Towering limestone cliffs and a rushing mountain stream keep you company along the 19-mile stretch of US Highway 14A known as Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway.
Gradually climbing from the town of Spearfish on the northern edge of the Black Hills, this canyon is one of the gateways into the heart of an ancient mountain range. Spruce, pine, aspen, birch and oak trees cling to the hillsides. Spearfish Creek flows along the canyon bottom, acting as a natural guide for the scenic byway that follows the creek's contours.
HOW TO GET HERE: To start at the northern end of the byway, take either Exit 10 or Exit 14 off of Interstate 90 to Spearfish and hop on 14A. To find the southern end, take Highway 85 east from Wyoming or west from Lead/Deadwood. When you come to the Cheyenne Crossing junction, head north on Highway 14A and let your scenic cruise begin.
WHAT YOU'LL SEE (AND WANT TO PULL OVER FOR): Prepare to be amazed by the impressive views that will unveil themselves around every corner. The stunning Bridal Veil Falls (located approximately 5.8 miles south of Spearfish Canyon's north entrance) cascades down a sheer 60-foot cliff right alongside the road, and a small wooden viewing platform makes it a definite photo stop for many travelers. Watch Little Spearfish Creek become a waterfall at Roughlock Falls State Nature Area, the most popular waterfall in the canyon, or check out Little Spearfish Falls just behind the Latchstring Inn in the tiny town of Savoy near the southern end of the byway.
FISHING: Fly fishermen will be drooling over the incredibly scenic pools and rapids all along the creek. It is a rare trip through the canyon when several anglers aren’t seen trying their luck for brook, brown and rainbow trout. They often leave very happy. The best time to fly fish fantastic hatches is April through September. Just be sure to buy a fishing license before your next fishing trip.
HIKING: Literally almost falling out of the Latchstring Inn parking lot, Spearfish Falls drops into a lush forested area that can be reached by a short hiking trail. From Spearfish Canyon Lodge, a smooth walking trail or the graveled Forest Service Road 222 lead to Roughlock Falls.
Viewing areas above and below the falls give you several options to take in the beauty. Devil's Bathtub Trail was once a secret, but it eventually became impossible to keep under wraps. The 12-foot-deep blue depression in the creek bed is shaped just like a bathtub, and a small waterfall drips into the basin like a faucet—hence its namesake. After parking at Cleopatra Place, follow the bridge to a trail where you'll be happy to get wet shoes as you cross the stream several times before ending up at the natural tub or one of the other pools of water.
At Roughlock Falls State Nature Area, hikers can spend part of the afternoon either climbing down the one-mile trail or, after parking at the top of the falls, strolling down to various viewing points. The Rimrock Trail (Trail #79) is a combination of two loop trails, making it a pretty day hike that changes approximately 700 feet in elevation. You can access the trail from a number of spots, including the Little Spearfish Trailhead, the Lower Loop Trailhead or the 1990 American epic Western film site of Dances with Wolves. (For more on that, see Movie Connections below.)
WILDLIFE: It's not unusual to see deer and chipmunks in the canyon, but there are plenty of other residents. Mountain goats, squirrels, and porcupine all call the area home. Keep your eyes open for more than 200 species of birds common to the Black Hills including bluebirds, owls, wild turkeys, woodpeckers, hawks and even bald eagles!
FALL COLORS: Autumn adds another layer of splendor to Spearfish Canyon as yellow aspen and birch leaves provide an explosion of color throughout the pine-filled canyon. The changing of the leaves makes Spearfish Canyon a popular place in the early autumn, attracting first-timers as well as visitors that return year after year to take in the amazing and colorful transformation.
WINTER MAGIC: Both the 11th Hour Gulch and the Community Caves barely qualify as waterfalls during the warmer months. But once things freeze, they both transform into gorgeous ice displays. Canyon-goers can snowshoe to Roughlock Falls, but shouldn't miss the result of Little Spearfish Falls' transformation from thick, beautiful forest to winter wonderland.
MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Filmed in the state in 1989, Dances with Wolves is the most famous of all movies shot in South Dakota. The film's final winter scene was shot in Spearfish Canyon at a site north of Roughlock Falls. It is located on Forest Road 222 approximately three miles upstream from the Spearfish Canyon Resort.
GOOD VIEWS, GOOD FOOD: On the southern portion of the byway, a tiny town called Savoy is where the Latchstring Inn Restaurant can be found inside the Spearfish Canyon Lodge. The restaurant is an ideal spot to enjoy a meal before or after exploration, especially since hiking trails and two breathtaking waterfalls are within an easy hike from the lodge's parking lot. If you're in the mood for a picnic, there are plenty of spots throughout the canyon to sit down and have a meal while surrounded by nature's splendor.
BEST ADVICE: Although the drive is only 19 miles, give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the ride and pull over for pictures or a hike. Spearfish Canyon is one of the most beautiful spots in the country, so this is no time to put the pedal to the metal.