also serve cooked-to-order breakfast sandwiches, bagels, and many pastries.

If you love a good scone, head on over to Ruby’s Roost Bakery and Coffee.  The Ruby scone is an original signature scone and worth every calorie.  They are a family owned business and the service is top-notch. Pop in and say hi, you’ll feel like a local!

Lunch/Dinner

If you are looking for more substantial food, don’t miss Nonna’s Kitchen.  Authentic Italian cuisine will transport you all the way to Italy. They will make you feel at home as you work through their generous portions.  They are open Wednesday through Sunday. 

If you’re more in the mood for smokehouse steaks, chops, chicken, and fish then visit the Steerfish Steak and Smoke. The prices are very affordable for their wide variety of menu options. The appetizer menu is full of interesting and delicious choices. You’ll have to order many to share. It is located on 5th Street in the historical old mercantile.

A local favorite is Dough Trader Pizza. This is a moderately priced stone-baked pizzeria with signature dishes. The crust is light, thin, and airy according to most of the reviews. I can’t wait to check it out myself! CASH only but they do have an atm machine onsight. Also worth mentioning they are closed on Tuesdays.

Dessert

For dessert (which is second only to coffee for me) I would suggest Leones’ Creamery at the end of Main Street.  This handcrafted ice cream offers traditional and unique flavors like “Trail Mix,” creamy butterscotch ice cream with dried cranberries, chocolate-covered pretzels, mini M&M’s, and salted peanuts.  Or what about Ginger peach ice cream? 

The flavors change up weekly and they are always amazing! Vegan options are available too so make sure to stop by and grab a scoop… or two!

If you don’t plan to eat in Spearfish, there are many other food options in the Black Hills.

Places to stay in and around Spearfish Canyon

There are plenty of hotels, campgrounds, RV parks, or Airbnb options in the vicinity but they can fill up quickly. We recommend getting your reservations well in advance.

  • We recommend using booking.com. We almost always use them to secure our accommodations.

Spearfish Canyon Lodge is located directly in the heart of the canyon. This lodge is not only perfect for adventurers but the spectacular views create an enchanting place to tie the knot.

Wedding set up at Spearfish Lodge
Set up for a wedding at the Spearfish Lodge

Surrounded by the limestone canyon, birch trees, and ponderosa pines is the perfect recipe for your adventure. Walk out the door and head on over to Latchstring Inn Restaurant or the popular trailhead to Roughlock falls.

Spearfish Canyon Lodge
Spearfish Canyon Lodge across from the Latchstring Restaurant

They even offer rentals of one to four-person Polaris from May through October. No roof, no doors! Just the wind in your hair, the smile on your face, and the trails to be explored!

Atv
ATV exploring the canyon and forest roads

Rim Rock Lodge is also nestled in the canyon but closer to the Spearfish entrance. This location has 3 cabins, 3 luxury suites, and indoor/outdoor event space. Included on the property is a gallery and gift shop featuring work from local artists, wine, beer, and small bites.

Something I think is a little unusual but cool is their outdoor gym. Not a bad place for a workout!

Best Western Black Hills Lodge is located in town, includes breakfast, and is pet friendly.  

You could rent the Downtown Spearfish Loft through Airbnb which is an entire loft located above a full-service restaurant and within walking distance to everything you need. The loft sleeps 6 and has plenty of room for the entire family.  

Spearfish/Black Hills KOA Holiday is an option for families camping in or around the northern Black Hills. Raving reviews all seem to suggest this place is clean and well-maintained as well as a great location. The nightly ice cream social sounds like a fun little perk too!

These are just a few options but the sooner you know your dates the better your chances of getting the experience you desire on your trip.

Other things to do in and around Spearfish, South Dakota

D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery is a great place to take the family.  Est in 1896 and one of the oldest operating hatcheries in the U.S. The museum has over 185,000 items and has the most extensive collection of fishery artifacts in the country. 

There are over 10 acres and other buildings to explore.  You can feed the fish from dawn to dusk year round but check times for the museum and other sites to get the full experience.  

Termesphere Gallery.  If you enjoy art you can walk around and view several dozen paintings on spherical canvases.  A Termesphere is an inside-out view of the physical world around you on the outside. Dick Termes has truly unique pieces of art.

High Plains Western Heritage CenterThis is a 5 state museum that honors the Old West Pioneers and American Indians of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana. 

Two hours is recommended to fully experience everything.  Kids 6 and under, as well as veterans are free.  Prices are very reasonable for all other guests.  Hours vary during the year so look it up before planning a visit. 

There is so much to explore in the beautiful town of Spearfish and the northern Black Hills. Once you’ve had your fill, cruise on down to Sturgis and see where the famous rally takes place, or head over to Deadwood for a real “Wild West” adventure.

Deadwood Saloon 10
Deadwood Saloon 10

Now that you’ve explored Spearfish, discover all the other things you can do in the Black Hills. Watch our video The Best of Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills.

Is there anything else I need to know?

Yes! Spearfish canyon is just one of the many things you can do in, and around, the Black Hills. In fact, the area can be overwhelming to plan out on your own. It can take hours or even days to figure out.

Our Mount Rushmore/Black Hills Travel Guide is just for you! Our travel guide comes as a super-simple daily itinerary and comes complete with audio. You’ll get 3 hours of fun stories and interesting information about Mt. Rushmore, Custer, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and more.

Let us take the guesswork out of planning your trip. We will get you to all the right places at the right times. Get your travel guide today!

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Matt and Cheryl

We’re Matt and Cheryl, and we’re in the Rockies. :) We are both teachers. Cheryl teaches special ed, and Matt teaches American history. We love the American West and the national parks. We want to help you have a great vacation on your next trip to the Rockies.

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