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Annie Creek Road off of Spearfish Canyon.
Annie Creek Road off of Spearfish Canyon.
The path to Annie Creek Falls.
The path to Annie Creek Falls.
Annie Creek Falls
Annie Creek Falls
View of the falls from above.
View of the falls from above.
The walls of the canyon are steep.
The walls of the canyon are steep.
The two people at the top of the canyon give a sense of the scale of the place.
The two people at the top of the canyon give a sense of the scale of the place.
Annie Creek Falls.
Annie Creek Falls.
Looking down Annie Creek.
Looking down Annie Creek.
A view of Spearfish Canyon from the Annie Creek railroad bed.
A view of Spearfish Canyon from the Annie Creek railroad bed.
Old railroad trestle debris at the bottom of the gorge.
Old railroad trestle debris at the bottom of the gorge.
The old rail bed trail.
The old rail bed trail.

Annie Creek Falls

Aug 23, 2013



 

Spearfish Canyon has so many secrets hidden back in the canyon walls that you wonder if any one person knows them all. After a summer of exploring, this writer is still discovering. On the way to the Black Hills earlier this month we talked with some friends, Mike and Robin Moran of Watertown, who told us about a pretty place in the canyon called Annie Creek Falls. The next day, while having lunch at the Latchstring in the canyon, we learned that our waitress was a South Dakota native and a student at Black Hills State. The pipeline to knowledge about where to hike in the canyon flows through BHSU, so we asked her what favorite unpublished place she liked. Annie Creek Falls was the first one she named, so our next destination was set.
 

LEAVE YOUR AUDI AT HOME

We have an old Jeep Ranger that won’t win a beauty contest anywhere outside of the Ozarks, but it is the vehicle of choice for a trip up Annie Creek Road. The Annie Creek Road sign is the first right past Elmore as you drive north into Spearfish Canyon from Cheyenne Crossing, heading towards Savoy. The road is an old narrow gauge rail bed. As you drive up it you’ll see the remnants of old rail ties, long ago embedded in its floor. Turning around is never an option if you have a full-size vehicle, and is barely an option in a Ranger. The potholes are a definitive test for loose fillings, and there are several times you’ll plow through water holes of indeterminate depths — a free car wash of sorts.
 

YOU ARE THERE

When a spot appears on your right that looks like you can pull over a little, you are there. Across the road, from whence you hear the rushing water, is a trail into the brush — take it. It’s a very short hike to a landing that looks over the canyon below and the water falls to your right. But, the fun doesn’t end there — the adventure has just begun.

To get down to the falls you have three choices. First, you could jump. If you pick that option, don’t bother wasting time snapping a quick photo on the way down — a quick prayer would be more useful. Either of the other two options is marginally safer. To the left you can make short switchback-like cuts as you climb and work your way to the bottom. Be careful — it is treacherous. The left path brings you about fifty yards below the falls. The hike up the creek affords more beautiful views of the area. The option to the right is one we didn’t even see on the way down. This is the shorter and maybe safer route, but it is crawling from handhold (tree root) to handhold (rock ledge) all the way down. The right side route brings you out near the base of the falls — and is clearly the easier route for the hike back up.


IT’S BEAUTIFUL DOWN THERE

The path to the bottom probably deters most, and from a safety perspective, that may be a good thing. But if you are one of those hardy souls that can navigate the way down, the pretty and peaceful creek bottom at the base of Annie Creek Falls is worth the hike. This is the kind of place where people would want to take wedding photos, if they could figure out how to get all the gowns down there in their original color and condition.
 

ANNIE CREEK HAS MORE TO OFFER

The old trail is also the route used by 4-wheelers between Terry Peak and Cheyenne Crossing. A Minnesota group, whose leaders hailed from De Smet, stopped at the falls while we were there. After exchanging the traditional South Dakota greeting: “Where are you from?” followed by “Do you know __?” we discerned that the leader was a cousin of friends of ours from Watertown, and they knew my law school classmate from De Smet, Todd Wilkinson. In South Dakota speak, we had bonded. The 4-wheelers explained to us that there was more to see by travelling further up Annie Creek Road, so the adventure continued.

About a half mile further up the road (where road speeds are about 8 mph on a good stretch), you cross the creek. The road bed has been built up well above the creek, and presumably there’s a big culvert in the brush below, but the driver is well advised to adhere to the biblical directive of staying focused on the narrow path ahead. When you’ve crossed the creek, the “road” ends — but the adventure doesn’t. To the right is a strictly 4-wheeler route to Terry Peak. To the left there are two paths. We took the high road, which is a continuation of the narrow rail bed.

If you hike for about a mile, you’ll come to first one, then another, former railroad trestles. The trestles have been felled, probably to avoid hikers using them to cross the gullies they forded. To get to the second former trestle, you of course need to be crazy enough to hike down, through and up the first trestle gorge. This would be a good point to suggest another whole set of safety disclaimers. But if you have the endurance and lack of good judgment for the trip, it’s a pretty view and a neat crawl through the remnants of Black Hills railroad history.

There’s some “treasure” to be found on the more remote sections of the rail bed, as we learned from a family we met near the first gorge. We came up on a father, mother and son digging in the dirt along the remote rail bed — not exactly everyday behavior. It piqued our curiosity. We learned that they were using metal detectors and shovels to unearth the spikes that had been discarded when the rail lines were pulled up years before. They said that you could even find the old spikes lying on the ground sometimes along the route. My very curious wife, after navigating there and back through two gorges, couldn’t resist digging in the shallow dirt along the trail in several places looking for the hidden treasure — but alas, to no avail.


TAKEAWAYS AND TREASURES

The hidden gems to hike to in the Hills are worth the time and effort. We hope others will tell us of more of these to explore. Also, the rich railroad history of the Black Hills would be fascinating to explore, if a knowledgeable guide would surface.

Finally, the treasures of the Hills really are there for the taking. On the walk back along the old rail bed, with one of my wife’s steps on the trail came a metallic “clink” sound. There, just waiting to be picked from the ground by the adventurous, was a rail spike — a Black Hills treasure to the memory of Annie Creek.

 

Lee Schoenbeck grew up in Webster, practices law in Watertown, and is a freelance writer for the South Dakota Magazine website.


Comments

09:15 am - Sat, August 24 2013
Doug Noteboom said:
Really have enjoyed your stories. Keep up the fine writing. Might stop by your office when returning from another fishing trip to Webster area.
11:12 am - Sun, August 25 2013
Nancy Oviatt said:
I so appreciate seeing these pictures and reading about a place I really want to visit again. I cannot remember if I've been there, so I must need to go there. Love this magazine! The Black Hills are a treasure of beauty and wonder, wonderful small communities, an intimacy I love when traveling through the hills.
06:31 am - Wed, January 29 2014
Arnie Murdock said:
The Railroad was The Grand Island and Wyoming Central Railroad. It was completed in 1893 and only operated for 40 years until car transportation became more practical. Trains would drop off fisherman and cabin owners along the route then pick them on return trips. On the section your referring to, Annie Creek, the train would gain 800' of elevation in seven miles from the Canyon floor to the Rim.
01:29 pm - Fri, March 21 2014
Coco Villard said:
I've known this falls as Hidden Falls. It's beautiful there. I have never been all the way down that road however, because, though I have a 4 wheel drive vehicle, I still got stuck the 2 times I tried it. Those are some serious water filled potholes! Somewhere off to the right of this road is the lost cabin mine. I had been there years ago but have since lost :( the way. Do you have any hints for me?
10:35 am - Sun, April 6 2014
Arnie Murdock said:
Coco when you cress the large fill across Annie Creek make a right then a few hundred yards further up make another right. This path takes you to Terry Peak and about half way you'll find the tailings from the mine

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