Watch the cliffs for nests of Golden Eagles, Prairie Falcons, and White-throated Swifts, among other species. Other gems include American Three-toed Woodpecker and Lazuli Bunting. In 2010, an Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush was discovered and seen by many birders near the confluence of Iron Creek and Spearfish Creek.
Forest Service roads and hiking trails veer off and allow visitors to escape the noise along the heavily traveled scenic byway. These often traverse a variety of forest types and habitat features that attract a variety of breeding birds in the summer. The canyon is a very inviting place if you like to pack along a picnic lunch and take a hike of whatever length you desire and find a spot to relax and make a list of the birds you hear and see.
From late spring through early fall, the weather is mostly pleasant, and there is great seasonality with respect to blooms and vegetative change. If you have a friend who might not be a fanatic birder like yourself but enjoys being outdoors amid great natural beauty and scenic views, you can’t go wrong with an excursion into Spearfish Canyon.
At a Glance
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Deciduous riparian woods, creekside meadows with summer wildflowers, ponderosa pine forest, white spruce forest, and exposed limestone cliffs.
Highly variable. Trails can include flat and steep portions. A few trails are short loops, but many are linear and require a down-and-back approach. Some quiet secondary roads would permit birding from a car, but in many cases, at least a short walk from your car will be required to escape road noise.
Cliff nesters: Golden Eagle, Prairie Falcon, White-throated Swift, Violet-green Swallow, Canyon Wren. Pine forests: Western Wood-Pewee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Mountain Bluebird, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Dark-eyed Junco, Pine Siskin, Red Crossbill. Spruce forests: American Three-toed Woodpecker, Brown Creeper, Townsend’s Solitaire. Riparian woodlands adjacent to Spearfish Creek: Black-headed Grosbeak, Swainson’s Thrush, Veery, Lazuli Bunting, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Western Tanager, American Dipper.
When to go
Summer for the best variety of birds with the safest access conditions and pleasant weather.
Interpretive sites at pull-offs from just south of Spearfish to Cheyenne Crossing. Most of the trails and secondary roads that branch off of byway lack restrooms or facilities, but at Savoy, 20 miles south of Spearfish, restrooms along with food and drink are available. Boardwalk at Roughlock Falls, which offers one of the best opportunities to observe American Dippers. Lodging available in Spearfish and Savoy.
National forest. No fees.
Dress for the weather. The elevation changes nearly 2,000 feet from one end of canyon to the other, so bring layers. Binoculars required; no practical need for a spotting scope.
For more info
Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway
Black Hills National Forest
Black Elk Wilderness
Adjacent to Custer State Park, this area is accessed via the Needles Highway or Hwy. 89 and offers spectacular white spruce forests and the highest elevations in the Black Hills region. Three-toed Woodpeckers and White-winged Crossbills can be seen here along the trails that go from Sylvan Lake to Black Elk Peak.
A huge recreational lake west of Rapid City. Good for waterfowl, wading birds, woodland songbirds, American Three-toed Woodpecker, and American Dipper.