Snowshoeing In Spearfish Is A Delight

Spearfish is sort of the unknown quantity in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Located just off Interstate-90 near the Wyoming border, it is at the northern edge of the Black Hills.

Neighbors’ Mount Rushmore, Rapid City and the Old West towns of Deadwood and Lead, overshadow it. But in winter, the beauty of Spearfish is breathtaking. Maybe that’s why actor/director Kevin Costner filmed the winter scenes of his movie “Dances With Wolves” in the adjoining canyon. And luckily, much of that area is open to snowshoeing.

The trails near Spearfish Canyon Resort and Roughlock Falls are less rugged and easy for beginners.

Spearfish has lots to offer the snowshoer, including tree-lined trails, open plains, panoramic views, and even frozen waterfalls. Plus, the town holds annual winter events such as Hot Chocolate Days, a Winter Art Show and colorful strolls around town at Christmas.

Native Americans were first to call Spearfish home. The name comes from those same natives who speared fish in the crystal clear waters of Spearfish Creek. The creek is one of the few that freezes from the bottom up. Gold strikes are what brought many early settlers to the area.

Big Hill: A Haven For Winter Enthusiasts
Just seven miles south of town on Rt. 134 (Tinton Road) is Big Hill Lot, a haven for winter sports enthusiasts. In addition to snowshoeing, the area also offers adjoining trails for those who enjoy cross-country skiing or snowmobiling. Big Hill was named for the “Big Hill” that early prospectors had to climb heading to the gold fields.

Big Hill has lots of places to go off in the woods and explore or you can try the 16 miles of trails. The trails are marked, mapped and groomed. Snowshoers travel along stands of aspen, paper birch and ponderosa pine at an elevation of about 5,400 feet. On a clear day you can see well into the Black Hills.

The trails near Spearfish Canyon Resort and Roughlock Falls are less rugged. The land around Spearfish Canyon Resort once was the site of an old sawmill, but it also had a small log inn for visitors who came in on the local train.

Today’s Spearfish Canyon Resort has a rustic flavor, with big, log beams in the ceiling and a huge fireplace in the lobby. There are a number of trails setting out from the resort. If you need extra equipment, the Winter Sports Center can help you.

Roughlock Falls is just a brisk snowshoe walk from the lodge. In winter, the cascading waters cover the surrounding rocks and boulders making natural ice sculptures. Visitors also can take the horse-drawn sleigh ride to the falls.

Eagle Cliff: 25 Miles Of Trails
Also in the area is Eagle Cliff. It’s a bit more challenging with around 25 miles of inter-connecting trails, some 6,000 feet up. The snow here can be powdery, so you might have to blaze your own trail.

Although mostly used by snowmobilers, the trails to Cement Ridge also offer some snowshoeing possibilities. Trail No. 1 on Map A of the Black Hills Trails Systems can help. Travelers will encounter towering ponderosa pines and open meadows. Parts of the trails actually criss-cross the South Dakota-Wyoming borders. The area has colorful names such as Riflepit, Wagon and Rattlesnake canyons and Elk Springs. It really gives you a feel for the Old West.

At Big Hill near Spearfish, snowshoers travel along stands of aspen, paper birch and ponderosa pine at an elevation of about 5,400 feet.

The colors of the snow-topped trees on a clear sunny day make you appreciate the scenery even more. And it is possible to meet up with the local wildlife here. Some 130 different species of birds live in the area, so bird watchers should have their binoculars ready. You also could encounter an elk or coyote. If you’re a foliage enthusiast, there are more than 1,000 types of vegetation to catalog.

When the day is through, stop off at the Trailshead Lodge. It is sort of starting and ending point that offers food and drink.

Many Other Activities
There’s also a rodeo and marketplace in nearby Rapid City at the end of January. The gambling town of Deadwood is just a short drive by car. Deadwood enjoys keeping up its image of a Wild West Town. Characters such as Calamity Jane and Butch & the Sundance Kid were known to hang around Deadwood. At Saloon No. 10, you can have a cold one and view what is supposed to be the very chair Wild Bill Hickok was sitting in when he was shot in the back while playing poker. His hand, Aces & 8s, is commonly referred to as Dead Man’s Hand.

From the “new” Old West, visit the Midnight Star Bar and Casino, which is owned by Costner. Many of his movie outfits are in glass cases, including those from “Dances With Wolves.” On the top floor is Jake’s Restaurant, rated one of the top eateries in South Dakota.

And if you feel like taking a longer drive, Mount Rushmore to the south shouldn’t be missed. Those famous faces in the rocks never cease to amaze. The surrounding park area has had extensive renovations with an improved interpretive center, larger parking lot and less steep grading on walkways for those in wheelchairs.

For more information, contact:

South Dakota Department Of Tourism
711 E. Wells Avenue
Pierre, SD 57501-3369
FAX 605-773-3256

Spearfish Chamber Of Commerce
106 W. Kansas Street
P. O. Box 550
Spearfish, SD 57783
1-800-626-8013, 605-642-2626
FAX 605-642-7310

Spearfish Canyon Resort
P.O. Box 705
Spearfish, SD 57783
1-800-439-8544, 605-584-3435
FAX 605-584-3990

Deadwood Chamber Of Commerce
735 Main Street
Deadwood, SD 57732
FAX 605-578-2429

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