Pretty much anywhere you go in the Black Hills is a scenic drive. The area is just that really, really, really, ridiculously good-looking. But if you want to get off the beaten path and immerse yourself in this beauty, set your GPS for the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway. It's like a whole other world where waterfalls abound and the hiking is a total dream. At the end of the day, you can cozy up by the fire with a glass of wine in a gem of a lodge tucked away among the forests of the canyon. It's a place where worries don't exist, and each bend in the road brings a new view that's even more gorgeous than the last. Ready to hit the route? Here's our guide to the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway.
From Interstate 90, your trek will begin at exit 14, where you'll quickly find yourself immersed in some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country. This laid-back byway through the canyon may cause you to creep along with low speed limits, but you'll find yourself wanting to drive even slower, frequently pulling off to take in the beauty for a while longer. The town of Spearfish is a great starting point for your journey. Grab a bite to eat and do some local shopping before hitting the road for a trip you won't forget. Along the way, you'll find trees, mountains, plains, waterfalls, and much more drastic and unique nature all in one location... with some fun hidden gems.
Just about 15 minutes into your trip from Spearfish (and just a little bit past Bridal Veil Falls), a stop at Devil’s Bathtub Trail is a must for anyone wanting to experience some great hiking. Once you park at Cleopatra Place, a bridge will take you to the trail that leads to some rewarding sights. Prepare to get wet, because you'll most likely find yourself wanting to cross over the stream a few times. You won't want to leave your camera in the car for this one. The trail has an almost rainforest-like feel, and the ancient limestone adds an eerie but beautiful effect. Enjoy taking a dip in the tub or one of the pools of water during your hike; it makes for a refreshing treat after a warm day of activity and driving.
Following a trail at Roughlock Falls for a mile will lead you right to Spearfish Canyon Lodge. After a day of driving and exploring, kick back and relax at a lodge where you can either get some rest or keep the fun going. Snowmobile in the winter, fly fish during the warm summer months, and even golf right in the Black Hills knowing that you have a cozy lodge right there when you're done for the day-- with a friendly staff to take care of you! The lodge itself has more than 50 rooms available to visitors, and an additional private cabin is also up for grabs for those looking for a little more privacy.
Little Spearfish Creek winds its way off that gorgeous limestone frequently seen in the canyon, creating Roughlock Falls. This area is one of the better-kept secrets found during the beginning of the journey through Spearfish Canyon, but that doesn't make it any less drop-dead gorgeous than the rest of the scenery. Those wanting a hike can take a little chunk of the afternoon and climb down the one-mile trail, or simply park at the top of the falls and walk down to various viewing points. Any season offers travelers a great time in the area! Roughlock Falls is a gem that not many know about, but those who do get some great photos and memories that they won't forget.
Over 100 miles long and containing multiple bridges and tunnels as well as various trailhead access points, the George S. Mickelson Trail welcomes runners, bikers, horseback riders, and nature lovers of all ages. The trail honors the late South Dakota governor and is rich in history as it winds through dozens of towns. The area took part in the gold rush, development of the railroad, and so much more. Biking is recommended for those wanting to see as much of the trail as possible, since bits and pieces consist of various kinds of terrain, pavement, and canyon floor. No bike? No problem! Mickelson Trail Adventures in Custer or Two Wheeler Dealer in Spearfish offer rentals as well as shuttle services to trailheads. The George S. Mickelson Trail is a great way to get outside and check out multiple little towns in this beautiful area of South Dakota, with loads of opportunity for good eats, local museums, and nonstop scenery. Or, if you're short on time or just not up for a 100-mile adventure, you can simply hike a portion of the route. The trail's scenery near Spearfish is pretty stunning!
Since gold mining was the predominant industry in this area—especially the Black Hills—for so many years, the Black Hills Mining Museum is a must-see part of your road trip. Learn to pan for gold in the indoor facility with an experienced panner there to teach you all about the process. Feel the history come alive by taking a guided tour of the basement "mine shaft" or reading about the equipment seemingly frozen in time on site. Whether you’re a history buff or not, the Black Hills Mining Museum will put together the puzzle pieces of what you’ve been seeing on your trip.
While it might seem crazy to end a scenic road trip through a gorgeous canyon byway at a cemetery, you must understand that Mount Moriah is no ordinary graveyard. The Black Hills in the background provide a certain ambiance that, in combination with the Victorian feel and the local celebrities of the Wild West buried here, just leaves you with a nostalgic feeling... and some great pictures to take home. "Wild Bill" Hickok, Calamity Jane, and "Potato Creek Johnny" are just a few of the names and statues you'll see around the graveyard, some of which have been visited and vandalized so much that the city has had to redo them multiple times. Plus, it doesn't just have to be the end to your trip; the cemetery is a great first stop for anyone looking to head on to the frozen-in-time town of Deadwood.
The beauty of driving straight through Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway is well worth the trip, but those little stops and unexpected finds are what make road trips different each and every time. The United States is full of such a diverse and rich past, which allows South Dakota to cater to any kind of traveler's wishes for their trip. Spearfish Canyon is a treasure. Immerse yourself for a few days of relaxing and getting away, or spend weeks on a road trip that the entire family will enjoy.
In just a few hours, you can journey from the mighty Missouri river to the legendary Black Hills. Then, drift through Deadwood, roll through the Badlands, or parade past Mount Rushmore. There are many paths to each great place. Start planning for South Dakota - the ultimate American road trip.