We caught up with Black Hills State University professor Dr. Chris McCart and student Isabella San Miguel to get their take on the Top 10 hikes close to campus. McCart leads the outdoor education department at BHSU, a program that prepares students for professional careers in parks, nature centers, zoos, aquaria, natural resource management, camps, and eco-tourism programs. San Miguel, elementary education major from Tea, is president of the Collegiate Outdoor Leadership Program at BHSU.
McCart says, “picking a favorite hike is like picking a favorite child,” however they narrowed down a list of their favorites. Who can stick to just a list of 10 hikes in an area like Spearfish? Not us!
Big Hill Trail
: McCart says this trail is great for hiking, snowshoeing, snow biking, and is a long-term destination for groomed cross-country skiing (don’t hike on the groomed ski trails). You can rent snowshoes and cross-country skis from the Collegiate Outdoor Leadership Program at BHSU. Directions: From Spearfish, travel south on Forest Service Road 134 about 8 miles to the trailhead on the east side of the road.
: “A five-minute drive to the trailhead, and bam, you’re in the woods,” says McCart. In July 2019, this trail became an official multi-use trail. Expect a winding trail with thick, shady forest areas and earn a view of Bear Butte. Directions: Take Tinton Road (just southwest of BHSU) in Spearfish and travel past the stop sign. Pass the area formerly used as an animal sanctuary on your left. Cross the cattle gate and turn into the parking area on the left. To the left of the logging road is the trail.
: If the amazing view of Crow Peak from the fourth floor of Bordeaux Residence Hall have you itching for a closer look, know that the Crow Peak trailhead is easily accessible from campus. McCart remembers hiking Crow Peak for the first time in 2000 when she was a guest speaker in an outdoor ed class at BHSU. It was the first time McCart, who was living in eastern South Dakota, had ever been on campus. She remembers thinking “Gee, if I knew this campus existed, I would have gotten my undergraduate degree here!” Directions: Travel from Spearfish southwest on Forest Service Road 214 approximately 7 miles to the trailhead, which is on the west side of the road. The Crow Peak Trail is maintained for hikers, horseback riders, and bicycles.
: The historic Friendship Tower, a memorial famous Deadwood resident Seth Bullock made to honor his friend and conservation luminary President Teddy Roosevelt greets you on this easy trail for hikers of all ages. There is also a man-made lookout near the Tower with incredible views of the heights and depths of the Black Hills. Directions: From Spearfish, take I-90/Highway 85 towards Deadwood to the turn off for The Lodge at Deadwood resort. Turn left as if you were going to the resort but keep right and follow Forest Road 133 approximately .2 miles to the Mount Roosevelt Picnic Area. There is an interpretive sign located at the beginning of the trail and restrooms are available.
: If you only have a half hour to hike, McCart suggests a walk in or near the Spearfish City Park and Campgrounds. “I have decided that only ‘happy people’ are in the park – students hammocking, retired people, people on vacation, and people escaping from the rat race. It rubs off.” The Spearfish Recreation and Bike Path connects to campus on St. Joe Street and runs 7.5 miles through town and along Spearfish Creek. McCart suggests taking the bike trail into Spearfish Canyon, hiking up on the disc golf course, or hike around the D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery. Need a good excuse not to do your laundry in a coin-operated machine? Save your quarters and feed the trout some fish food! Directions: Take Jackson Blvd east from BHSU to North Canyon Street, and drive south until you see the Park, then keep driving south to the Hatchery and through the Campground.
: McCart says you can get off the busy beaten trails in the Canyon by driving to a pull-out, and then exploring to see why it’s there. “There’s a lot of beautiful spots on the east side along the old road.” McCart also recommends following the path of the old pole from Savoy to the Long Valley Picnic Area
. Bring your fly rod. There are numerous popular and well-loved hikes in Spearfish Canyon: Roughlock Falls
, an easy, accessible 2 mile walk from the Lodge to the waterfalls. The trail begins near Spearfish Canyon Lodge and is signed and accessible from the Lodge parking lot. Spearfish Falls
is across the road and accessible from the Latchstring Restaurant parking lot.
San Miguel suggests Iron Creek Arch, Devil’s Bathtub, Community Caves, and Eleventh Hour.
Iron Creek Arch
: “It’s difficult to get to, but the view is amazing. Be prepared to slide down the hill, and be sure to yell ‘Boulder!’” says San Miguel of her favorite hike. Directions: About a half mile off the Iron Creek Trailhead and up a steep hill. The entrance is sometimes marked by stacks of rocks.
: San Miguel suggests bringing a swimsuit and trying out the natural rock slide. “A must hike trail in the Canyon. I could spend hours playing in the water. It’s a great way to cool off from the summer heat.” Directions: Travel south on the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway (Hwy 14A). Watch for the road “Cleopatra Place” a few miles south of Bridal Veil Falls. Parking is a bit further in a gravel lot. Walk over the bridge across Spearfish Creek on Cleopatra Place, then head right to the trail.
: “This is a fun hike, while steep and filled with loose rock and gravel, the caves are must-see! This is also a nice hike in the winter, just be sure to hike prepared.” Directions: Turn off Colorado Blvd. in Spearfish to follow Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway (Hwy 14A) south approximately 2.7 miles to mile marker 13. Immediately after a curve, look for a large parking pull-off area on the right side of the road. From here, cross the highway and begin to walk down the ditch to the creek below. Tip from BlackHillsandBadlands.com: “You should know, nothing about this hike is marked... finding it for the first time is half the battle!”
: A great hike in the winter, San Miguel says this is a short hike to the top of a mountain with a great overlook of Spearfish Canyon, man-made ladders, and waterfalls. “While the ladders may be frozen over in the winter, you will still be able to see the frozen waterfall.” Directions: Near milepost 20 in Spearfish Canyon, watch for two very large rocks in the creek that are touching (“dubbed the kissing rocks by locals”). Less than 50 yards to the north of the Kissing Rocks, and on the west side of the road you will see, for a second, an opening in the foliage — and water falling. If you are driving north you need to drive slow and look backwards to see the narrow break in the shrubbery. If you are driving south, you’ve got a better shot at noticing the entrance.
: San Miguel says Lookout Mountain is the best place to watch the sunset and sunrise. “At the top of Lookout, you’ll be able to look across the whole city of Spearfish.” San Miguel suggests staying on the trail to avoid any unwanted critters. Directions: Parking is available on 10th and Nevada Streets and another trailhead is available off Pony Express Lane in the Sandstone development. BHSU students contributed to the artwork in the tunnel off Nevada Street that leads to the trail.
*Bonus! (If you want a daytrip).
San Miguel says the Badlands
, which are about two hours from Spearfish, are her favorite way to spend a Saturday. “Definitely worth the drive! Pack water and snacks, park the car and explore!”
McCart suggests Maah Dah Hey Trail
, a three-hour drive away for lots of solitude. The trail is 144 miles long, winding through North Dakota’s Badlands. Pro tip: “Don’t go when its wet, the clay “gumbo” soil is miserable to hike in.”
**Double Bonus! Honorable Mention/Challenge Hike: Fight Club
: A mostly uphill climb, Fight Club in Spearfish is known amongst mountain bikers as steep and challenging, but a great trail. Directions: Take Higgins Gulch Road to the Crow Peak Trailhead and park there. Head south and locate the trail on the left-hand side.
Trail maps and more information are available at the Visit Spearfish office, 603 N Main St., and visitspearfish.com