Bear Butte State Park is located six miles northeast of Sturgis, South Dakota. Bear Butte is a lone mountain that was formed by igneous rock. The state park offers a number of activities along with historical sites. Once settled in, set off down one of the three hiking trails in the park. Head to the lake to fish from the dock or your boat. Many different types of wildlife can be found within the state park including a buffalo herd that roams near the base of the butte.
Bear Butte is a sacred site to Native American tribes. For thousands of years, tribes have come to Bear Butte for annual prayer ceremonies and today, over thirty tribes still come for prayer and meditation. Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse are two notable figures to have visited Bear Butte. While visiting the park be respectful of the sacred nature of the site and do not disturb the colorful cloths that may be dangling from trees or on the trails.
During the 1940s, the Northern Cheyenne tribe asked the owner of Bear Butte for permission to hold a prayer ceremony. Ezra Bovee, the owner at the time allowed the Northern Cheyenne, along with other tribes onto his property. In the 1950s, Ezra contacted the federal government in hopes of having the area become a National Park. In 1961, South Dakota instead designated the land as a state park.
Camping at the park is on a first-come, first served basis. With 15 campsites and another 4 in the horse camp area, the sites do fill up quickly during the peak season. All of the campsites are dry, though there is water available in the park. The state park is open year-round with the peak season running from May through September.
Bear Butte State Park is located just a few miles northeast of Sturgis, SD off of highway 79. Only a 15-minute drive to downtown Sturgis, you won’t be far from food and supplies during your visit to the park.
It is an easy drive to Bear Butte. From 79 north, the park entrance will be on your right and from 79 south it will be on your left. It is a gravel road into the park, but the road itself is smooth. Once inside the park, you’ll find the parking pads to be spacious even for larger RVs. Parking and navigating the road shouldn’t be difficult.
While navigating the roads should be easy most days, do be aware of the weather. The summertime can bring severe thunderstorms while the winter can bring below freezing weather and blizzard conditions. These conditions can certainly impact your drive in addition to your stay.
There are 15 campsites located in the state park and an additional four sites at the horse camp area. This park does not take reservations and sites are available on a first come, first served basis only.
The campsites are spacious, even for those with larger rigs. The parking pads are gravel and are back in only. There are no pull-through campsites. Come prepared for boondocking as none of the campsites have hookups with the exception of the host’s site which has electricity. When available, the host’s site can be used for a higher camping fee.
Each campsite has a picnic table and fire ring. Pets are allowed within the state park with the exception of the Summit Trail. Other amenities available at this state park include a fishing dock, a picnic shelter, and vault toilets. A water spigot is available within the campground. During the wintertime, water may need to be shut off due to the freezing temperatures. There are no dump stations at the state park.
There are three trails within the state park. The Summit Trail is just under two miles. This trail is extremely narrow and for this reason, pets are not allowed, even on a leash. It is strictly a hiking only trail. The Lake Trail is two and a half miles and as the name may indicate, it circles Bear Butte Lake. This state park also has the northernmost section of the Centennial Trail which has a total length of 111 miles. While out on the trails keep an eye out for rattlesnakes that may be resting on or under rocks.
There is a boat ramp on the 215-acre Bear Butte Lake. Whether you use a motorboat or opt to paddle around in a kayak or canoe, you’ll enjoy your time out on the water, especially on a hot summer day. Spend time watching waterfowl search for food or floating about. Bring your pole and bait for a morning or evening of fishing.
Bear Butte Lake is the perfect spot to fish during your visit to the state park. The lake has Crappie, Yellow Perch, Northern Pike, and Yellow Bullhead. There is a boat ramp as well as a fishing dock which provides you with the option of fishing by boat or land. A fishing license is required.
With its thousands of years of history, there is much to see and learn during your stay at Bear Butte State Park. Artifacts dating back over 10,000 years have been found on the land. As a sacred site to over 30 Native American tribes, it is common to see Native Americans having prayer ceremonies or meditating at the base of the butte. Colorful cloth bundles may be seen hanging from trees or next to trails. These are part of their prayer ceremonies. Do not pick up or move the bundles from the area.
Horseback riding is permitted on two of the three trails within the park. Ride down to the Lake Trail which wraps around Bear Butte Lake. The Lake Trail will then connect with Centennial Trail taking you through the Black Hills. The Summit Trail is the only trail in the park that does not permit horses due to the trail’s narrow nature.
A herd of buffalo are known to often roam at the base of the butte. While watching from a distance is okay, do not approach. Buffalo are considered to be dangerous. During your stay, you will also likely see waterfowl foraging for food or floating in Bear Butte Lake. When out on a hike during the warmer months keep an eye out for rattlesnakes particularly when stepping over or disturbing rocks.