Spearfish, South Dakota

Spearfish is a small city situated in Lawrence County in the western part of the US State of South Dakota. Nicknamed as the “Queen City,” the city of Spearfish was initially established as a gold-mining camp at the mouth of the Spearfish Canyon in 1876. The city was named by the indigenous Sioux Indians who lived in the area and speared fish in the fast-moving Spearfish Creek. Spearfish is also home to Black Hills State University.

Geography Of Spearfish

Spearfish, South Dakota
A red car drives in the fall landscape of Spearfish Canyon. Editorial credit: Pierre Jean Durieu / Shutterstock.com

The city of Spearfish covers a total area of 42.35 sq. km, of which 0.03 sq. km is occupied by water and 42.32 sq. km is occupied by land. Spearfish is situated approximately 70km northwest of Rapid City, close to the Wyoming border, at the mouth of the Spearfish Canyon in the northern Black Hills. The fast-moving Spearfish Creek that emerges from the Spearfish Canyon flows in the south to north direction through the center of the town. Due to the fast-flowing rate of Spearfish Creek, it usually freezes first at the bottom and then at the top. The fast flow rate of the creek allows the freezing of water only at the bottom of the creek bed and prevents the formation of ice at the top. However, as more ice accumulates at the bottom, the creek’s water level gradually rises, leading to flooding in the northern side of the town.


A girl standing under a frozen waterfall in Spearfish, South Dakota
A girl standing under a frozen waterfall in Spearfish, South Dakota. 

According to the Köppen climate classification, Spearfish experiences a humid continental climate with warm summers and freezing winters. The hot season lasts from June to September, with July being the hottest month, having an average high temperature of 28.8°C and a low temperature of 15°C. The cold season lasts from November to March, with December being the coldest month, having an average low temperature of -7.7°C and a high temperature of 3.3°C. The city receives an average annual precipitation of 21.41 inches and an average annual snowfall of 70.5 inches. Due to the city’s location at the foot of the Black Hills and close to the High Plains, the climate of Spearfish is highly variable throughout the year. The city also holds the world record for having the fastest recorded change in temperature on January 22, 1943.

The Population And Economy Of Spearfish

In 2019, the city of Spearfish had a population of 11,547 people with a median age of 36.1. As of 2019, about 280 people (2.42% of the residents) of Spearfish were born outside the country. The most common birthplace of the foreign-born residents of South Dakota is Mexico, followed by Ethiopia and Guatemala. The largest ethnic groups in Spearfish are the non-Hispanic White representing 91.4% of the city’s population, followed by two or more races at 2.35%, American Indians and Alaska Natives at 1.98%, Hispanic White at 1.9%, and Asians at 0.987%. All the households in Spearfish speak English as their primary language, and 98.4% of the city’s residents are US citizens.

As of 2019, the median household income in Spearfish was $46,193, and the median property value was $212,700. The average car ownership in Tahlequah was two cars per household. The economy of Spearfish is mainly driven by tourism in the scenic Spearfish Canyon and outdoor recreations in the Black Hills. In addition to tourism, the city’s economy is also supported by lumbering, manufacturing of electronics and wood products, educational services, cattle, and sheep ranching, and health care services. The largest industries in Spearfish are educational services, health care, and social assistance, and accommodation and food services. The highest paying industries in Spearfish are Wholesale Trade, Finance & Insurance, Mining, Quarrying, and Oil and Gas Extraction.

Tourist Attractions In Spearfish

Black Hills State University

The city of Spearfish is home to the Black Hills State University campus. Established in 1883 and spread over an area of 0.49 sq. km, the Black Hills State University is a four-year public university in the South Dakota system. The university consists of three colleges: the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences, the College of Business and Natural Sciences, and the College of Liberal Arts.

The Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway

The Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway in Spearfish, South Dakota
The Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway in Spearfish, South Dakota. 

The Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway is one of the best scenic drives in the Black Hills region. The 35.4km journey starts in Spearfish and connects with the mouth of the Spearfish Canyon at the Spearfish Canyon Country Club. The canyon floor is lined by Spearfish Creek, while the canyon waterfalls are other popular roadside attractions. Situated on the northern edge of the Black Hills National Forest, the Spearfish Canyon offers many outdoor recreational activities like rock climbing, hiking, biking, and fishing. The Black Hills region is also home to 1,260 plant species along with several birds and animal species.

D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery and Archives

D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery in Spearfish, South Dakota
Trout viewing area at the D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery in Spearfish, South Dakota. 

Formerly referred to as the Spearfish National Fish Hatchery, the D. C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery and Archives, established in 1896, is one of the oldest operating hatcheries in the United States. The hatchery was constructed to introduce a steady trout population in the Black Hills region of South Dakota and Wyoming. The Hatchery spawns and releases more than 20,000 rainbow trout every year. Since 1978, the D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery and Archives has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

High Plains Western Heritage Center

The High Plains Western Heritage Center is a five-state regional museum that offers over 20,000 square feet of presentation space featuring an extensive collection of Western art, artifacts, and other Native American exhibits. The center’s transportation room features a chuckwagon, a concord stagecoach, buggies, sleighs, etc. In addition to this, there is also a one-room schoolhouse, a homestead log cabin, and a spacious theatre.

Brief History

Welcome sign to Spearfish, South Dakota
Welcome sign to Spearfish, South Dakota. Editorial credit: melissamn / Shutterstock.com

The indigenous Sioux Indians initially inhabited the area. In 1876, after the Black Hills Gold Rush began, the city was founded and was originally referred to as the “Queen City.” In due course, the city grew as an agricultural center and began to supply foodstuffs that were produced in the irrigated farmlands to the mining camps in the Black Hills. The Spearfish Creek provided power for the sawmills and flour mills. A railroad was established in 1893 to tow ore from the mines. The railroad soon became a scenic attraction but was completely destroyed by flooding in 1933. From 1938 onwards, the Black Hills Passion Play presented in an outdoor amphitheater started attracting thousands of visitors to the city every year during the summer months.