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Splashing in the Devil's Bathtub
Jul 2, 2013
Located between Savoy and Spearfish in the scenic byway of Spearfish Canyon is an unmarked, semi-secret place to enjoy a hike and a refreshing dip in a mountain stream. Ever since climbing behind the falls at Roughlock became verboten, the Devil’s Bathtub has been the best playground in Spearfish Canyon.
WHERE DOES THE DEVIL BATHE?
There are no signs disclosing the secret location of the Devil’s Bathtub. Most people that know about it found out from a local. My law school roommate, a Black Hills State grad, told me about it. I quizzed people on the trail this past week, and all were locals, or were told by locals. It’s kind of supposed to be a secret — at least before the Internet, Google and YouTube. Now, it’s a traffic jam to fun.
To get there, pull off the Spearfish Canyon highway at Cleopatra Place. There isn’t a parking lot, but these days there are a lot of cars along the narrow lane — park there. Hike across the bridge over Spearfish Creek and follow the trail to your right. The tributary to hike comes into Spearfish Creek at that point — DO NOT cross it and follow Spearfish Creek. Assuming you don’t make that mistake, you can’t miss the Bathtub. You definitely can’t miss the fun. The “trail” has a range of options — my crew prefers jumping on rocks and traversing fallen logs, but there is always the option of just walking on the dirt path adjoining the creek.
After about thirty minutes of playing and hiking along the creek you’ll come to an area where the creek has cut a smooth swirl in to the rock. It looks like Mother Nature’s water slide. It’s a fun spot to stop and play on the rocks and in the creek. For the first three or four years, we took our family and friends. With me acting like some kind of an informed Sacagawea, this was where the hike ended. We all had fun sliding on the rocks and enjoying our lunches. One year, to our surprise, hikers came down upon us from farther up the canyon! They informed us that, while the spot we had hiked to was indeed fun, it was about 10 minutes short of the actual bathtub! At that point old “Sacagawea” felt a little stupid, but it did mean we now had new places to explore.
THE REAL BATHTUB
A little further up the canyon along the creek, the real Devil’s Bathtub is swirled out of the rock formations, and it definitely entertains. You can swim in the pool, slide down the chutes, or just lower your bottom into the coldest refreshing, rushing water you can imagine. The walls of the canyon at that point are steep — I mean mountain goat-quality steep — and tree covered. The setting is beautiful.
There are little brown trout in the stream and it’s entertaining to watch them jumping the rocks up the stream, like a fish ladder, until they reached a point just too steep to “climb.”
When we pulled up, the parking area was filled. When we left, a van driver had his wife get out and navigate a squeeze play into Cleopatra. I quizzed people while we hiked, because we probably saw at least fifty people along the trail and at the bathtub. Almost everybody had a local connection — they knew somebody that knew the secret. A nephew and his wife met up with us there — both Mines grads who had heard of, but not seen, the Devil’s Bathtub. Having them and their sons with us meant the secret was passed on to another generation.
Former Governor Bill Janklow used to say “a secret is something that you promise to only tell one person at a time.” So if you’re reading this, you need to promise to keep the secret. But if you know of any other secret or unmarked hiking trails in the Hills, fee free to email me the location. Other than to a few close friends of the outdoors, I’ll keep the secret.
Lee Schoenbeck grew up in Webster, practices law in Watertown, and is a freelance writer for the South Dakota Magazine website.