Visiting the Black Hills of South Dakota is often a bucket list item, especially for families and retirees. Mount Rushmore National Memorial, where the faces of four past U.S. presidents are carved into a natural granite wall, is usually the focus of the trip.
In the 10 years I lived in the heart of the Black Hills, I watched tourists make one of the most common vacation mistakes during this once-in-a-lifetime trip — not allowing enough time to see more of the Black Hills.
Spearfish, a small town on the northern tip of the Black Hills and gateway to the north entrance of Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway (State Highway 14A), is often discarded. As is Spearfish Canyon itself — a drive through the beautiful canyon is repeatedly shortened due to a busy schedule.
Spearfish and the adjoining Spearfish Canyon are incredible destinations — and they’re inseparable. The canyon’s beauty and cold, clear, trout-rich Spearfish Creek provide an important economic basis for the town. As an echo of the canyon, there is always something fun and interesting to do in Spearfish.
A few permanent sites are always worth a visit. In addition, the city works hard to lure visitors from the heavily visited features of the Black Hills by presenting signature events throughout the year.
Here are a few of my favorite places and things to do in Spearfish in.
1. Bridal Veil Falls
Flowing at its best in the springtime after the snow melt, the 60-foot Bridal Veil Falls is located about 6 miles south of Spearfish, in the canyon. Hiking is not allowed in this area, nor climbing on the waterfall’s rocks; however, the waterfall is so popular that a parking lot is nearby along an observation deck.
Pro Tip: Please be mindful of bicyclists, 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 just as the coldest weather is old news. The 50-kilometer ride starts and finishes at the Spearfish Canyon Lodge, located in the heart of the canyon. If racing on a bicycle is not on your list of things to do, consider watching this fun and exciting race on slippery, snow-packed trails before they melt entirely.
Pro Tip: Stop at the lodge’s Latchstring Restaurant for a steaming bowl of bison chili to warm chilled bones.
3. Matthews Opera House
Spring is the perfect time of year to visit the Matthews Opera House & Art Center. The coldest weather is past, but clouds, rain, or wind hanging around draws people indoors. Beautifully restored, the almost 200-year-old opera house still offers stage productions and educational programs. In 1998, an art center offering exhibits and workshops was added, drawing artists from around the world that were inspired by the Spearfish Canyon’s beauty.
4. D.C. Booth National Historic Fish 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 large variety of fish, runs through town and the canyon and has a large variety of fish. Find the Black Hills Fishing Guide here. But eventually, the trout were overfished.
Constructed in 1886 to propagate, stock, and preserve trout populations in the Black Hills and Wyoming, the D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery became essential. When new ways to preserve fish populations were discovered, this facility was retired in the 1980s and repurposed as a beautiful historic model. These picturesque buildings are now owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and used for educating the public about fish in the Black Hills.
Pro Tip: Visitors are welcome to stroll the lovely common grounds year round, but the gift shop, Von Bayer Museum, Railcar, and Booth House are only open from June until 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 from vehicle traffic and filled with fun family activities that anchor boutique stores and restaurants housed in historic buildings. Serenaded by a live band, the block parties run through August.
Pro Tip: Grab a bicycle at a Black Hills Bike Share stand in Spearfish City Park. Download the free Movatic Bike App to locate the stations and fee information.
6. Pine Island Gravel Odyssey
Starting at Spearfish City Park, the Pine Island Gravel Odyssey is a three-race bicycle ride/tour for single-track mountain bikes. Held in June, the race path takes serious bikers through open prairies, canyons, and along bubbling creeks in the Black Hills National Forest. Non-serious bikers can watch and cheer from various viewpoints along the racetrack.
7. Black Hills Corvette Classic
It took just a few times asking why there were so many Corvettes in the Black Hills to learn of this annual pilgrimage, the Black Hills Corvette Classic. Vette Street USA, the downtown car show, offers one of the most amazing lineups of Corvettes during this July event. Add a drag race, food vendors, live music, and cold drinks to enjoy an amazing day trip. My favorite thing to do is stroll along the many parked corvettes and count how many license plates are not from South Dakota.
8. Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway
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, boxelders, willows, and bur oaks provides a multi-colored extravaganza. The steep canyon walls of limestone, sandstone, and shale provide a striking backdrop, highlighting the tree’s performance.
Pro Tip: Drive both ways to catch different views of the canyon.
9. 605 Black Hills Classic
A new event since I lived in the Black Hills, but popular with long-time friends still in the area, is the 605 Black Hills Classic held every September. A throwback to the prominent German heritage in South Dakota, this tasting event of craft beers 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 throughout the Black Hills National Forest, but one of my favorites is within Spearfish Canyon. The Rimrock Trail is part of the Little Spearfish Trail system and is very popular with families and working individuals with a million things on their to-do lists. The trails are short, inspiring, classified as easy, and don’t take a lot of time to enjoy the best of the canyon. At Savoy, take FSR 222 south for about 5 miles to the trailhead.
Vacations are not just about seeing a place. Sometimes doing something very different from your normal activities is part of the excitement of traveling. If trying a winter sport has ever been a consideration, I highly recommend the Spearfish area for your first attempt at snowmobiling.
Near Savoy in Spearfish Canyon is a very popular snowmobile trailhead that connects with a 300-mile Black Hills National Forest trail system. The trails usually open on December 15, and pathways are groomed every night during the winter. There are “pit stops” along the way where snowmobile services, rentals, maps, and guides are available.
12. High Plains Western Heritage Center
Not too far from Spearfish off I-90 is an amazing interpretive center and museum that many people pass right by. Alone on a hilltop on the vast prairie is the perfect venue for the High Plains Western Heritage Center. Here the visitor learns how important Native Americans are to the culture of today’s Black Hills, influencing art, language, and music. Within 20,000 square feet of space, artifacts of the past create a living museum of Old West pioneer life via fully loaded covered wagons, a working blacksmith shop, a horse barn, and a small mud home.
13. Termesphere Gallery
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 acclaimed artist, paints on clear spheres, which when completed are called Termespheres. These three-dimensional works of art are stunning examples of how a painting can begin and end at the same point.
Pro Tip: Hours vary depending on the time of year. Check the Termesphere Gallery website for current hours.
Enhancing a wonderful vacation experience sometimes includes the place you finish the day. Now that I travel from Texas back to the Black Hills to visit family, I occasionally stay a night in Spearfish. I may not have stayed in a few of these places myself, but I hear from others they are clean, well-managed, and a true Black Hills experience.
The Spearfish Bed and Breakfast is a country farmhouse that has been nicely renovated. The Secret Garden Bed & Breakfast is a lovely historic home furnished with period items and located in downtown Spearfish. If you desire a rustic Black Hills forest experience, then try a cabin or lodge inside Spearfish Canyon, such as the Rim Rock Lodge, Spearfish Canyon Lodge, Wickiup Village cabin camp, Spearfish Creek Inn, or the Fillmore Mine Lodge.