Spearfish Canyon has a beauty unique to each season. Fall dazzles with great colors when the aspen and birch turn golden yellow and the oak and sumac flame shades of red. The Canyon is equally awe-inspiring in winter when heavy wet snow piles up on the tree branches and canyon ridges. The season wraps the canyon in quiet and serenity.
In springtime, the canyon renews itself, becoming fresh and alive all over again. It is a favorite time for hikers, fishers, nature lovers and photographers of all ages. Summer brings sightseers, picnickers, and bird watchers. Bikers, of both the motorized and peddled versions, find the canyon one of the best rides anywhere in the world.
Three waterfalls are on the must-see list for canyon goers. Bridal Veil Falls is located 5.8 miles into Spearfish canyon from the north and is visible right along the highway. Spearfish Falls is accessible by a short moderate hiking path located in Savoy. Roughlock Falls has parking and bathroom facilities and is handicap accessible. Take Roughlock Road a short distance along graveled FS 222 or hike a level easy distance from the trailhead at the back of the lodge’s parking lot.
The first commercial transportation through Spearfish Canyon was by train in 1893. Several early attempts to lay a road failed, so most travelers accessed the canyon by horseback or train. When a flood-damaged the rail line in 1933, it was abandoned. Eventually, a road was laid directly on the old railway bed. Later, US Highway 14A was constructed allowing more people access to this breathtaking, scenic wonder.
The Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway, as designated by the US Forest Service, is a 22-mile journey that starts at Exit 10 off Interstate 90. It winds south through Spearfish’s quaint business district via US Highways 14 & 85 and connects to the mouth of the canyon at the Spearfish Canyon Country Club. From there, it’s 20 miles upward through natural beauty and unique scenery along US Highway 14A, ending at Cheyenne Crossing at the US Highway 85 intersection.
Scientists have determined that Spearfish Canyon was formed 30 to 60 million years ago. As a great sea’s waters subsided it caused erosion of the softer rocks and volcanic action pushed from underneath; the combination created the canyon. It’s easy to see why this wonder of nature is a geologist’s paradise.
Rocks detail geology of area
Traveling through the canyon, three main layers of rock are distinctly visible. The highest peaks, typically the thickest part, up to 300 to 600 feet thick, are the Paha Sapa Limestone. It’s usually beige or tan with weathered gray areas, and it’s in this section of rock where people find the most fossils. The next level down is the Englewood Limestone, which can range from 30 to 60 feet thick. Englewood Limestone is quite often mauve, pink or even red. The bottom layer is known as Deadwood Sandstone and is normally a brown color and may appear to have different levels or layers. The Deadwood Sandstone layers can be 400 feet thick.
The narrow canyon walls rise sharply skyward from the creek. Spearfish Creek, which flows south to north and freezes from the bottom up, is an angler’s dream. The canyon teems with wildlife including whitetail and mule deer, chipmunks, an occasional mountain lion, and many other critters.