There is so much to do in the Black Hills of South Dakota! Most visitors to the area likely go to see Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. Along with visiting these iconic places near Custer and Hill City, don’t forget about towns farther north, including Spearfish, Deadwood and Sturgis.
We took a five-day girls trip to South Dakota which only gave us a taste of the Black Hills. If I had to do it over again, I would have gone for longer and split my time between the southern and northern parts, basing in Hill City and Spearfish.
History of Spearfish
Spearfish was founded as Queen City during the gold rush in 1876. The city grew as a supplier of foodstuff to mining camps. While there is still some small-scale farming in the area, Spearfish, located at the mouth of Spearfish Canyon now caters to tourism.
After visiting the area in 1935, Frank Lloyd Wright mused, “How is it that I have heard so little of this miracle and we, toward the Atlantic, have heard so much of the Grand Canyon when this is even more miraculous?”
I’m not sure it is that miraculous, but the first time I visited 11 years ago, I was shockingly surprised. And in writing this post, I was also surprised to find a few other interesting facts about Spearfish.
Spearfish has held the record for the fastest temperature change in world since 1943. Due to a Chinook wind, the temperature went from -4 F to 45 F in 2 minutes! It rose to 58 over the next 1.5 hours and then plummeted back to -4 just 27 minutes later. Wow! And I thought weather in Texas was unpredictable.
Another interesting phenomena in Spearfish is the creek runs so fast that it freezes from the bottom up due to the rocks slowing the water down, rather than from the top. It’s funny as I didn’t notice how fast the creek was running while fishing it.
Things to Do in Spearfish
Speaking of fishing, this is one of many things to do in Spearfish. And going during the fall season with the aspen aglow in gold, makes it even better. Even if you have never fished, the guides at Finn Provisions will take you.
They will give you the gear, rig your fly rods, and show you where to cast. As beginners, two of the four of us girls pulled trout out of the cold water!
Take a Scenic Drive
As I mentioned, the fall colors are spectacular in Spearfish Canyon in late September and early October. I highly recommend a drive along 14a, also known as the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway. The 20-mile, winding drive from Spearfish to Cheyenne Crossing takes 30 minutes without stops or traffic. But I’d plan for at least half a day to include time for a short hike, a stop at Bridal Veil Falls, and a chance to see bighorn sheep!
Eat at Stage Stop Café or Latchstring Inn
If you are headed to Spearfish from Hill City, start your day at Cheyenne Crossing for breakfast. The famous Cheyenne Crossing and Stage Stop Café was established in 1878 and was a regular stop on the stagecoach from 1878 to 1885. It now includes a lodge, store and café. I love historical places like this. Unfortunately, it caught on fire the week prior to our visit, so we ended up at Latchstring Inn Restaurant across from Spearfish Canyon Lodge.
Latchstring offers a nice buffet breakfast with eggs, oatmeal, biscuits and gravy, bacon and more. Its walls are decorated with historical photos and letters, while its windows provide views of the golden hills. It is also located next to a 2.1 mile hike to Roughlock Falls, as well as other trails.
Take a Hike
From the restaurant, before heading to Roughlock Falls, descend a short, well-maintained trail to Little Spearfish Creek Falls. It is great, especially for the effort/reward ratio!
Just down the road, the hike to Roughlock Falls is very easy as well, only gaining 243 ft over the 2.1 mile out-and-back trail. The hike passes by a lily-covered pond, continues through a meadow and climbs through a shaded forest of evergreens and aspen.
It is a popular hike and the area around the falls is very developed with railings, bridges, and even a picnic area with toilets. This section may be reached by car. Nonetheless, for the typical tourist, it is an enjoyable trail.
Sip a Cold One
After your hike, enjoy the aforementioned scenic drive through Spearfish Canyon on your way to lunch and beer tasting at Sawyer Brewing Company. Not only does Sawyer Brewing Company have good beer and food, it brews for a cause. They support women fighting breast cancer in the Black Hills area. So go grab a cold one!
Stroll the Spearfish Streets
Spearfish has a quaint downtown. Main Street features a variety of boutiques, coffee shops, and restaurants in historic buildings. There is also an opera house and art gallery. I’m not much of a shopper, but I really liked Spearfish as it offered more than just touristy junk. If you visit during the summer, check out Downtown Friday Nights for live music, beer, and crafts.
Take a Side Trip
Just an 18-minute drive from Spearfish is Deadwood, known for its gold rush history. Stop in Saloon Number 10 where Wild Bill was shot, try your luck at one of the many casinos, or venture up to the Mount Moriah Cemetery where you will find the graves of Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok.
Ride an E-bike
Be sure to leave time to ride e-bikes just south of town on the George S Mickelson Trail. The George S Mickelson Trail is 108.8 miles and travels from Edgemont to Deadwood. The trail may be accessed in 14 different places, including Hill City, but one of the prettiest segments is near Deadwood.
Rent bikes from Deadwood Outdoor Rentals. It is located right on the trail. We filled up our water bottles, strapped on our helmets, got fitted for our bikes and off we went on the Kirk-Sugarloaf Loop. A leisurely ride through the golden aspen only takes a couple hours.
In all, the Black Hills of South Dakota are amazing with so much to offer. You could spend weeks there. But if you are short on time, be sure that Spearfish and Hill City make your list. They were my two favorite towns in the black hills. For more about Hill City, visit my post Top Things to Do in Hill City. ETB