It almost seems unfair that Spearfish Canyon has such an abundance of natural beauty. It certainly makes narrowing down your hiking choices more difficult. On the plus side, this gives you an excuse to return often! The ’76 Trail certainly belongs on your hiking bucket list. Just be prepared for a very steep climb!
The ’76 Trail is a short (but very vertical) 1.2-mile out-and-back trail located in Savoy, next to Spearfish Canyon Lodge. It was originally part of a much more extensive 16-mile mining trail popular with the likes of Potato Creek Johnny, a Welsh prospector credited with finding the largest gold nugget ever discovered in the Black Hills on a nearby tributary of Spearfish Creek.
Park at the lodge (or the Latchstring Restaurant) and cross the road, where a large wooden plaque marks the trailhead. You’ll immediately start climbing up and will continue doing so for 3/4 of a mile. Don’t let the short distance fool you; you’ll gain about 1,000′ in elevation during your hike, but rest assured—the view from the top is well worth the exertion!
Much of the trail passes through thick stands of forest; you’ll find a mix of ponderosa pine, spruce, birch, aspen, and oak. Within the first few minutes you’ll encounter lush ferns, a relatively rare sight in the Black Hills. Gaps in the trees afford some great views of Spearfish Canyon as you ascend.
You’ll soon be huffing and puffing, but a number of benches along the way offer a respite from your climb. Take a moment to catch your breath and hydrate before continuing to the top. Your destination is Buzzard’s Roost, a fenced lookout (not to be confused with another hike of the same name) on the summit that affords you with unparalleled views of the canyon. It’s especially scenic in the fall, when Spearfish Canyon’s notorious foliage is in full show-off mode.
The downhill trek will go a lot faster than it took you to reach the summit, but the steep incline makes the descent treacherous. Take your time and watch your step!
PROS: Beautiful scenery and views; not as crowded as Roughlock Falls. CONS: Very steep (this hike rates as strenuous); lots of poison ivy and poison oak just off-trail.
Insider’s tip: Hike this trail in the fall, when the weather is cooler and the colorful foliage is at its peak.
The Wow Factor
The Buzzard’s Roost lookout rewards you with a panoramic birds-eye view of Spearfish Canyon from all angles. Take your time to enjoy the soaring limestone cliffs, forested valley, and meandering creeks far below; you’ve earned a breather! If you’re lucky, you might even spot a buzzard riding the thermals high above the lookout named for these birds.
Odds & Ends
Make sure you’re in good physical shape before tackling this hike. It’s very steep and will definitely get your heart pumping.
Avoid the temptation to wander off-trail; poison ivy and poison oak are quite common in this area.
Dogs are allowed but must be leashed.
Don’t forget these essentials: Camera; water bottle; trekking poles. Long pants are recommended.