Bear Butte Summit Trail In South Dakota

Here is everything you need to know about the Bear Butte Summit Trail:

  • Trail System: National Recreation Trail
  • State: South Dakota
  • Length: 3.5 miles.
  • Type: Hiking
  • Surface: Dirt
  • Managed By: South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks
  • Permit Required?: No.
  • Website:

The Bear Butte Summit Trail holds significant historical importance as it is located near Bear Butte, a sacred site for many Native American tribes. This trail has been used for centuries by indigenous peoples for spiritual and ceremonial purposes. The Cheyenne, Lakota Sioux, and other tribes consider Bear Butte a place of great spiritual power and have conducted vision quests, prayer ceremonies, and other rituals on its slopes.

The history of the Bear Butte Summit Trail is deeply intertwined with the Native American tribes of the region. It is believed that the Lakota Sioux were the first to establish a connection with Bear Butte, considering it a sacred mountain and a place of communication with the spirits. They would make pilgrimages to the summit, seeking guidance, visions, and spiritual renewal. The Cheyenne also held Bear Butte in high regard and used it for similar purposes.

During the 19th century, as European settlers moved into the area, conflicts arose between the Native American tribes and the newcomers. The U.S. government established Fort Meade nearby, which further strained the relationship between the tribes and the settlers. Despite these tensions, the Native American tribes continued to use Bear Butte for their spiritual practices, and it remained an important cultural and religious site.

Today, the Bear Butte Summit Trail continues to be a place of spiritual significance for Native American tribes and a popular destination for hikers and nature enthusiasts. It serves as a reminder of the rich history and cultural heritage of the indigenous peoples who have revered this sacred mountain for centuries.

While On The Trail

Access Points

1. Bear Butte State Park Visitor Center: This is the starting point for the Bear Butte Summit Trail. It provides parking facilities and information about the trail.

2. Trailhead Parking Lot: Located near the Visitor Center, this parking lot is the primary access point for hikers starting the Bear Butte Summit Trail.

3. Interpretive Trailhead: This trailhead is located along the Bear Butte Summit Trail and provides access to an interpretive trail that offers information about the cultural and natural history of the area.

4. Lower Trailhead: This access point is located further up the trail and is often used by hikers who want to shorten their hike or join the trail from a different starting point.

5. Upper Trailhead: This is the final access point along the Bear Butte Summit Trail. It is located near the summit of Bear Butte and provides parking facilities for those who want to start their hike closer to the top.

Note: The Bear Butte Summit Trail is a loop trail, so hikers can start and end at any of these access points.

Transportation Available

1. Black Hills Stage Lines – Bus transportation service offering routes to various destinations in the Black Hills region.
2. Rapid City Regional Airport – Local airport providing domestic flights and car rental services.
3. Uber – On-demand ride-hailing service available in the area.
4. Lyft – Another on-demand ride-hailing service operating in the vicinity.
5. Black Hills Adventure Tours – Tour company offering transportation services for sightseeing and outdoor activities in the Black Hills.
6. Black Hills Balloons – Hot air balloon rides with transportation services to and from the launch site.
7. Black Hills Helicopters – Helicopter tours and transportation services for aerial sightseeing.
8. Black Hills Trolley – Trolley service providing transportation and guided tours in the Black Hills area.
9. Black Hills ATV Rentals – ATV rental service with transportation options for exploring the surrounding trails.
10. Black Hills Jeep Tours – Jeep tour company offering transportation services for off-road adventures in the Black Hills.


The amenities available at the Bear Butte Summit Trail include:

1. Restrooms: There are restroom facilities available at the trailhead and parking area.

2. Parking: There is a designated parking area for visitors to park their vehicles.

3. Camping Sites: Bear Butte State Park offers camping facilities near the trail. There are both tent camping and RV camping options available.

4. Picnic Areas: There are picnic areas with tables and benches where visitors can enjoy a meal or snack.

5. Interpretive Signs: Along the trail, there are informative signs that provide details about the history, geology, and significance of Bear Butte.

6. Trail Markers: The trail is well-marked with signs and markers to guide hikers along the designated path.

7. Benches: There are benches placed at various points along the trail, providing hikers with resting spots and scenic viewpoints.

8. Drinking Water: There are water fountains or hydration stations available at the trailhead or nearby facilities.

9. Information Center: Bear Butte State Park has an information center where visitors can obtain maps, brochures, and additional information about the trail and the park.

10. Accessibility: The trail is designed to be accessible to people with disabilities, with paved paths and ramps in certain areas.

Please note that amenities may be subject to change or seasonal availability, so it is always recommended to check with the park authorities or visitor center for the most up-to-date information.

Nearby Services

1. Bear Butte State Park Campground – Campground located within Bear Butte State Park, offering basic amenities and beautiful views.
2. Sturgis RV Park – RV park with full hookups and convenient access to the Bear Butte Summit Trail.
3. Fort Meade Recreation Area – Recreation area with camping facilities and picnic areas near Bear Butte State Park.
4. Bear Butte Lodge – Lodge located near Bear Butte State Park, offering comfortable accommodations and scenic surroundings.
5. Bear Butte Creek Campground – Campground situated along Bear Butte Creek, providing a peaceful camping experience.
6. Bear Butte Lake Campground – Campground near Bear Butte Lake, offering camping spots with lake views.
7. Bear Butte View Campground – Campground with stunning views of Bear Butte, perfect for nature enthusiasts.
8. Bear Butte Creek Resort – Resort offering cabins and RV sites near Bear Butte State Park.
9. Bear Butte Gardens Bed and Breakfast – Charming bed and breakfast with a garden setting, providing a cozy stay near Bear Butte.
10. Sturgis Regional Hospital – Nearby hospital providing emergency medical services for any unforeseen incidents.

Bear Butte Summit Trail Difficulty Notes

The Bear Butte Summit Trail presents a moderate level of difficulty for hikers. The trail is approximately 3.5 miles long and gains around 1,000 feet in elevation. While the trail is well-maintained and clearly marked, it does involve some steep sections and rocky terrain, requiring a moderate level of physical fitness and endurance. Hikers should come prepared with sturdy footwear and plenty of water, as the ascent can be challenging, especially on hot days. However, the reward at the summit is well worth the effort, offering breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding Black Hills and the sacred Bear Butte Mountain.

Features And Attractions

The Bear Butte Summit Trail offers several scenic views, historical sites, natural landmarks, and more. Here are some notable points of interest along the trail:

1. Bear Butte State Park: The entire trail is located within this state park, which is known for its natural beauty and cultural significance.

2. Bear Butte: The summit of Bear Butte itself provides breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. It is a sacred site for Native American tribes and holds great spiritual significance.

3. Prayer Ties: Along the trail, you may come across colorful prayer ties tied to trees or bushes. These are offerings made by Native Americans during their spiritual ceremonies.

4. Wildlife: Keep an eye out for various wildlife species that call Bear Butte State Park home. You may spot deer, elk, coyotes, rabbits, and a variety of bird species.

5. Historical Significance: Bear Butte has been a site of cultural and historical importance for thousands of years. It was a gathering place for Native American tribes, and remnants of their presence can still be found along the trail.

6. Interpretive Signs: Throughout the trail, you will find interpretive signs that provide information about the geological, cultural, and historical aspects of Bear Butte.

7. Wildflowers: Depending on the season, the trail may be adorned with beautiful wildflowers, adding to the scenic beauty of the area.

8. Rock Formations: As you hike, you will encounter interesting rock formations that have been shaped by natural forces over time.

9. Peaceful Atmosphere: The trail offers a serene and peaceful atmosphere, allowing visitors to connect with nature and enjoy the tranquility of the surroundings.

10. Sunsets: If you time your hike right, reaching the summit during sunset can provide a truly magical experience, with the sky painted in vibrant colors.

Remember to respect the cultural and spiritual significance of Bear Butte and follow any guidelines or restrictions set by the park authorities.

Usage Guidelines

– No pets allowed on the Bear Butte Summit Trail.
– The trail is open year-round, but it is recommended to hike during the summer months (May to September) due to weather conditions.
– Hiking is allowed from sunrise to sunset.
– Camping is not permitted on the trail.
– Visitors are advised to stay on the designated trail and not venture off into restricted areas.
– Littering is strictly prohibited; visitors are expected to carry out their trash.
– Open fires are not allowed on the trail.
– Visitors should respect the sacred nature of Bear Butte and refrain from any disrespectful behavior or actions.
– Bicycles and motorized vehicles are not allowed on the trail.
– Visitors are encouraged to bring plenty of water and wear appropriate hiking gear.
– It is recommended to check for any trail closures or restrictions before visiting.

Seasonal Information

The Bear Butte Summit Trail, located in South Dakota, offers a unique and breathtaking hiking experience. The best times of the year to visit this trail are during the spring and fall seasons. In the spring, the trail is adorned with vibrant wildflowers, creating a picturesque landscape. The weather during this time is generally mild, making it comfortable for hikers to explore the trail. Fall, on the other hand, offers stunning foliage as the leaves change colors, providing a scenic backdrop for hikers. The temperatures are cooler during this season, making it an ideal time to enjoy the trail without the scorching heat of summer.

It is important to note that the Bear Butte Summit Trail has seasonal closures. The trail is closed during the winter months due to heavy snowfall and icy conditions, which can make it unsafe for hikers. It is recommended to check with the park authorities or visitor center for the exact closure dates and reopening times. Additionally, it is advisable to avoid visiting the trail during periods of heavy rainfall, as it can make the trail slippery and muddy, posing potential hazards to hikers.

Overall, the best times to visit the Bear Butte Summit Trail are during the spring and fall seasons when the weather is pleasant, and the trail showcases its natural beauty. It is essential to plan your visit accordingly, considering the seasonal closures and weather conditions, to ensure a safe and enjoyable hiking experience.


1. Wheelchair Accessibility: The Bear Butte Summit Trail is not wheelchair accessible due to its steep and rugged terrain.
2. ADA Accommodations: The trail does not have specific ADA accommodations, such as accessible parking, ramps, or designated accessible restrooms.
3. Trail Surface: The trail surface is uneven and consists of natural terrain, making it challenging for individuals with mobility impairments.
4. Trail Width: The trail is narrow in some sections, which may pose difficulties for wheelchair users or those with mobility aids.
5. Elevation Gain: The trail has a significant elevation gain, making it physically demanding for individuals with mobility limitations.
6. Rest Areas: There are no designated rest areas or benches along the trail for individuals who may need frequent breaks.
7. Assistance Required: Due to the trail’s difficulty level, individuals with mobility impairments may require assistance from others to navigate the trail safely.
8. Alternative Viewing Areas: Visitors with mobility limitations can still enjoy scenic views of Bear Butte from the visitor center or other accessible areas near the base of the mountain.
9. Accessible Interpretive Materials: The visitor center provides accessible interpretive materials, including exhibits and information about the cultural and natural history of Bear Butte.
10. Accessible Parking: The visitor center offers accessible parking spaces for individuals with disabilities, providing convenient access to facilities and amenities.

Safety Information

1. Hiking Experience: The Bear Butte Summit Trail is a moderately difficult hike suitable for experienced hikers due to its steep and rocky terrain.
2. Weather Conditions: Be prepared for changing weather conditions, as the summit is exposed and can be windy, with potential thunderstorms.
3. Proper Footwear: Wear sturdy hiking boots with good traction to navigate the rocky trail and prevent slips or falls.
4. Sun Protection: Apply sunscreen, wear a hat, and bring sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun’s rays, as there is limited shade along the trail.
5. Hydration: Carry an adequate supply of water, as there are no water sources available on the trail.
6. Snacks and Meals: Pack enough food and snacks to sustain your energy throughout the hike, as it can take several hours to complete.
7. Wildlife Awareness: Be aware of the presence of wildlife, including rattlesnakes, and maintain a safe distance if encountered.
8. Trail Markers: Pay attention to trail markers and follow the designated path to avoid getting lost or straying off the trail.
9. Leave No Trace: Practice Leave No Trace principles by packing out all trash and minimizing your impact on the environment.
10. Hiking Buddy: It is recommended to hike with a partner or in a group for safety and assistance in case of emergencies.
11. Emergency Preparedness: Carry a first aid kit, a map, a compass, and a whistle in case of emergencies or getting lost.
12. Time Management: Start the hike early in the day to allow enough time for the round trip and to avoid hiking in the dark.
13. Physical Fitness: Ensure you are in good physical condition before attempting the hike, as it involves a significant elevation gain.
14. Trail Conditions: Check for any trail closures or warnings before embarking on the hike, as conditions may change due to maintenance or weather events.
15. Respect the Sacred Site: Bear Butte is a sacred site for Native American tribes, so be respectful of the cultural significance and follow any guidelines or restrictions in place.

Conservation Notes

The Bear Butte Summit Trail, located in South Dakota, holds a conservation status that aims to protect and preserve its natural resources and ecological integrity. As a designated National Natural Landmark, the trail is recognized for its unique geological features and cultural significance. Efforts are made to maintain the trail’s conservation status by implementing various measures to minimize human impact and ensure the sustainability of the surrounding ecosystem.

Conservation efforts on the Bear Butte Summit Trail primarily focus on preserving the fragile vegetation and wildlife habitats found along the trail. The trail passes through diverse ecosystems, including grasslands, woodlands, and wetlands, which support a wide range of plant and animal species. To protect these habitats, visitors are encouraged to stay on designated paths and avoid trampling vegetation or disturbing wildlife. Additionally, the trail is regularly monitored to identify and address any potential threats to the ecosystem, such as invasive species or erosion.

The conservation status of the Bear Butte Summit Trail also involves cultural preservation. The trail holds great spiritual and cultural significance to several Native American tribes, who consider Bear Butte a sacred site. Efforts are made to respect and protect these cultural values by promoting responsible and respectful behavior among visitors. Education and outreach programs are implemented to raise awareness about the cultural significance of the trail and to foster a sense of stewardship among visitors.

Overall, the conservation status of the Bear Butte Summit Trail reflects a commitment to preserving its natural and cultural heritage. Through careful management and visitor education, the trail’s unique ecosystems and cultural values can be safeguarded for future generations to enjoy and appreciate.

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