Shoes in water at Devils Bathtub


Hike. Eat. Drink. Wander.

By Austin Kaus

When I visit a place, I want to absorb it. It’s not enough to stop for a bite to eat or take a look through a car window. I have to wander, chat with the locals and see what it is that makes this particular piece of Earth unique. Here’s how a day in Spearfish went.


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8 a.m. – Hero on a Hike Hunt – Granola Power!

I munch on a granola bar as I pull off Interstate 90 and into Spearfish. Before leaving, I researched hiking opportunities (as I always do) and became intrigued by Lookout Mountain. Located just north of Spearfish, the mountain is one of three peaks that make up the “crown” that gives Spearfish the title of “Queen City.” I’d like to think residents like “Bohemian Rhapsody” as much as I do. However, no one mentioned the song at all throughout the day. 

Back to the mountain…my research said there were two available trailheads, but I go with the one that starts near the Church of the Nazarene. I park on Nevada Street and go looking for the tunnel that would take me under a road and to the trailhead. It’s discreet, but it’s there. I strap on my water belt to ensure that I would look not at all cool and head out.

Watter bottle strap

Ah, it is a nice hike. The right trail (there are two options) starts off in a field but quickly shifts to trees and a variety of plant life. Instead of heading directly to the peak, I wander and stop to take in the views and enjoy my well-stored water on a warm summer’s day. For a while, I can see the second trail. I just can’t get to it. That’s part of the fun for me. 

As a hiker, I’m always aware of the slight chance I’ll encounter a mountain lion or a rattlesnake but, as usual, all I end up seeing are a couple of beings definitely more scared of me than I was of them. For this particular hike, that meant a beautiful blue jay and an extremely skittish wild turkey.

After a couple of hours, I was pleasantly ready to refill my water bottles and recharge with some downtown wandering. Lookout Mountain: Come for the hike, savor the graffiti during your departure.

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Spearfish hike
11 a.m. – Hitting Main Street

As soon as I step onto Main Street, I feel what I later determined to be the Spearfish Vibe. The pace is different here, a small-town friendliness combined with the relaxed feeling of people surrounded by beauty. I don't wander long before I find some of that beauty inside a building. 

The entrance to the Matthews Opera House is pretty unassuming. I walk into the adjacent Arts Center and inquire about the Opera House. Was it open? Could I look at it? The two ladies smiled with accommodation. Was it my hiking glow or dashing good looks? Should I go show them the water belt? Nah. They’re probably just always this nice. “Go right through that door and check it out,” one happily exclaims. 

I check it out. What a gorgeous place. I take in the stage, admire the variety of intricately decorated spheres and head back to the adjacent building.

“What are those spheres?” I ask. It turns out they’re “Termespheres,” so named because they are made by Dick Termes. He’s a local guy that constructs these one-of-a-kind works of art outside of Spearfish. I make a note: Either find this guy this trip or make sure I do it next time. (Due to time constraints, it’s going to be next time.) 

Matthews Opera House, Termesphere
Matthews Opera House
Noon – Put Food in Me

On the recommendation of a friend, I go to the Bay Leaf Café (now closed) to recharge with deliciousness. I am not disappointed. It turns out to be a quaint café with great service and food that tastes just as delicious as it sounded. I eat the Monte Cristo with gusto and finish with a piece of rhubarb cake because I believe both ham and whipped cream are appropriate forms of hiking fuel. Note: I am not a certified nutritional anything.

Full, hydrated and happy, it is time to take in my main goal of the visit…

1 p.m. – Spearfish Canyon

I now understand why many South Dakotans looked at me funny when I’ve told them that I’ve never visited Spearfish Canyon. It’s here. It’s beautiful. What have I been doing with my life?

The existential crisis was brief. The appreciation has yet to end.

There is what seems like an almost-incalculable number of spots to check out in Spearfish Canyon, so I go to one that sounded cool in every sense of the word. It's off to Devil’s Bathtub for me.

Whereas my time spent wandering around Lookout Mountain was warm and water-bottle-draining, my trip to Devil’s Bathtub is shaded, moist and cool. Someone had warned me that my feet would get wet during the hike. I hoped it was a promise.

It was.

The hike to Devil’s Bathtub is mostly shaded and all great. I leisurely stroll down the path(s) that crisscross the water and find myself charmed by something natural and beautiful at numerous points along the way.

Then, there it is: A modest body of water constantly refreshed by a tiny waterfall. The ladies of the Arts Center told me to take my swimsuit during my afternoon pilgrimage. While the water is cold, the refreshment after two hikes is amazing and fully experienced by complete and literal immersion.

Devil's Bathtub
Devil's Bathtub
Devil's Bathtub
Devil's Bathtub
3 p.m. – Refreshment Time

As I return to my vehicle, I am tired and happy. Two hikes in a day make a man hungry. It was time for the traditional celebration meal: beer and pizza.

Hydrating after a hike (or two) is important, so I always try to make sure to put away as much water as I can. However, there’s nothing wrong with a refreshing brew after a day outdoors to help with recovery. Using that logic, I went straight to Spearfish’s Crow Peak Brewing Company for a cold glass of Ctrl+Alt+Del before being drawn across the parking lot to the Farmer’s Market.

Here, the Spearfish Vibe is in full effect. I munch on delicious cheese samples and buy some other deliciousness before heading out for a full meal.

4:30 p.m. – Beer Achieved

For the pizza, I go to Dough Trader Pizza Company. A local had recommended it. Said local was not wrong. I put away as many slices of the Luigi’s Hidden Star (I’m a sucker for video game references…especially those that involve two kinds of meat) as I can. The pizza has a thinner crust and is extremely moist. Great flavor. Great options (those of the more vegetable persuasion can easily find something.) Great atmosphere.

It’s been a great day, the kind that definitely deserved another beer.

6 p.m. – A Day Well Spent

I end the day by meeting up with a friend at the Spearfish Creek Wine Bar. Either this place was designed for the traveling hiker or I am just happy to be there. It’s probably a combination of both. They have a nice beer selection, mellow ambiance and an outdoor patio where I chat up locals about hiking, Spearfish and the world. The general consensus: People like Spearfish.  After spending a day there myself, I completely understand.

Spearfish graffiti
Illustrated image of three bison grazing in Custer State Park. The Needles rock formation is visible in the background.
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