Thursday, October 20, 2016

Devils Bathtub

(One more hike recap from my early September South Dakota trip)

Ahhh....Devils Bathtub.  The trail that made me break two of my cardinal rules:  1. Don't go to a popular place on a Saturday, and 2. Get an early start.

First of many creek crossings

But it was my last day in South Dakota.  I really wanted to spend time with my sister and my high school friend Nancy, both who only had weekends free.  And it'd been years since I'd visited Devils Bathtub.  So, against my better judgement, that Saturday I arranged for us to meet in the nearby town of Spearfish at the late-for-me hour of 12 noon (practically hiker midnight!)

Tall limestone cliffs

Devils Bathtub is an eroded rock formation located in Spearfish Canyon.  A small stream meanders through an area of tall limestone cliffs.  Over time, this creeklet has worn a channel through the rock, creating several small pools and waterfalls.  It's an incredibly beautiful spot, and a great place to escape the summer's heat.

My sis finds a huge tree burl

Devils Bathtub's location used to be secret, known only to a few locals.  It didn't show up on any maps.  The only way to find it's trail was through word of mouth.  The last time I'd visited, way back in the mid 80s, Devils Bathtub was still relatively unknown.

Walking over a rocky ledge

Well, boy was I in for a surprise!  After meeting up with Nancy, my sister drove us down the scenic road that winds through beautiful Spearfish Canyon.  Nearing the unofficial trailhead, I was shocked to find the highway lined with parked cars.  As there was no hope of scoring a spot at the tiny trailhead parking area, my sis maneuvered her SUV onto the shoulder, joining the fast-growing line of vehicles.

The canyon narrows

We girls crossed the highway and hopped over rocks to the other side of gorgeous Spearfish Creek.  A smaller stream converged with this creek, leading up a small side canyon.  We noticed other people following a well-worn footpath through the trees.  This must be the way!

Water-carved rock

Nancy, my sister, and I ducked through the thick brush.  There were several user trails, and at first it was difficult to determine which one to follow.  But another hiker coming the opposite direction assured us they all ended up at the same place.

Little bat trying to hide

So picking a path, off we went!  The canyon walls began to get taller, and the creek banks narrower.  Several times the three of us had to jump over the creek, only to recross several steps upstream.  Hopping over downed trees, balancing on rocks over the creek, scrambling up a rocky ledge - choosing our route became a fun challenge.

The place was swarming with people!

To say we weren't alone would be an understatement - I've never seen so many people on a trail in South Dakota!  The crowds rivaled those of the Columbia River Gorge on a sunny summer's day.   The warm weekend had brought people out in droves.

Nancy and I - high school friends reunited!

About a mile upstream, the banks narrowed until they were merely rocky shelves above the creek.  Instead of hiking, my friend, sister, and I climbed and hopped our way over these ledges.

My sister is having fun

We came upon the first pools, a series of small waterfalls separating them.  It was incredibly lovely, but the place was swarming with people.  Lots of little kids in swimsuits were having a ball sliding down smooth rocky chutes carved by the creek.

Nancy squeezes between rocks

My friend Nancy studied wildlife biology in college, so she was the first to spot a small bat flying around the pools.  It zipped right in front of one lady, and gave her quite a fright.  The tiny bat ended up attaching himself to a nearby canyon wall and sliding into a crevice.  I was able to get  a couple of good photos before the little creature disappeared entirely.

Lovely pool

Finally reaching the large pool, known as Devils Bathtub, Nancy and I stood on the edge and watched a parade of people splashing around in it's waters.

Another tall cliff

But there was way too many folks for our taste, and the three of us agreed we'd had enough.  Time to turn around, my sis led us back down the canyon, away from that mass of humanity.

Walking on the eroded rock

Still, it was a splendid trek back.  I enjoyed the views, especially all the terraced rock formations created by flowing water.  Although the sun/shade combination made photography difficult, I tried to capture the scenery anyway.

More rock channels

Back at the trailhead, I admired the fall colors starting to show on some poison ivy plants (but was smart enough not to touch!) 

Poison ivy leaves wearing fall colors

Back at the trailhead, we met several more groups of people heading towards the canyon.  No longer a secret, the internet and social media have revealed the location of this special place.  I felt a pang of regret that hidden spots such as these have vanished in this age of information.  (Although I suppose bloggers like me don't help the situation either.....)

Later, going through an old photo album, I found some photos from a mid 80s hike into Devils Bathtub.  As you can see, my husband and I had the place to ourselves back then.  Sadly, it seems those days are now long gone.

Devils Bathtub in a quieter time

Despite the crowds, it was fun to revisit an old favorite trail from my past and reconnect with both my sister and old high school friend.  Hopefully we can hike again when I'm back next year (although I'm choosing a less popular trail!)


  1. Beautiful spot, even when a bit crowded. (I'm not much for crowds, either)
    Great post!

  2. That is the problem with some places but I find you can always go when it's not busy and there are less people around. Must have been an easy place to visit of there would not have been that many people there

  3. Fotografias espectaculares desta bela caminhada na natureza com recantos de grande beleza.
    Aquela árvore é espectacular.
    Um abraço e bom fim-de-semana.

  4. WAY too many folks for me! I guess that I'm not good at sharing.

  5. There are some good and bad things about lots of people.It's good that people are enjoying the outdoors as we do. Great shots of a beautiful area.

  6. We never made it to Devil's Bathtub during our stay in Spearfish, thanks for taking me there. What a shame it's been discovered...I suppose if you managed to go on a cold week day it would be a much different experience!

  7. Beautiful! Here's another blog post I read just before coming over to yours today. Interesting that it's related to what you mentioned here:

  8. You go on such fun adventures! Like you, I prefer less crowds but you had fun either way. And that little bat in the photo. So cute!

  9. We're starmting to plan some travels, and finding that everything we read talks about crowds - crowded parks, crowded trails, crowded campgrounds! I thought we were worried about people not getting out in nature enough!

  10. This is truly a lovely place but indeed it's been discovered. The same is true for a hike I used to love that climbed to a waterfall, a series of lakes, and old mining ruins. In the "olden" days, I walked to it from my house. However, now that it's been discovered, it's no longer peaceful and pristine. I guess it's good that people are out enjoying the beauty. I love batty - he's trying to escape the crowds!

  11. What a fun hike, even if there were hoards of people! :) The PI is pretty in the Fall:)

  12. What a fabuous place to track and have fun. nice to meet an old school friend also

  13. Hi! It looks very fun with your friend and your sister. It's a nice adventure! I think hiking with many other hikers is not so bad sometimes. Thanks for sharing.

  14. Hello, looks like a great way to spend the day with your friend and sister. It is amazing what water can do to rocks over the years. The secret is out and it looks to be a very popular place. Wonderful photos. Happy Saturday, have a happy weekend!

  15. Looks like a fun spot. Hard foe the locals to keep these gems secret, I think. In SD the devil has a bath tub and a tower!

  16. A lovely way to catch up with a school friend... even if there was lots of other people.

  17. What a wonderful place.
    Looks like that Bat is not successful in "hiding"

  18. I love those sort of river-worn gorges. Like the big kid I am, I'd probably been in the water as well!

  19. Yep, I was there in the mid 80s. Nobody there but us, no signs.

  20. Looks like you all had a lot of fun hiking through Devil's Bathtub, Linda! I wonder how it got that name? I think the internet has spread the word about what were once "unknown" or "little known" hiking spots--everyone can know about them now with a quick online search.

  21. I'm looking forward to the time when Sunday is not the only day I can go walking!!!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  22. Nice spot - too bad the secret is out- I too look for spots with few or no people

  23. Another great post of beautiful scenery! It looks like everybody was out and about but happy!

  24. That hike would almost be worth the crowds to see.

  25. Well, it's good that people like to be out in nature. But I know, I find that Shenandoah National Park is crazy-busy on weekends in nice weather.

  26. I like to go places where there are not many people either. Such a pretty area.

  27. Even with the crowds this is an amazing area. Loved the rock formations and that bat (creepy but cool).

  28. Lovely area and great bat photo. Probably a world wide affair with places getting busy as I've noticed a huge increase here as well over the last 10 years.

  29. Missed this post before, and this does look like a beautiful place to hike to. It is shocking how many people can be on some of the trails that once seemed like wilderness. Our cabin used to be beautiful and the area was so remote, and that has changed so much it is shocking... although we are still alone up a 3 mile dirt trail, the area around us has changed so much. I love that little bat that is trying to hide from you! Such a good observation! Looks like you had a beautiful, if late start, hike!

  30. It was kind of like hiking at Smith Rocks or Silver Creek State Park(s). Nice shot of the bat, that's not something you see every day


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