The Adventures of Betty, Roxie, and The Rockwood: Spearfish Canyon

Social Trails. Ever heard of them? They are not formal trails but they are paths that have been made from visitors who learned about them mostly from word of mouth. On our That’s WY vacation, I was first told about social trails from a park ranger as I was trying to find a way of seeing Midway Geyser Basin from a higher elevation. The Park Ranger told me that there were no approved paths but only social trails. He explained that all the social trails leading to where I wanted to go were not safe and that the entire area in Yellowstone had been closed off due to serious injury and even death on the social trail that I was inquiring about.

Social trails often lead us to hidden gems. Hidden gems can be an out of the way. Not well publicized and generally something only locals know about. Not something you will find in a tour guide or on a map. We all want to find that hidden gem, but we all don’t always have the resources to do so.

Love it or hate it but social media has changed the game when it comes to hidden gems. Once discovered by word of mouth or from introduction by a person in the know to a newbie, these tucked away secret places are no longer secret. The wide spread use of social media has transformed these hidden gems to trending hot spots. People experience a hidden gem and then post about it and disclose the location. Those post are seen and shared with the hundreds of friends who share it with their hundreds of friends and soon hidden gems are no longer really hidden.

Heading into the Black Hills, Meeghan learned through social media about a few social trails in Spearfish Canyon that would lead us to some hidden gems. The warning was clear, these hidden gems butted right up next to private property and home owners had little to no patience with the public out hiking to find the once hidden now public site.

Wanting an adventure, we set out from Rafter J Bar Ranch and made our way north one hour and thirty minutes on Highway 385 North pass Deadwood to Spearfish Canyon. We had no real address, just a general direction as we set about to find a gem called The Devil’s Bathtub. (Side note: why is the Devil in the name of so many cool places?)

We drove up Highway 385 North from Hill City. The drive to Deadwood was beautiful. We passed Pactola Reservior and nearly pulled over for the day! The water was so blue and inviting. Thankfully, the pull of Spearfish Canyon kept up heading north. Although it was only the beginning of June, Deadwood was already full of bikers. This area is a mecca to the two wheeled community all summer long, so if you are visiting here, watch out for them.

Just south of Deadwood we got off Highway 385 and took Highway 85 North to I90. We passed another RV park that blew our socks off, so you if you are looking for a place to stay a little further north, closer to Deadwood, Sturgis, or Spearfish Canyon, look at Elkhorn Ridge RV Park.  We took I90 West a few miles and found ourselves at Highway 14A, Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway.

Looking up you see tall pine trees and exposed granite rock.  Spearfish Creek runs through the bottom of the canyon. We found our first water fall, Bridal Veil Falls, We were a little nervous that we would overlook the area we were searching for so while we had service we were able to pull up a map and found a road called Cleopatra Place. We knew that Devil’s Bathtub was off this road.

Parking was very limited and on the day we were there to visit, so many people were playing in Spearfish Creek that most of the available sites were taken. “Private Property” signs were everywhere we looked so we knew we had to be careful in selecting a parking site.

After a picnic lunch and refilling our water containers, we set off hiking a social trail. There was no map. We followed the trail that crossed and double crossed Squaw Creek up from the floor of the canyon.

The trail wanders. It is visible in parts and in other parts you make your own trail. It is dry and it is wet. When it is wet, you will find that the water is very cold. At first it feels nice and refreshing considering how hot it is but after extended periods of times in the water, you realize your feet are numb. It is flat and it is rocky. We climbed so many rocks! We were hiking with a wide range of ages (7 to 47) and we all made it. There is shade and there is full sun.

Sometimes walking in the water is the easiest path. You really can’t make it to Devi’s Bathtub without getting your feet wet. We joked this was a smaller, less glamorous version of The Narrows. This is not a joke: wet rocks are slippery. Ask Meeghan, she went under. Completely under. While holding her Canon. The Canon is fine. But Meeghan got wet.

Squaw Creek pools. I think there are three or four pools. One of those pools is Devil’s Bathtub. Being newbies, we overshot it and hiked way out of our way. We hiked so far that we no longer had a clear path to follow. So we doubled back and and we finally found the “right” pool.

The water is deep at Devil’s Pool and it is powerful. We were happy to see a bunch of other hikers hanging around to catch everyone as they came down the natural slide. I have a “thing” with water: we like each other in social circles but we don’t really want to get too familiar with each other. I tried to convince myself during the entire hike in that I was okay to go down the slide. I do believe if that water had been 10 degrees warmer I might have done it. But in the end, I stood by and watched. For those keeping score: Pam’s fear of water: 10,000 Pam overcoming fear of water 23.

The Boy quickly went down and then took all the littles down. He was having a hayday until he scrapped a rock and came up with a few nasty roadrash marks. Then he was done. Thankfully the dads decided they wanted to go and they each took a little down.

The hike in took longer than we expected. The hike out was quick and easy. We had planned to hit up a few more “quiet” areas in Spearfish Canyon but time just got away from us and we found ourselves rushing to get back to Rafter J Bar Ranch for dinner.

We left with mixed emotions, excited at the hike we had found and yet a little sad we had to leave. I can safely say this was the perfect ending to our time in the Black Hills and maybe a favorite of the whole trip. If you are looking for a scenic drive, take Highway 14A through Spearfish Canyon. If you are looking for a moderately difficult hike and like water features, then Devil’s Bathtub Hike is for you.

I put together a video of our time at Devil’s Bathtub. The video takes you from the bathtub to our vehicles. If you are interested in seeing this social trail/hidden gem take a peak.


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