Spearfish is a small town northeast of Rapid City, South Dakota. I couldn’t really say why we decided to stop and play here a while, except that it was near Deadwood and we wanted to see what that was all about. As I was searching for things to do in the area, I realized that the award-winning movie, Dances with Wolves, was filmed in the area and Kevin Kostner’s ode to the bison, Tatanka, was not too far away. Excellent!
When we checked in at the RV park, Chris’ Campground, the manager gave us the lowdown on the area and asked if we liked waterfalls. Yes!! “Go up Spearfish Canyon,” she said as she marked the waterfall locations on a map for us. And later that week, that’s just what we did.
By the way, Chris’ Campground was a fantastic RV park. We weren’t doing reviews at the time, so we don’t have any photos; but we highly recommend staying there when visiting the area. We will absolutely stay there again next time we’re in the area.
On this drive, we decided to focus solely on Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway and the waterfalls. The byway is Alt Highway 14 and part of a loop you can take through Spearfish, the canyon, Cheyenne Crossing (gift shop, store, and cafe), Deadwood, and Tatanka. Google says it takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes to do the full loop without stopping, though I’d be surprised if you don’t stop at least a couple of times. It’d be a great motorcycle ride! We did drive the entire loop another day – which is another story.
Fall hadn’t quite arrived in the area, so there weren’t a lot of the golds and reds due to the warmer summer they’d had; but the drive up Spearfish Canyon was worth the time even if we hadn’t stopped for the waterfalls. As you make your way up the canyon, you see glimpses of the cool and clear Spearfish Creek. This is part of the Black Hills National Forest; you’re surrounded by trees and high canyon limestone walls with shades of pink here and there. The pine trees smelled so good on that nice warm day!
There are more waterfalls in the area like Annie Creek Falls and Little Spearfish Falls, but our goal was to start at Roughlock Falls at the top of the Canyon, then work our way down to Spearfish Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Devil’s Bathtub. These are all right off the road and viewable, in some way, by people who aren’t able to hike or walk longer distances.
It’s easy to Google Roughlock Falls to find your way there. Essentially, though, instead of veering left to follow 14A as it passes Spearfish Canyon Lodge, you go straight (ish) onto Roughlock Falls Road. Follow this until you see a parking area on your left, then continue on to the next parking area just a short distance farther. In my opinion, this gives you a look at something many people might miss – a beautiful low fall leading into a crystal clear shallow pool. If I’d brought a blanket or camp chair, I could have sat (or napped) there for hours. In warmer weather, I’d have loved to just float in the pool listening to the gurgling creek and staring at the sky.
From the pool, there’s a paved sidewalk taking you along the creek to the falls, with picnic tables tucked here and there. You’ll find toilets and some interpretive information at the main parking area. From there, you can branch off to the right to view the falls from the top or head farther down the sidewalk to a slightly lower viewpoint, which provides an excellent scene. Continue farther down a fairly steep trail/stairway to reach the lower side of the falls and more of those amazingly clear pools. This trail continues all the way back to Spearfish Lodge for those who want to explore a little more.
In my opinion, Roughlock was the best waterfall; but we had others to find, so only spent a short time there.
As you arrive back at the intersection of Roughlock Falls Road and 14A, you’ll see the Latchstring Inn Restaurant. Park on the north side and you’ll see a sign talking about Spearfish Falls with the trail just beyond. You can see some of the Falls from the top, but not very much. To see the entire waterfall, you’ll need to walk down the long stairway to the base of the falls. Unfortunately, my knee wasn’t up for stairs that day; so we didn’t venture down. If you can, though, it’d be worth it!
Besides the restaurant, there are a few lodges and other things to do – trails, more waterfalls. If you’re not RVing, these lodges might be a great place to stay while exploring the area.
We were shown a video of someone’s grandson playing in Devil’s Bathtub and it looked like an awesome pool. When we arrived, though, I realized that video must have been taken in late spring or early summer when snow melt and rain created more water in the creek. We were a little disappointed and even wondered if we’d found the right spot, but this is where the sign pointed so…
I did enjoy the wildflowers at Devil’s Bathtub and there’s an old Hydro Plant (#2) from the early 1900s there. You can’t go inside but can look around the outside.
Bridal Veil Falls
At the end of summer, Bridal Veil Falls isn’t quite as stunning as Roughlock and Spearfish Falls; but it’s still beautiful. Our understanding is it’s much fuller in the springtime, of course. Keep an eye out; the parking area is on the opposite side of the street from the falls. There’s not a lot of space on the waterfall side of the road, but there is a viewing deck that allows for several people to look and take photos without concern for passing cars.
Do the opposite of our route. Start with Bridal Veil Falls, stop at Devil’s Bathtub if you want to check out the Hydro Plant, then make your way to Spearfish Falls. Here, you can visit the falls and grab a bite at the restaurant or head up to Roughlock Falls for a picnic lunch. If you’re up for it, hike the trail from Spearfish Lodge to Roughlock Falls. This gets the shorter visits out of the way and gives you time to more thoroughly enjoy the bigger falls.