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Custer, South Dakota
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Spearfish, South Dakota
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Chamberlain, South Dakota

Spotlight: Spearfish

Explore some of the most photogenic spots in the Black Hills

As visitors arrive in Spearfish, South Dakota, they’re treated to much the same views the town’s first settlers would have enjoyed in 1876. Nestled against the shores of a gentle creek in a scenic valley, the town is ringed by a crown of three distinct alpine peaks: Lookout Mountain, Spearfish Mountain and Crow Peak. Encircled by these majestic gems, it’s no wonder the town adopted the nickname, “Queen City.”

Located just 50 miles from Rapid City at the northern edges of Black Hills National Forest, Spearfish is ideally situated for those looking to explore the greater southwestern quadrant of South Dakota. Sitting directly on Interstate 90, day trips to Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, Badlands National Park and Buffalo Gap National Grassland are made with a fair degree of ease. RV travelers who are short on time can branch out and visit the hotspots in rapid succession, while those with the luxury of more time on their hands can set up camp and spend an entire summer exploring this historic and attraction-packed slice of South Dakota. However, the local attractions merit just as much attention.

U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife Service

U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife Service

Golf Rush Survivor

Like so many other towns and communities in the Black Hills region, Spearfish owes its foundation to the discovery of gold in the region in 1876. Native Americans occupied the region long before the arrival of gold panners and prospectors, using spears to fish in the creek that would ultimately give the town its name. But the population exploded in the years following 1890. Unlike so many other towns and communities, Spearfish successfully weathered the boom-bust cycle of gold prospecting to survive—and thrive—to the present day.

Whether its picturesque setting had anything to do with that early survival and perseverance is up for debate, but there’s no denying Spearfish’s beauty. So striking is the area that, when scouting film locations for “Dances With Wolves,” Kevin Costner chose Spearfish Canyon for the movie’s final, climactic scenes.

As such, the canyon itself is among the most popular (and rewarding) attractions for visitors making their first stops in Spearfish. Hiking is a popular activity here, with a robust system of well-maintained scenic trails snaking their way through the wilderness bracketing each side of the canyon walls. Trailheads wind their way to secluded waterfalls—including Spearfish Canyon Falls and Roughlock Falls—as well as the Rod and Gun Campground (also accessible by road).

Prefer wading to walking? Fly fishing for trout in Spearfish Creek draws anglers from far and wide to find fish in the current and wait for that big bite.

Spearfish Canyon is also home to some fantastic biking trails, with Bicycling magazine naming it as one of the top-50 most scenic biking paths in the country.

For an easier-on-the-knees-and-back exploration of the canyon, simply buckle up and hit the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway. The entire route covers 22 miles in total, with the journey beginning in downtown Spearfish. The drive features incredible views of massive limestone cliffs, gentle Spearfish Creek and tumbling Bridal Veil Falls. The speed limit is a slow-and-steady 35 miles per hour, with the byway offering plenty of spots to pull over and soak in the mesmerizing views.

Along the way, the byway is home to the Spearfish Canyon Lodge, Latchstring Restaurant and the cafe at Cheyenne Crossing Store, each providing a nice spot to stop for a bit of lunch and a chance to recharge.

Elsewhere, the Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary and D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery are two other highly popular Spearfish area attractions. The former provides sanctuary and care for more than 300 animals which, for various reasons, can never again be released to the wild. Tours of the facilities are highly educational and provide an opportunity to get up-close views of a variety of exotic animals, including African lions.

Visit North Dakota

Visit North Dakota

See What’s Hatching

At the D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery, guests can tour a conservationist facility that was first opened in 1896, making it one of the oldest of its kind in the country. Access is free year-round, and visitors are encouraged to stroll the grounds freely. From May to September, the Hatchery is also home to exhibits and collections displayed at the on-site Von Bayer Museum, Booth House and Railcar.

Finally, don’t miss paying a visit to the High Plains Western Heritage Center. The five states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana all collaborate to showcase the history of Wild West pioneers and Native Americans here, where preserved artifacts, Western art and live displays are showcased.

Perched on the northern edges of Black Hills National Forest, the town of Spearfish can often find itself overshadowed by the likes of Rapid City to the southeast. But the comparatively smaller crowds, gorgeous natural settings and striking canyon vistas found in Spearfish are reward enough for savvy travelers and explorers who decide to set up camp here and explore abroad.

For More Information

Visit Spearfish
South Dakota Department of Tourism