Turn off the Spearfish Canyon highway at Cleopatra Place. Click to enlarge photos.
Jul 2, 2013
By Lee Schoenbeck
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 theSouth Dakota Magazinewebsite.
04:36 pm - Tue, July 2 2013
larry kurtz said:
Bill Janklow: the father of acid mine drainage.
The author of this post having even walked up that drainage has altered his genetics: had he been of child producing age he would have passed the neurotoxic effects of the mercury, cadmium, and strontium onto his offspring just from the acid salt spray mixed in the pollen and everything else he came in contact that day.
06:59 am - Wed, July 3 2013
ED GOSS said:
Great story Lee keep em comin.
08:33 am - Wed, July 3 2013
There is a hidden cave up Roughlock Falls Road. The entrance is hidden up on a hill across from a camping area (I believe it is called Timon Campground. The cave is named after it). Last time I was there a pine tree had fallen across the entrance. It is near impossible to find now unless you know exactly where it is. The entrance is small anyway. You have to crawl into it. Once inside you'll see the cave is well lit because it goes all the way through the ridge. the other opening is large and provides breathtaking views of the area. My mother showed me this cave as her father (the one who found it) showed it to her. It hasn't always been a secret, however. There is graffiti inside the cave from several generations.
We used to make a point of exploring the Canyon all the time. There is a sun bathing rock on the top of a ridge point we would hike to; Devil's bathtub of course; Bridal Veil; Roughlock Falls... but honestly, since the change to Roughlock Falls, the whole thing is not like it used to be. Roughlock was my family's major destination any time we would be in the Hills. Now there is no point to even go. :(
09:50 am - Wed, July 3 2013
Lee Schoenbeck said:
Trish - could you email me - I would liek to know more about how to find that cave. email@example.com
12:33 pm - Tue, July 9 2013
So why do they call it the Devil's Bathtub?
03:46 pm - Tue, July 9 2013
larry kurtz said:
they call it devils bathtub because coming into contact with the mine tailings in the water causes mutations in the genetics of all living things.
09:25 am - Wed, July 10 2013
Lee Schoenbeck said:
I suspect that the name is from the shape (it is like a big bathtub) and the powerful nature of the water rushing through the rocks (probably sounds dangerous)
11:34 pm - Sun, August 18 2013
Kelly Remily said:
My son came to visit this summer and we had not been out to DB for several years. I was saddened to see how much it has changed. There are obvious rock blockades that have been made, numerous beaten-down paths up and around the creek and cliffs, and trash in the forest and the stream. It may be that, like Roughlock Falls, this 'secret' hike will be closed; and if that is what it takes to return it to nature, that is what should be done.
11:39 am - Tue, October 29 2013
Sandy Narde said:
I have hiked Squaw Creek to Devils Bath tub with my family for many many years. My kids grew up hiking that trail not only to the Pool area but even beyond to the old Cleopatra Gold Mine. My folks live at the end of Cleopatra, and have been there for many decades. Long before this secret was shared with everyone, and the street didn't even have a name ( used to be called E19) we could hike the trail and never see another person. Now there is a constant flow of people. It's nice to have such a beautiful area to explore, but it is obivious over the years how this has effected this beautiful path, as well as our street. (Formerly just thought of as our driveway). Please readers if you decided to go check it out be respectful of the people that call that area "home", take nothing and leave nothing so generations to come can injoy nature in its natural form.
08:22 am - Thu, June 26 2014
Another similar place is the hippie hole down by Rockerville area.
08:10 pm - Sun, July 27 2014
First visited this place back in 73 while doing the 'days of 76 celeb. I was about 2 months shy of my 15th bd. I went again in 76, but not since then. I'd like to take my wife before we get too old, and my daughter before she hits middle age. Wonderful memories, worth the effort. Sits in my mind kind of like Big Sur CA.
08:44 pm - Sat, August 8 2015
senior margaritas said:
If I had known to bring a bag along so I could have picked up some other slackers trash, I would have.
01:57 pm - Mon, February 6 2017
While it has been many years since I have last been here, the Devil's Bathtub has been reduced from it's former glory. I used to go here with family when I was a teen and at that time, there was a chute that the water rushed down into a 15-20 foot deep pool. This all changed after one really wet spring. Run-off that spring was really high and it washed several rocks and silt down into the pool, filling it to the point where it was only about waist deep. A decent sized boulder had washed down the chute and got lodged in it near the bottom of it. As I said, it's been several years since I've been there and I've heard rumors that people wanted to restore it to it's former glory, but last I heard it still is not what it used to be.
08:35 pm - Wed, May 24 2017
Linda Myers said:
I found this youtube video of a look at under the water at the devils bathtub...
I cannot wait to go see this. Traviling there the end of June by motorcycle from Ohio.
07:14 pm - Tue, July 4 2017
Very nice place for kids to go play in nature!
Badside is local sherriff will have yur cars towed along road...with very little signage or telling you where yur car is or got towed to, with NoCell reception to findout. So u and yur kids have to walk down the dangerous curvy road about a mile to make call.
We got lucky the tow truck was backed up to our truck....so we still had to pay off him in cash $50 or have it towed...sherrif was right there and told him to tow it if we didnt pay him...unfortunately alot of cars did get towed.
Very bad situation to put families in when there are better ways...tickets, fencing, chained off areas, better signage, etc....
There is no reason to tow!
When it puts families in more danger when no cell coverage.
01:33 pm - Sat, February 9 2019
I would mention some of the rare plants to be seen along the way but the less appreciative would soon strip them away along with the original name of the creek (Squaw Creek). Across the road at Timons campground is a cave at the end of the ridgeline that looks out from separate openings in two directions. No one can approach without being seen from Robbers Roost (another discarded name?) This location also looks over the canyon area where the Sioux winter camp was filmed in Dances with Wolves. Lee, if you have not discovered Volksmarch (Crazy Horse) it is a must and will not last for much longer.
08:10 am - Wed, April 29 2020
Larry Simon said:
try diving to the bottom of the bathtub.. fill a bag or can with the washed in gravel and gold ore.. take it out wash it and see what you get.. too bad the flood of 1965 filled the bathtub with tons of gravel and sand from the above watershed. There is a hole in the bathtub slide on the west side of the granite.. dare you to stick your hand in the darkness and find out what is in there.. ha ha!