This post is brought to you by our friends at South Dakota!
South Dakota has a reputation for being home to corn fields, Black Hills, and rocky Badlands. While those landscapes are iconic to The Mount Rushmore State, there’s a lot more to see and experience. One word: waterfalls! If you’re willing to tread a bit off the beaten path, you’ll find lush, serene waterfall oases just waiting to be explored. From the titular cascades in Sioux Falls and the warm Hot Springs waterfall you can swim in, to a scenic canyon lined with waterfalls that transform into ice caves each winter, these are some of South Dakota’s best and most unexpected hidden gems.
Bridal Veil Falls
Spearfish Canyon is home to three of South Dakota’s waterfalls, one of which is the lovely Bridal Veil Falls. The thin, misty layer of water cascading over the 60-foot-tall ledge is absolutely stunning, especially in the spring when the creek is fed by snowmelt. There’s ample parking across the byway from the falls, and you can easily use the crosswalk to get to the perfect view of Bridal Veil. It’s even worth a visit in the dead of winter; Bridal Veil Falls freezes perfectly for ice climbing, and even if you aren’t into the sport, it’s pretty incredible to watch the pros scale the frozen falls.
When it comes to waterfalls in Spearfish Canyon, Spearfish Falls easily has the most interesting history. During the early 1800s, the Burlington Railroad line took passengers right over the falls, making it a popular tourist icon back in the day. In 1917, though, the falls were actually turned off for 86 years, as the creek water was diverted to a hydroelectric power plant for the Homestake Gold Mine. It wasn’t until 2003 that the waterfall was restored. To this day, you can see the remains of the rail line. Because the falls were defunct for so long, they’re definitely a lesser-known gem in the canyon, and the hike, which starts from the parking lot of the Latchstring Restaurant, is pretty easy.
Located in a side canyon just off Spearfish Canyon, Roughlock Falls State Natural Area is the third of the Spearfish Canyon waterfalls. There are two cascades: the upper chasm and the lower, 50-foot set of ledges that create a stunning setting for a hike. Plus, it’s a pretty developed little park with bathrooms, parking, and a picnic area. Check out the well-maintained trails leading from the top of the falls to the bottom and the designated overlooks. It honestly feels like a whole other world tucked away within Spearfish Canyon, and it’s well worth a stop.
See where Sioux Falls got its name at the city’s Falls Park. The waterfall, one of the best in South Dakota, is the crown jewel of the 123-acre park. Falls Park also protects some of the city’s oldest and most historic buildings. The falls themselves are about 100 feet tall, and 7,400 gallons of water drop over them each second. There are buildings around the falls, some of which date back to the city’s founding in 1856. The seven-story Queen Bee Mill, built in 1881, is a highlight. Though it only operated for two years and survived a fire in the 1950s, it remains a distinctive icon at the park. While you’re visiting the falls, check out the SculptureWalk art pieces all around. Also stop by the millrace viewing platform, the historical horse barn that’s been transformed into a hands-on agricultural museum called the Stockyards Ag Experience, and the Falls Overlook Cafe located in the old Light and Power Company Building.
Hot Springs, South Dakota is, not surprisingly, named for the hot springs around the town. Cascade Falls is one of them. It’s actually more of a warm spring, since the water originates from springs 2 miles upstream. But Cascade Falls is the perfect natural swimming hole. The clear, green-blue water stays at a perfect 67 degrees Fahrenheit at Cascade Falls. The spot where the falls meets the creek has water that’s calm enough for swimming. Deep and shallow areas in the water and lush greenery all around further perfect the setting. In fact, the spring-fed falls provide a perfect habitat for some unique and rare plant life! The whole area also has a little picnic ground, so bring along some snacks and drinks. It’s the perfect way to make a day of swimming below the warm falls.