If you’ve ever been to Spearfish Canyon, you know there are plenty of great hiking trails. Some are popular, while others are off the beaten path. The hike to Community Caves falls squarely in the second category and requires a bit of exertion, but the reward is worth the effort!
Community Caves is the first hike you’ll encounter when driving through the Canyon from Spearfish – but most travelers zip past without ever realizing the trail exists. As you leave downtown Spearfish on Colorado Boulevard, take a right turn onto Highway 14A, also known as the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway. Reset your odometer and drive down Highway 14A for 2.7 miles — you should be right at mile marker 13. Continue a little further around the next curve, and there will be a parking area on the righthand side of the road.
Once you’ve parked, cross the highway and walk down the ditch to the creek below. Your first challenge will be crossing the creek. The water isn’t deep, but it can flow pretty swiftly during certain times of the year, so caution is required. Sometimes there’s a makeshift bridge made up of boulders and wood, but don’t count on this, so be prepared to get wet.
Once you’ve made it across, continue to the left, along a narrow game trail. The undergrowth can be dense in spots, so you may need to do a little bushwhacking. After a few hundred yards, you’ll find a stream bed with very loose gravel. Follow this uphill, but choose your footing carefully. A hiking pole or walking stick will prove helpful. Finally, you’ll reach the caves. This hike is short – clocking in at only 0.6 miles each way – but it’s a steep and treacherous climb uphill, with a 180′ elevation gain, so don’t be fooled by the distance. Don’t even think about attempting this hike in the winter without traction devices such as micro-spikes for your shoes or boots and trekking poles. An ice axe would come in handy, as well. Only experienced hikers should climb when it’s snow-packed and icy.
PROS: Natural limestone caverns; seasonal waterfall; great views. CONS: A very steep and treacherous uphill climb; trail is unmarked and can be difficult to find the first time.
Insider’s tip: Bring along water shoes, sandals, or flip-flops for the creek crossing. Just be sure to change back into hiking boots once you’ve made it across; you’ll need a sturdy pair of shoes with traction for the climb up the loose gravel stream bed, which is actually runoff from the waterfall.
The Community Caves Wow Factor
The limestone caverns carved into Spearfish Canyon are impressive in and of themselves. Add to that a seasonal waterfall (often no more than a trickle) and expansive views across the Canyon, and you’ll be glad you tackled the climb. A short path to the right winds up above the caves for an even more impressive view. Community Caves (also known as Wildcat Caverns) is popular with rock climbers; look up and you’ll spot latches for carabiners permanently embedded in the limestone.
In the wintertime, the caves are even more stunning; the waterfall freezes over and pillars of ice form. Unless you’re very experienced and have the essential gear, enjoy these from the comfort of social media!
Odds & Ends
Before hiking to Community Caves, keep the following in mind:
In case we haven’t stressed this enough, the trail is steep!
Also know that this is not an actual Forest Service trail, which means it’s not maintained. You use it (and our directions) at your own risk.
Young children will have difficulty with this hike. If tackling it in the winter, we recommend making it adults-only.
You might find nesting pigeons in the caves. Try not to disturb them.
Some guidebooks rate this hike as moderate. With the steep and treacherous ascent/descent, we would categorize it as strenuous.