Snowmobiling Sensational Spearfish

October 2002 Feature JILL?BARNES Viewed 785 time(s)
Spearfish lies in the northeast corner of the Black Hills of South Dakota.

About 125 years ago, a young soldier named George Armstrong Custer was sent to the Dakotas where gold was discovered in those Black Hills. That find forever changed the area with the outlaw towns of Deadwood and Lead springing up.

But Spearfish held its own. Today, it also has a lot to offer-especially to the snowmobiler.

There are twisty tree-lined trails, open plains, panoramic views, even waterfalls, along what's known as the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway (Highway 14A). Actor-director Kevin Costner saw potential in the region. He filmed many of the winter scenes for his movie "Dances With Wolves" in Spearfish Canyon-so you know there's plenty to see.

Snowmobilers can have a ball exploring the many trails in the Spearfish area. Some favorites include the snow-ways to Cement Ridge Lookout, the Big Hill Lot and very photogenic waterfalls called Roughlock Falls.

The journey to Cement Ridge often begins near the Trailshead Lodge, a sort of starting and ending point that offers food and drink. Trail No. 1 on Map A of the Black Hills Trails Systems runs right through here. It's about a 20-mile ride to Cement Ridge Lookout-if you take the direct route. It's a few more if you enjoy exploring.

The Journey Begins

The first few miles offer a windy ride among towering Ponderosa pines. It then opens up to lots of possibilities for free riding in open meadows. Trail No. 1 hugs the South Dakota and Wyoming borders near the trail's midsection. 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.

If cowboys had snowmobiles, who knows how the West might have been won?

After riding the open areas, we made our way through some narrowly cut trails. The colors of the snow-topped trees on a clear sunny day were breathtaking. It's possible to meet local wildlife here such as coyote and elk. You can also spot some 130 different species of birds in the area.

Be aware there are many alternate trails on the way to Cement Ridge that can lead you astray-but that's not always a bad thing. A big help are the posted maps at many of the offshoot trails. The maps show where you're located, and your options. One intersecting trail had a small stop sign to alert riders of possible on-coming traffic.

Another open area to explore includes an old run down shack, called McInerty's Place. It was named for an old rancher from the area. The shack looks ready to fall down, but maybe that's the beauty of it. And it made for some nice pictures.

The last bit of snow-way to Cement Ridge, switches to Trails No. 3A and then 3C. The trail goes uphill for a mile or two before you finally reach the Cement Ridge Lookout. You also can get to Cement Ridge by following Trail No. 3 on the Wyoming side heading north, or from the Big Hill Lot traveling south.

Hard As A.

Cement Ridge (elev. 6,276 feet) gets its name from extremely the hard ground on which the lookout sits. Supposedly, almost nothing grows here. Riders can park and walk around. There's a warming hut to cut the chill of the wind. The lookout is actually in Wyoming, but there's a 360-degree view of both states, which on a clear day is just spectacular. You also can spot a place called Inya Kara, where Custer originally explored and carved his initials into some rocks. (No, you can't see his initials from the lookout.) And the old Tinton Gold Mines are within view as is the huge Winter Wildlife Range (off limits to snowmobilers).

As noted, riders also can get to Cement Ridge by starting out north of the site at Big Hill Lot area. It's a more rural starting point but with a big parking lot for your car and trailer.

The Spearfish Canyon Resort near Roughlock Falls is a great place to spend a day or two exploring the surrounding trails. Or for resting weary bones after a tough day. The area around the resort once was the site of an old sawmill, which included an inn for visitors coming off the local train. The rail service, completed in the 1890s, went from Spearfish Canyon to Deadwood. A big flood in 1933 damaged most of the rail line. Today, much of the Scenic Byway travels along the same roadbed.

The inn was later taken over by two ladies from Iowa, who renamed it The Latchstring Inn because of the old pioneer-style, latchstring-operated door. The current restaurant retains the name.

Old West Charm

The Spearfish Canyon Resort has a rustic flavor, with big, log beams in the ceiling and a huge fireplace in the lobby. The rooms are comfortable and the food is excellent at the restaurant. Don't miss out on the local trout with almonds.

There are a number of trails around the resort. The resort offers a package deal that includes snowmobile rentals, lodging and meals.

Just a quick ride from the lodge is the Roughlock Falls. Riders have a short walk from the trail to the waterfalls. In winter, it's covered with lots of natural ice sculptures. You also can take the horse-dawn sleigh ride to the falls.

The town of Spearfish offers other winter festivities. There's Hot Chocolate Days, where local merchants offer a free mug of the steaming beverage. That usually coincides with the Winter Art Show. Local artists show off their wares for sale or just for looks. The art show usually takes place in late February.

The High Plains Heritage Center and Museum showcases Western art and artifacts and is home to the National Cowboy Song and Poetry Hall of Fame. And if you'd like to lose a little money, the gambling town of Deadwood is just a short drive by car. You also can take your snowmobile, as there are some trails into town. From Trail No. 1, you have to ride to Trail No. 2 and then north to a half dozen more trails which lead into Lead.


Nearby is Deadwood, which keeps up its image of a Wild West town. Characters such as Calamity Jane and Butch and the Kid were known to hang around Deadwood. At Saloon #10, 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 and 8s, is commonly referred to as Dead Man's Hand.

Or simply visit many of the other fine restaurants in town.

In all, there are 344 miles of groomed trails in the Black Hills National Forest. The southern end of Trail No. 1 takes you about as close to Mt. Rushmore National Monument-one of the most famous spots in South Dakota-as you can get on a snowmobile. You have to visit the monument by car, but make sure you visit it-it's as much a part of the Black Hills as snowmobiling.

Wild Bill Hickok may have done his exploring by horse but using different ponies these days is the preferred way to go.

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