Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway is a 22-mile drive through thousand-foot-high limestone palisades of three different types in shades of brown, pink and gray. The drive begins at Exit 10 or Exit 14 off Interstate 90 in Spearfish, MT or from the other direction at Cheyenne Crossing outside of Lead at the intersection of Highway 85.
The drive through Spearfish Canyon follows Spearfish creek which carved the inner gorge of the canyon more than 5 million years ago. Spearfish Canyon has the distinction of being the oldest canyon in the American West, with its formation beginning 62 million years ago, more than 12 times older than the Grand Canyon.
Because the canyon is so well established and contains so much softer limestone, the entire drive is much more forested than the base of the Grand Canyon. This makes for a pretty and scenic drive, but also obscures some of the ability to view the cliffs in the canyon.
Spearfish Canyon is also popular with hikers and bikers, the wide shoulders and average less than 3% grade through the canyon making it great for road bikes. There are several side canyons which offer hiking opportunities like Iron Creek or Eleventh Hour Gulch, and work has begun on a trail along the rim of the canyon similar to the grand canyon.
There are two very nice waterfalls (Bridal Veil Falls and Roughlock Falls) to view close to the road, but the amount of traffic and scarcity of parking may make them difficult to get to if you visit in the peak times in the Spring or Fall like we did.