Located along the crest and walls of Spearfish Canyon, Rimrock Trail–Trail #79–can be accessed several ways. The easiest is to use Forest Road 222 from Savoy. From the Spearfish Canyon Byway turn at the Spearfish Canyon Lodge. Once you drive past the final pullout for Roughlock Falls, start looking for parking areas–there are several. If you reach the T-intersection with Tinton Road you’ve gone too far. The parking areas are near the Rod & Gun and Timon Campgrounds, on the right-hand side of the road. Be watchful as they are VERY small–they only fit about two vehicles each. Also, some of the trailhead signs are recessed into the woods, a bit, so they’re easy to miss. There’s also, easy, trail access from the Rod & Gun and Timon Campgrounds, though there are technically no “official” trailheads. If you want to avoid the crowds near Savoy, you can also take Tinton Road north from US 85 as it heads west out of Lead (towards Wyoming) and turn right onto Roughlock Falls Road, heading towards the falls (in this case the trailheads will be on your left). There’s also access to a spur trail from the Mt. Baldy trailhead and parking area off of Tinton Road that is relatively flat and that traverses several, lovely aspen groves.
The trail is comprised of two loops, the Upper Loop is 4.7 miles long and the Lower Loop is 3.2. We enjoyed both, and doing so means you’ll experience around a 700 foot total elevation change (the trail is fairly flat, the entire elevation change is mostly contained within an area of 1/2 mile or so, twice, throughout the hike–once descending and once ascending the canyon). This area is available for hiking, snow shoeing, horseback riding and mountain biking. The trails are available year-round with proper equipment, though be aware, Route 222 is closed in the winter to all vehicle travel other than snowmobiles. (Tinton Road is not usually maintained in this area during the winter, so, it’s accessibility is variable depending on current conditions. These include the vehicle you’re driving, the recovery gear you’ve got at your disposal and your experience level with 4×4 driving. We’ve traversed it successfully, but we’ve also gotten stuck, to the point where we would have had to be rescued had we not had proper recovery gear with us).
The trail offers GORGEOUS aspen groves that are especially lovely in Fall (take note, this area is one of the higher elevations in the Hills and trees usually change earlier here.) The trek also features canyons and open meadows that are perfect for a stop for lunch. We started from the eastern, Lower Loop, trailhead (the first one you come to when traveling from Savoy.) Starting from here, the climb isn’t as steep. If you start from the western trailhead the trek gets VERY steep almost immediately. Due to the grade of the climb, that area would be very difficult and potentially risky if it was muddy. From the east it was amazing how quickly the ecosystems changed from a cool, damp, almost rain forest-type environment to the dryer, warmer, Ponderosa Pine forest and meadows common to the rest of western South Dakota. The trail also offers expansive views of the canyon and surrounding countryside once you reach the crest.
Going this direction, the final stretch of the route is easy and almost flat (which is nice when your energy is running low) as it traverses the floor of a canyon. The bubbling Little Spearfish Creek accompanies you the entire way. Feel free to stop for a spell and soak your tired feet in the cool water, or watch minnows dart in and out of the sun-dappled shallows. You’ll pass a Dances with Wolves filming site (from the final scene in the movie), the origin of the 1997 Whitehouse Christmas Tree and the remains of an abandoned ranger station/homestead.
This really is a great trail. It’s one of the better options to experience the various ecosystems western South Dakota has to offer and it’s also very pretty. The canyon portions remind me of those I’ve mentioned previously on the Deerfield Trail. In the fall, you can enjoy some of the best leaf viewing the Black Hills has to offer without having to negotiate all the traffic and visitors to the main portion of Spearfish Canyon. I would rate the entirety of the trail as moderate (though several of the flatter portions are actually easy); the climb up and down the canyon wall is relatively short but it’s steep enough for a strenuous rating, especially in less-than-superb conditions. Because the trail can be divided into shorter sections, it is appropriate for smaller children, though they may need some assistance negotiating the steeper sections. The yellow of the aspen contrasted with the dark ever-green of the pine trees; the brown bark of fallen logs; the incredible South Dakota blue sky and the white puffy clouds (with red creekside plants speckled throughout in the canyon areas) truly creates an iconic scene.
See below for some pics that showcase the beauty of this trail during Fall (thanks, as usual, to Mr. Trekker for these!):
If you’re seeking a less well-known hike in the Hills, check out Rimrock Trail!