“But how is it that I’ve heard so little of this miracle and we, toward the Atlantic, have heard so much of the Grand Canyon when this is even more miraculous. All the better eventually … that the Dakota are not on the through line to the Coast … My hat is off to South Dakota treasures.”
-Frank Lloyd Wright
You know that feeling of pure joy? That kind of happiness that starts in your heart, courses through your veins, buzzes around your brain, and fills your whole body with a pulsing warmth?
That’s my favorite.
I recently found that happiness on a hike to the ironically named Devil’s Bathtub in Spearfish, South Dakota.
The intent of our quick trip to the northern hills was Cheyenne Crossing — an old stagecoach stop tucked into Spearfish Canyon and known for its Indian tacos and sourdough pancakes. (Eugene and I ordered each, respectively.)
But I’m never one to pass up an opportunity to hike. So I suggested that we track down Devil’s Bathtub, a local trail worn through a limestone corridor that leads to a waterhole.
With bellies full of rich food, we set out in search of the route… this is where things got a little hairy, but thanks to a spotty cell signal, good online resources, and a patient Eugene, we found ourselves at the trailhead.
Devil’s Bathtub was our first unmarked trail, so with apprehension, we ducked under branches and scurried over rocks as we followed the narrow dirt path.
And then it happened.
The trail veered left and led us straight into the shallow creek we’d been following for the past quarter-mile.
The aforementioned online resources noted that hikers may need to “get their feet wet,” but I hardly expected to find myself plotting a trail across a body of water.
After watching a family cross upstream, we decided it was doable. We sat on the hard dirt, removed our socks, laced our tennies back up, and sloshed our way through the cool creek.
For me, this was instant fun. The South Dakota air was abnormally humid and the sun was hot on my skin. The knee-deep water was a welcome addition to the steamy hike.
Eugene wasn’t so sure.
After our initial trek through the creek, the crossings became more frequent. It was a point of annoyance for Eugene, since he expected to stay dry for the duration of the hike.
But the further we ventured into the corridor, the more uncommon and interesting the views became. Jagged limestone walls towered high above us on either side. Dense pines surrounded us. And a swift-flowing creek moved beneath us. If I could pick a place to sit for an extended amount of time, this would be it.
Eugene was warming up to the hike, too.
After about 20 minutes of tromping along the trail, we reached our destination. This is what Devil’s Bathtub looks like through the lens of a three-and-a-half-year-old iPhone 4:
The photo doesn’t do it justice.
Although the hike was short, the whole ‘forging your own path’ thing wore us out. So we sat on a limestone ledge, hung our feet in the pool, and let the strong sound of rushing water lull is into total relaxation.
In my opinion, the most difficult part of a hike is deciding when the time is right to bid adieu to the destination and begin the trek back to the trailhead. We hung around Devil’s Bathtub longer than usual and after soaking in one final view of the landscape, reluctantly returned the trail.
I know the Black Hills are filled with breathtaking views and awesome hikes, but of all the adventures I’ve undertaken out here, Devil’s Bathtub has, by far, been my favorite. You just can’t compete with that happy heart feeling.
If you find yourself in western South Dakota, search out this happy hike. This website was a huge help in leading us to our destination. You’ll also want to type Cleopatra Place into your GPS before driving through Spearfish Canyon.
Happy trails to you!