Last week I talked about Spearfish Canyon, just off the highway is Roughlock Falls. The turn to get to the falls is at the turn for Spearfish Canyon Lodge. It’s on the west side of US Highway 14A. Almost seems that you are just turning to the lodge parking lot but go beyond to the dirt road.
These falls are created from Little Spearfish Creek running through the canyon. The water is clear and cool. You can see the small brook trout swimming around in the pools.
There are places to sit and put your feet in the water. I highly suggest doing it, my feet felt great for almost a month afterward. The cool, clean water seemed to rejuvenate my feet. I wish I could get something like that experience at home.
You can hike the creek to the falls or you can drive about a mile or so to a parking area. There are bridges and walkways, along with bathrooms. Overall this is a beautiful place to visit, hope you get a chance.
South Dakota has a lot of beautiful scenery, but the most beautiful drive in the state through Spearfish Canyon on U.S. Highway 14A or better known as the Spearfish Canyon scenic byway. The first time I went through it was in 2011, we drove from Spearfish to Deadwood. It was so beautiful I wanted to drive it again. Finally this past May I got my chance. This time we went from Lead to Spearfish, opposite of last time but still gorgeous.
I’m going to take you from Spearfish to Lead and on to Deadwood in this writing. Spearfish is a cute small town, founded in 1876, it’s located at the mouth of Spearfish Canyon. There are plenty of historic buildings and different places to eat along with the D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery. So after you have explored the town, jump on US Highway 14A and head south. You don’t go far before Spearfish Creek appears on the side of the road. This creek will follow along the canyon for the entire journey and there are plenty of places to stop and enjoy it’s beauty. This drive has many curves but none really tight like Iron Mountain or The Needles, this is a gentle cruise.
The first waterfall along the route is Bridal Veil Falls, this is a beautiful waterfall that flows right from the mountains with a long drop to Spearfish Creek. Next stop you will see is Devil’s Bathtub Trailhead. Sadly I didn’t get to do this yet, I saw the sign but knew nothing about it until later. It’s a hike up the creek to a rock pool, “the devil’s bathtub”. I will go back and try the hike. Another trail that I didn’t hike because I didn’t know about it is the Iron Creek Trail. This trail leads to Iron Creek Lake. Looks long but possibly beautiful. Then after a bit more of a drive you come to Spearfish Falls. It’s near Spearfish Canyon Lodge and is a short hike to see another good-sized waterfall.
It’s also at this point you can take a short trip to Roughlock Falls, I’ll talk about that next week. the next stop down the line is at Old Spearfish Creek Dam. This is small lake has some of the clearest water I have ever seen. You can see the bottom of the lake with all of the fish swimming around. This is a very popular place for fishing in the canyon. The small falls on the north side of the lake create photogenic rapids.
More gentle curves take you to the end of the canyon. But right before, stop at the next small pond. The water here is clear as well and with pine trees in the background, it makes a wonderful place for pictures.
Next turn back to the east and head to Lead and Deadwood. Lead was founded in 1876 as a company town for the Homestake Mine. You can see the hole left in the earth there as well as visit the Black Hills Mining Museum. Then on to Deadwood with historic downtown, homes, and Mount Moriah Cemetery. Deadwood was also founded in 1876 but had a lawless existence for many years, notably the place where Wild Bill Hickok was killed on Aug 2, 1876. Plenty to do and see on this drive. Hope you enjoy it.
I love living in Oklahoma, been here my whole life and my family has been here for 5 generations, but if I were to move, it would be to the Black Hills of South Dakota. So beautiful there, mountains, streams, and lots of wildlife. We first visited this area in 2011, I hated leaving and have wanted to go back for many years. I finally got my wish this past May, we packed my little Jeep and headed north. Once there, I found many fun things to do but the one I liked best was taking on the Needles Highway.
I normally hate being on curvy mountain roads, Big K has always driven and I sat in the passenger seat, taking pictures and looking down the side of the mountain. We’ve done several roads like this- the Blue Ridge Parkway and Route 66 to Oatman AZ are 2 that I really hated. But this time was different, I drove. I don’t drive on vacation since we have always taken Big K’s vehicles but this time we took my new Jeep and I wanted to drive. The long stretches of interstate were boring but when I got into the mountains, it was different. I had to pay attention to the curves and where the side of the road was, plus make sure I could squeeze through the one-lane tunnels.
Officially this is South Dakota State Highway 87, it starts at the junction with US 385 and heads north into Custer State Park. This part is the calm before the storm- yes there are plenty of hairpin turns and the 1-lane Beaver Creek bridge (built in 1929) but it’s really not so bad. Goes through some nice rolling hills with plenty of wildlife. Nothing like coming around a curve and seeing a huge male bison on the side of the road. I even stopped to enjoy the beautiful mountain streams that flow through the area. Eventually you intersect with US 16A, just head east with a stop at Legion Lake, then another mile to go back north.
Now you are more into the mountains, lots more curves until you eventually get to the first tunnel. The Iron Creek tunnel is 1-lane (8 feet 9 inches wide and 10 feet 10 inches tall) but not too long. You just keep going, not realizing that you are actually going up into the mountains. The first time you get to turn off and enjoy the scenery is at West Custer Township View parking lot. That’s where you can look to the north and see the “needles” that you will be driving into, literally. There are also lots of turnoffs to stop and enjoy the scenery or take a break from driving. After a short drive you find yourself in the “Cathedral Spires”. These are named because the granite formations look like spires on a cathedral. There is also a place to park for hiking the trail, looks to be about a mile and a half and listed as strenuous. I didn’t try it this time but would like to go back and attempt it. Not too far from this you get to the needles part of the road and where you go through the “Needles Eye” tunnel. This tunnel is also 1-lane and when I say that I mean it, it’s only 8 feet wide and 9 feet 9 inches tall. This is the longest of the 3 tunnels, seems like it takes forever but really maybe only a minute. Best to make sure nothing is coming through the tunnel from the opposite direction or someone will have to backup. It’s tight but honestly thrilling to drive through. Then you start down from the needles past some more trailheads to Sylvan Lake, where there is a rock formation in the lake.
Just past the lake you meet up with SD Highway 89, just keep going north to experience the Hood Tunnel (8 feet 9 inches wide and 9 feet 8 inches tall) and down a bunch more switchbacks. Lots more curves finally take you back to US 385 where you can head north to Hill City or south to Custer.
This is definitely not a drive for a beginner or someone who is afraid of driving tunnels and mountains. Also don’t take a big vehicle or try to drag a trailer through here. I’ve heard some try and they have even succeeded but it would make the drive so much more stressful. My recommendation is get a car you love and take it. I also recommend a lot of patience, put something good on the radio and leave it. Don’t be in a hurry, there are times you maybe only get up to 15mph. If you are taking kids, tell them to look out the window and be quiet. This drive is totally worth the time and effort. I’m ready to do it again.
A bit of history, this highway was completed in 1922. It was planned by former South Dakota governor Peter Norbeck who marked the entire course by foot and horseback. This road is closed after the first snowfall of the year and reopens in the spring.