Spearfish Falls

Black Hills National Forest / Savoy / Spearfish Canyon State Nature Area, South Dakota, USA

About Spearfish Falls


Hiking Distance: about 0.8 miles round-trip
Suggested Time: 45 minutes

Date first visited: 2020-07-30
Date last visited: 2020-07-30

Waterfall Latitude: 44.35282
Waterfall Longitude: -103.92969

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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.

Spearfish_Canyon_058_iPhone_07302020 - Spearfish Falls
Spearfish Falls

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.

Spearfish_Canyon_110_iPhone_07302020 - The trail to the bottom of Spearfish Falls actually passed by the historic Latchstring Restaurant (which was originally the Latchstring Inn)
The trail to the bottom of Spearfish Falls actually passed by the historic Latchstring Restaurant (which was originally the Latchstring Inn)

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

Spearfish_Canyon_009_iPhone_07302020 - Looking down from the brink of Spearfish Falls by the parking lot for the Latchstring and the waterfall
Looking down from the brink of Spearfish Falls by the parking lot for the Latchstring and the waterfall

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.

Spearfish_Canyon_014_iPhone_07302020 - Looking downstream at the contours of Spearfish Canyon as we hiked to the base of Spearfish Falls
Looking downstream at the contours of Spearfish Canyon as we hiked to the base of Spearfish Falls

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.

Spearfish_Canyon_079_iPhone_07302020 - Context of the lookout areas of the base of Spearfish Falls at the end of the short trail
Context of the lookout areas of the base of Spearfish Falls at the end of the short trail

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).

Spearfish_Canyon_156_iPhone_07302020 - The connecting trail between Spearfish Falls and Roughlock Falls would have allowed hikers to enjoy the scenery of Little Spearfish Canyon at a more leisurely pace
The connecting trail between Spearfish Falls and Roughlock Falls would have allowed hikers to enjoy the scenery of Little Spearfish Canyon at a more leisurely pace

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.

Authorities

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_Canyon_114_iPhone_07302020 - Looking across the busy and rather competitive parking lot at the Latchstring and for Spearfish Falls
Spearfish_Canyon_006_iPhone_07302020 - This was the lookout right at the brink of Spearfish Falls
Spearfish_Canyon_011_iPhone_07302020 - Following the fence skirting along the rim of the gorge over Spearfish Creek while also passing by the Latchstring Restaurant
Spearfish_Canyon_015_iPhone_07302020 - Tahia following the trail along the fence leading towards an overlook and the continuation of the trail going to the base of Spearfish Falls
Spearfish_Canyon_016_iPhone_07302020 - Approaching some rest benches and a partial overlook across Spearfish Canyon
Spearfish_Canyon_020_iPhone_07302020 - Descending the busy trail leading into Spearfish Canyon and eventually to the base of Spearfish Falls
Spearfish_Canyon_022_iPhone_07302020 - Approaching the bottom of the descent into Spearfish Canyon on the trail leading to the base of Spearfish Falls
Spearfish_Canyon_023_iPhone_07302020 - Tahia and Julie walking within the forest cover of some trees in Spearfish Canyon
Spearfish_Canyon_030_iPhone_07302020 - Julie and Tahia passing through an open part of Spearfish Canyon en route to the base of Spearfish Falls
Spearfish_Canyon_032_iPhone_07302020 - Julie and Tahia crossing a footbridge over Spearfish Creek on the way to the base of Spearfish Falls
Spearfish_Canyon_034_iPhone_07302020 - Looking downstream from the footbridge over Spearfish Creek
Spearfish_Canyon_037_iPhone_07302020 - Julie and Tahia going back into the forest cover as we were nearing the end of the short hike to the base of Spearfish Falls
Spearfish_Canyon_039_iPhone_07302020 - Because South Dakota didn't have a COVID-19 mask mandate, this fellow was actually one of the few people we met in the state that actually wore a mask
Spearfish_Canyon_044_iPhone_07302020 - Arriving at the base of Spearfish Falls
Spearfish_Canyon_046_iPhone_07302020 - Angled look at Spearfish Falls from the leftmost lookout
Spearfish_Canyon_051_iPhone_07302020 - If you look closely, you might notice the railing to the topright of Spearfish Falls, which was the upper lookout by the parking lot that we were at earlier on
Spearfish_Canyon_076_iPhone_07302020 - Looking upstream at Spearfish Falls from the rightmost lookout
Spearfish_Canyon_099_iPhone_07302020 - Julie and Tahia going back across the footbridge over Spearfish Creek as we were returning from Spearfish Falls
Spearfish_Canyon_108_iPhone_07302020 - Julie and Tahia making it back up to the fenced trail that went by the Latchstring Restaurant
Spearfish_Canyon_109_iPhone_07302020 - Last look across Spearfish Canyon at the overlook by the Latchstring Restaurant before returning to the parking lot

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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.

Spearfish_Canyon_005_iPhone_07302020 - The busy parking lot for the Latchstring and Spearfish Falls
The busy parking lot for the Latchstring and Spearfish Falls

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.

Long sweep covering the three lookouts at the base of the waterfall

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Tagged with: spearfish canyon, savoy, south dakota, black hills national forest, waterfall



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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