The Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota are home to several rustic and authentically American attractions, including historic Deadwood, Mount Rushmore, Sturgis, and so much more.
The area is also known for its breathtakingly scenic hidden swimming holes, creeks, lakes, and reservoirs, offering visitors plentiful opportunities to cool down when the summer heat is bearing down in the mountains.
Where are these swimming holes? What can you expect once you get there?
Below is your guide to the naturally beautiful and inspiring public access swimming hole areas in the Black Hills.
Several areas of Spearfish Canyon’s base are a potential fishing and swimming areas. This acclaimed canyon is home to Spearfish Creek, hugging alongside the canyon walls in the Black Hills National Forest, as well as a locally famous swimming hole, the Devil’s Bathtub.
The canyon is home to about 1,250 of South Dakota’s 1,585 plant species. Bobcats, porcupine, and mule deer have been spotted exploring the canyon sides during the summer seasons.
This is truly a spectacular place to be, and it gets better when you feel the crisp water for yourself. Visitors can both be found swimming in the creek waters during the peak summer season while they visit Mount Rushmore and other attractions.
There is no official sanction, no fee, and no readily-maintained facilities. Spearfish Canyon is outside the town of Spearfish and accessed through the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway.
Devil’s Bathtub in Spearfish Canyon
The Devil’s Bathtub in Spearfish Canyon necessitates a short hike, but it is well worth the trip for the swimming, amazing canyon scenery, and nearby waterfall leading to the swimming hole.
To get to it, head south on the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway from Spearfish. Find a road sign for Cleopatra Place a few miles after Bridal Veil Falls. Park in a small gravel area before the bridge and follow the creek and trail down to Devil’s Bathtub, about a one-mile round trip.
Sheridan Lake is far from a small swimming hole at 400 acres in size, however, it is certainly one of the best areas for swimming in the summer with its facilities.
You’ll find two separate swimming beaches, two campgrounds, a marina, hiking trails, fishing and picnicking areas, and more. It is located about 15 miles west of Rapid City.
Another main swimming opportunity to check out will be Deerfield Lake, as it holds plenty of treasured swimming nooks near your vacation lodge.
Deerfield Lake offers a quintessential swimming experience in the Black Hills. The lake is well-known for its calm demeanor and relaxed water activities.
The lake is a designated no-wake zone, so kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and canoes can be found during the summer season filled with visitors of all ages.
A large picnic area and a clear water access point make Deerfield Lake one of the finest places to hit the water. Across 435 acres, you are bound to find a quiet swimming hole between the craggy rocks.
The Deerfield Lake Loop Trail encircles the lake at a total of 11.8 miles and connects to the North Shore, Gold Run, Custer Trail and Hill Top Trailhead. The trail predominantly ventures through meadows and pines, offering a nice balance of open landscape and thick foliage.
Custer State Park
Across 71,000 acres of pristine natural land, Custer State Park has far more than one swimming locale with five lakes in the park. Amazing hiking trails and picnic areas populate this extensive nature park. Swimming is allowed at any of the lakes.
Horsethief Lake is just outside Mount Rushmore. This spot is popularly-known for its stunning cliff side drops as well as some particularly enthusiastic cliff jumpers. Use extreme precaution as the area is free-roaming and wide open for you to explore.
This swimming hole near Mount Rushmore is popular among locals and features a waterfall and incredible rock walls. Cliff jumping is a popular activity here, but it should only be performed by those with experience.
It’s one of the top “hidden” destinations for swimming, picnicking, sunbathing and wildlife viewing. The easiest way to access it is by hiking along Battle Creek from a small parking lot area off South Rockerville Road.
Scenic and Incredible Summer Swimming
These public access swimming holes bring you closer to nature in a way that popular tourist attractions often can’t. These are the most astonishing off-the-radar natural points in the Black Hills, worthy of your time and attention. Many of the swimming areas are closed during off-season, which typically run from September through to March.
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