13 Amazing Things to Do in Beautiful Spearfish, SD

Visiting South Dakota’s Black Hills is often a bucket list item, especially for families and retirees. Mount Rushmore National Memorial, where the faces of four former US presidents are carved into a wall of natural granite, is usually the focus of the trip.

In the 10 years I’ve lived in the heart of the Black Hills, I’ve seen tourists make one of the most common vacation mistakes on this once-in-a-lifetime trip – not allowing enough time to see more of the Black Hills.

Spearfish, a small town at the northern tip of the Black Hills and northern gateway to Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway (State Highway 14A), is often abandoned. Much like Spearfish Canyon itself – a drive through the magnificent canyon is repeatedly shortened due to a busy schedule.

Spearfish and the adjoining Spearfish Canyon are incredible and inseparable destinations. The beauty of the canyon and the cold, clear, trout-rich Spearfish Creek provide an important economic base for the city. Echoing the canyon, there is always something fun and interesting to do in Spearfish.

A few permanent sites are still worth visiting. Additionally, the city works hard to attract visitors to the heavily visited features of the Black Hills by presenting iconic events throughout the year.

Here are some of my favorite places and things to do in Spearfish.

Bridal Veil Falls at Spearfish Canyon

Photo credit: Corey Hall Creative / Shutterstock.com

Spring

1. Falls of the bridal veil

Flowing at its best in the spring after the snow melts, the 60-foot Bride’s Veil Falls are located about 6 miles south of Spearfish in the canyon. Hiking is not allowed in this area, nor climbing on the rocks of the waterfall; however, the waterfall is so popular that parking is nearby along an observation deck.

Pro tip: Please watch out for cyclists, who love this site and stop here often.

2. 28 below Fatbike Race

The only race in the Black Hills National Forest allowed to take place on groomed snowmobile trails is the 28 Below Fatbike Race, usually held in early spring when the coldest weather is old news. The 50 kilometer hike begins and ends at Spearfish Canyon Lodge, located in the heart of the canyon. If bike racing isn’t on your to-do list, consider watching this fun and exciting race on slippery, snowy trails before they completely melt.

Pro tip: Stop at the lodge’s Latchstring restaurant for a steaming bowl of buffalo chili to warm the chilled bones.

3. Matthews Opera House

Spring is the perfect time of year to visit the Matthews Opera House & Art Center. The coldest weather has passed, but clouds, rain or wind draw people inside. Beautifully restored, the nearly 200-year-old opera house still offers stage productions and educational programs. In 1998, an art center with exhibits and workshops was added, attracting artists from around the world inspired by the beauty of Spearfish Canyon.

Trout at the DC Booth National Historic Hatchery.

Trout at DC Booth National Historic Hatchery

Photo credit: Lost_in_the_Midwest / Shutterstock.com

Summer

4. DC Booth National Historic Hatchery

The Black Hills of South Dakota are well known for trout fishing. Spearfish Creek, the second largest stream in the Black Hills with a wide variety of fish, runs through the town and the canyon and has a wide variety of fish. Find the Black Hills fishing guide here. But ultimately, the trout were overfished.

Built in 1986 to propagate, store and preserve trout populations in the Black Hills and Wyoming, the DC Booth Fish Hatchery has become essential. When new ways to preserve fish populations were discovered, this facility was removed in the 1980s and transformed into a magnificent historic model. These quaint buildings are now owned by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and are used to educate the public about the fish of the Black Hills.

Pro tip: Visitors are welcome to wander the lovely common grounds year-round, but the gift shop, Von Bayer Museum, wagon, and Booth House are only open June through September.

5. Downtown Friday Nights

The timeless character of downtown Spearfish reflects an old-world charm brought to the hills by European migrants seeking a better life. Every Friday night during the summer, a few streets along Main Street are blocked off from vehicular traffic and filled with fun family activities that anchor the shops and restaurants housed in historic buildings. Serenaded by a live band, neighborhood parties run through August.

Pro tip: Grab a bike from a Black Hills Bike Share stand in Spearfish City Park. Download the free Movatic Bike app for station locators and fee information.

6. The Pine Island Gravel Odyssey

Starting at Spearfish City Park, the Pine Island Gravel Odyssey is a three-course bike ride/circuit for single-track mountain bikes. Held in June, the race course takes serious cyclists through open grasslands, canyons and along bubbling streams in the Black Hills National Forest. Non-serious riders can watch and cheer from different vantage points along the circuit.

7. Black Hills Classic Corvette

It took a few times wondering why there were so many Corvettes in the Black Hills to learn about this annual pilgrimage, the Black Hills Corvette Classic. Vette Street USA, the downtown auto show, offers one of the most stunning lineups of Corvettes at this July event. Add in a drag race, food vendors, live music, and cold drinks to enjoy an amazing day trip. My favorite thing to do is walk past the many parked corvettes and count how many license plates aren’t from South Dakota.

Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway in South Dakota during fall.

Highway 14A becomes the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway shortly after entering the canyon.

Photo credit: Ann Bush

To fall

8. Spearfish Canyon Scenic Drive

My favorite time of year to cruise the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway is in the fall, when the mixed forest of Black Hills spruce, green ash, maple, willow and bur oak provide a multicolored extravagance. The steep canyon walls of limestone, sandstone and shale provide a striking backdrop, highlighting the tree’s performance.

Pro tip: Drive in both directions for different views of the canyon.

9. 605 Black Hills Classic

A new event since I’ve been living in the Black Hills, but popular with longtime friends still in the area, is the 605 Black Hills Classic which takes place every September. A throwback to South Dakota’s prominent German heritage, this craft beer tasting event collected exclusively from South Dakota breweries is held at Lions Park in Spearfish. Live music accompanies the tasting.

10. Rimrock Trail

There are many amazing hiking trails in the Black Hills National Forest, but one of my favorites is in Spearfish Canyon. The Rimrock Trail is part of the Little Spearfish Trail system and is popular with families and working people with a million things on their to-do lists. The trails are short, inspiring, rated easy, and don’t take long to experience the best of the canyon. At Savoy take FSR 222 south about 8 miles to the trailhead.

Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota, in the snow.

Spearfish Canyon in the snow

Photo credit: William R. Casey / Shutterstock.com

Winter

11. Snowmobile

Vacations are not just about visiting a place. Sometimes doing something very different from your normal activities is part of the excitement of the trip. If trying a winter sport was ever a consideration, I highly recommend the Spearfish area for your first attempt at snowmobiling.

Near Savoy in Spearfish Canyon is a very popular snowmobile trail that connects to a 300-mile Black Hills National Forest trail system. The trails generally open on December 15 and the trails are groomed nightly during the winter. There are “pit stops” along the way where snowmobile services, rentals, maps and guides are available.

12. Western High Plains Heritage Center

Not too far from Spearfish on I-90 is an amazing interpretive center and museum that many people pass right by. Alone atop a hill in the vast prairie is the perfect location for the High Plains Western Heritage Center. Here, the visitor learns how important Native Americans are to today’s Black Hills culture, influencing art, language, and music. In a 20,000 square foot space, artifacts from the past create a living museum of pioneer life in the Old West via fully loaded covered wagons, a working blacksmith shop, stable and a small mud house.

Not too far from the High Plains Western Heritage Center is an interesting and unique art gallery of over 40 “Termespheres”. Dick Termes, an internationally renowned artist, paints on transparent spheres which, when completed, are called Termespheres. These three-dimensional works of art are great examples of how a painting can start and end at the same point.

Pro tip: Hours vary depending on the time of year. Check the Termesphere Gallery website for current hours.

Accommodation

Enhancing a wonderful vacation experience sometimes includes where you end the day. Now that I travel from Texas to the Black Hills to visit family, I sometimes spend a night at Spearfish. I may not have stayed at a few of these places myself, but I have heard from others that they are clean, well run and a true Black Hills experience.

The Spearfish Bed and Breakfast is a beautifully renovated country farmhouse. The Secret Garden Bed & Breakfast is a charming historic home furnished with period artifacts and located in downtown Spearfish. If you want a rustic Black Hills forest experience, try a cabin or lodge inside Spearfish Canyon, such as Rim Rock Lodge, Spearfish Canyon Lodge, Wickiup Village Cabin Camp, Spearfish Creek Inn or the Fillmore Mine Lodge.

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