Part of South Dakota's Division of Parks and Recreation, this state park with its unique rocky formation was once the stomping grounds of Native Americans, including Lakota and Cheyenne tribes. The Native Americans consider Bear Butte to be a sacred site, where the creator communicates with them. Today, more than 30 American Indian tribes visit the site to perform prayer ceremonies. The park, located six miles northeast of Sturgis at the foot of the Black Hills, is open year round and has a variety of activities.
Join a guided walk to learn more about the history, flora and fauna of the park. Park rangers and staff lead a variety of interpretive walks throughout the summer. You'll learn that Bear Butte is known to have been inhabited as early as 10,000 years ago. You'll also walk in the footsteps of Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and Red Cloud and General Custer, who visited Bear Butte to confirm that there was gold in the Black Hills. Sign up for walks at the Education Center, where you can also see a variety of exhibits showcasing the cultural and historical aspects of the park and the flora and fauna found in the area, including background on the herd of buffalo that roams the prairie grasslands at the bottom of Bear Butte.
There are several hiking trails in the park, including the 1.85-mile Summit Trail to the top of the butte. The dirt-covered narrow trail leaves from the parking lot near the Education Center and zigzags up the rocky butte, gaining 1,000 feet elevation along the way. Hikers are rewarded with sweeping views from the mountaintop. The less strenuous Lake Trail circles Bear Butte Lake. The 2.5-mile loop passes a campground and a horse camp and corral along the way. The northern portion of 111-mile Centennial Trail also passes through the park. This trail, opened in 1989, marked South Dakota's centennial and travels north to south from Bear Butte State Park to Wind Cave National Park.
Camping and horseback riding
There is a small campground with 16 primitive campsites (no electrical power to sites), on the northwest side of Bear Butte Lake. The campground has a picnic shelter, vault toilets and drinking water. There's also a horse camp on the southeast side of the lake with primitive sites and a horse corral. Horseback riding is allowed on the Lake Trail. Riders can also access the Centennial Trail leading through the Black Hills to Wind Cave National Park.
Bear Butte State Park
20485 Highway 79
Sturgis, SD 57785
Article Written By Pamela Wright
Pamela Wright is a freelance writer, author of more than two dozen guidebooks, and hundreds of articles. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including "National Geographic Traveler," "Family Circle," "Family Fun," "Backpacker," "Hemispheres," "Cooking Light," "Yankee" and more. An active member of the Society of American Travel Writers, she holds a Bachelor's from Michigan State University