About Spearfish Falls
Spearfish Falls was a gushing 47ft waterfall on Little Spearfish Creek, which provided perhaps the most satisfying waterfalling experience that we’ve had in our time visiting the state of South Dakota.
Further adding to its scenic allure was that it was situated in a particularly scenic part of Spearfish Canyon, which surprised us with its steep and craggy cliffs.
Indeed, such a combination of canyon scenery and waterfall caught us by surprise since we had this preconceived notion that South Dakota was a mostly flat state incapable of yielding such features of this quality.
Checkered History of Spearfish Falls
Apparently, Spearfish Falls was once a popular tourist attraction since 1893.
That was when the Chicago Burlington Quincy Railroad ran a “Spearfish Spur” route that would stop on the trestle above the falls.
In 1933, massive flooding damaged the trestle while it lacked economic viability (due to the mass adoption of the automobile) so the “Spearfish Spur” route was ultimately removed and replaced mostly by the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway.
In 1916, the Homestake Mining Company in nearby Lead expanded its operation such that a 6-mile diversion pipeline robbed both Spearfish Creek and Little Spearfish Creek of their flow.
Thus, Spearfish Falls didn’t have flow for as long as the Homestake operation was in place (once the largest employer in Western South Dakota) until it closed in 2002 and eventually decommissioned its diversion pipes.
As a result, both Spearfish Creeks had their flow restored by late 2003, which also restored the waterfalls (including Spearfish Falls) on these creeks as well.
It’s worth noting that the Latchstring Restaurant, which was the establishment adjacent to Spearfish Falls, also witnessed much of this history when the Latchstring Inn was established in 1919.
Spearfish Falls Trail Description
From the parking lot by the Latchstring Restaurant, there was a short path leading to a partial overlook right at the brink of Spearfish Falls.
However, we then followed a trail that skirted along a fence along the rim of the gorge carved out by Spearfish Creek.
This path also squeezed in between the Latchstring Restaurant, where we saw many people dining outside.
After about 500ft, we reached a partial overlook across Spearfish Canyon, where the trail then descended into the canyon itself.
Following this trail, we then proceeded another 700ft or so to a footbridge over Spearfish Creek.
Beyond this footbridge, the trail then passed through a forested grove for the remaining 0.2 miles before reaching the end, where there were three lookout areas.
From these lookout decks, we were able to get satisfying frontal views of Spearfish Falls as well as angled ones from the lookout a little further downstream.
Our visit just happened to occur at mid-day in sunny weather, and it turned out that the sun was pretty much on top of Spearfish Falls.
So from a lighting standpoint, it’s conceivable that the falls would get its best lighting at around early to mid-morning.
Anyways, after having our fill of Spearfish Falls, we went back up the way we came making the overall walking distance about 0.9 miles taking us about 45 minutes in total (including all the picture-taking we did).
Combining Spearfish Falls and Roughlock Falls
Given the seemingly competitive parking situation at Spearfish Falls, the thought did cross my mind that it might be a good idea to do the trail to Roughlock Falls.
My wife and I even got in an argument about whether to do the hike or just drive to Roughlock Falls (in hindsight, I should have let her drive to the falls while I can do the hike as a one-way shuttle).
In any case, this hike was a mile in each direction with a 480ft elevation gain.
Seeing how scenic Little Spearfish Canyon was, I’m sure it would have been quite an enjoyable hike while taking in the scenery at a more relaxed pace.
However, since I didn’t actually do this trail, I can’t say more about it.
Spearfish Falls resides in the Spearfish Canyon Nature Area near the town of Spearfish in Lawrence County, South Dakota. It is administered by the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.
Spearfish Falls sat in the heart of the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway (ALT US14) at the hamlet of Savoy.
From the town of Spearfish, it was about 14 miles south on the ALT US14, which would take about 30 minutes.
Coming from the other direction in the town of Lead, we drove about 14 miles west on the ALT US14.
To reach either Spearfish or Lead, you can use your favorite routing app or software of your choice to get from your location or town to one of these towns.
Note that Lead was about 46 miles (an hour drive) from Keystone along mostly the US385 while it was about 45 miles (under an hour drive) from Rapid City along a combination of the I-90 and ALT US14.
For additional context, Spearfish was 18 miles (under 30 minutes drive on the direct route) northwest from Lead, about 48 miles (45 minutes drive) northwest from Rapid City, 69 miles (over an hour drive) northwest from Keystone, about 71 miles (90 minutes drive) north of Custer, 392 miles (over 5.5 hours drive) west of Sioux Falls, 33 miles (30 minutes drive) east of Sundance, Wyoming, 296 miles (over 4.5 hours drive) north of Cheyenne, Wyoming, and 274 miles (about 4.5 hours drive) southeast of Billings, Montana.
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