Hiking Bear Butte - Know Before You Go!

Year Round

Jutting from the rolling plains northeast of Sturgis is a million-years-old reminder that the Black Hills were once under the sea.  Bear Butte, or Matȟo Pahá in Lakota, is a much visited and revered landmark among Plains Indian tribes.  The Cheyenne call it Noahȧ-vose (“giving hill”), or Náhkȯhe-vose (“bear hill”).  Associated with varied annual religious rituals and events, Bear Butte is considered by many American Indians to be a place for prayer and meditation.  

Ancient Formation

Geologically, Bear Butte is not actually a butte. It is a laccolith, created in the Eocene Era between 56 to 33.9 million years ago by magma being forced upward into the Earth’s cooler crustal layer.  South Dakota’s Black Hills, Wyoming’s Devils Tower, and some portions of the Rocky Mountains share the same mode of formation.  There is speculation that Bear Butte may once have housed a volcano, although it has long since eroded away.  At its peak, the igneous rock formation towers 4,426 feet above the ground; from the top of the Butte hiking trail, you can see South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana.

Know Before You Go

Before you hike the Bear Butte trail, which is actually the final leg of bigger Centennial Trail, there are a few things you should know.  There is a park fee, which you must pay at the Visitor’s Center – it is $8.00 per day per car.  If you think you will be visiting more often, the park offers a $36 annual fee for your first vehicle, $18 annul fee for your second vehicle, or you can purchase a $80 transferrable license.  Once you have paid, you can make your way to parking and the trail entrance.  
Be sure to wear good hiking shoes, long pants, sunscreen, and bring lots of water (especially if you’re hiking during the summer months).  The Bear Butte hiking trail is right around 1.75 miles long from start to summit, and is steep and rough in places.  There are several benches placed strategically along the trail for hikers to stop, rest, and take a gander at the spectacular view.  Weather in South Dakota is ever unpredictable, so check the weather forecast before you plan your hike; to be at the summit of Bear Butte in a South Dakota lightning or hailstorm would make for a very bad day!

Watch Your Step and Be Respectful!

As you make your way up the trail, keep an eye out for rattlesnakes; they tend to stay off the trail in the heat of the day, but it is always a good idea to be extra vigilant.  Something else you may see on your hike are colorful strips of cloth, beads, and small bundles of tobacco tied to trees and shrubs along the hiking trail.  These are American Indian prayer cloths, prayer beads, and tobacco ties placed there to help the along their spiritual journeys.  The park respectfully asks visitors and hikers to not touch, disturb, or even photograph these special religious artifacts.  

More Than Just a Hiking Trail

At the apex of Bear Butte’s hiking trail is an observation deck, where hikers can rest before heading back down the trail after taking in the magnificent view from the top.  Once you make it back to the bottom, you should check out some of Bear Butte’s other opportunities for fun!  The laccolith’s towering peaks are not the only perk at Bear Butte State Park.  Close to the trail head, you can wander through the Bear Butte Education Center to learn more about the mountain’s geological and cultural history.  Although the summit trail is not wide enough to accommodate riders, there are horse trails west of Highway 79 - click here for a map of Bear Butte trails.  The park sports 15 first-come, first served non-electric campsites and four non-electric horse campsites. Bear Butte State Park has its very own buffalo herd that roams the park ground; while you may be tempted to get close for pictures, remember that buffalo are wild animals and can be extremely dangerous! 

Fishing, Boating, Picknicking - Bear Butte State Park Has It All

There is also beautiful Bear Butte Lake; with a fishing pier, a boat dock, and shore fishing access, there are fishing opportunities galore.  With populations of Yellow Perch, Crappie, Yellow Bullhead, and Northern Pike in the lake, you’re sure to end your fishing trip with dinner!  The lake has a gentle 2.5-mile hiking trail and conveniently placed group picnic shelters, which makes it perfect for family picnics and outings.

Bear Butte is mainly known for its lone presence on the Sturgis plains, its hiking trail, and its importance in American Indian.  But there is so much more to do and enjoy at this lovely state park – whether you decide to rough it and camp, or you're staying in the comfort of Sturgis' Baymont Inn & Suites, don’t wait to make your plans to come experience Bear Butte!