Hike the Sacred Steps of Bear Mountain

Bear Butte Trail, Vale, South Dakota, United States

  • Activities:

    Chillin, Photography, Volunteering, Running, Yoga, Hiking, Fitness

  • Skill Level:

    Beginner

  • Season:

    Summer

  • Trail Type:

    Out-and-Back

  • RT Distance:

    3.5 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    1200 Feet

Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Picnic Area
Scenic
Wildflowers
Wildlife

Bear Mountain offers up a quick, rewarding hike with 360º views near Mt. Rushmore and Deadwood. You'll also get a close up view of a Native American historic and cultural site.

Bear Mountain or Mathó Pahá as it's called by the Lakota peoples, is the leftover remnants of an ancient volcanic plug. The mountain weathered away, to leave the harder igneous formation, for which plains tribes have been coming to for sacred communication with their Creator for 10,000 years. This place is akin to Uluru in Australia in terms of sacredness. You can feel that the moment you see the mountain in the landscape. With that said, approach this area with the utmost respect for the land, and worshippers who have travelled far to be here.

From Sturgis, head 10 minutes north on route 79. It's $4 a person, or $6 a vehicle at the gate on the way in. You'll drive through a herd of wild Bison, unless they've moved up onto the mountain. Leave them be as well.

From the parking lot, it's a 3.5 mile loop to the summit over narrow switchbacks and ridge trains. It's loose volcanic rock, so watch your footing. You can run the trail up and back in 90 minutes if you want a great workout. In the morning, the mountain is covered in low clouds, making for an epic view at the top as they dissipate late morning. Remember to watch the noise that you're making so as to not disturb those in meditation.

Spend time at the top doing yoga or mediating. If you want to pray, cut a piece of yellow, blue, green, or red cloth and tie to a tree. Say a prayer, and do not disturb other cloths, as each is an important prayer. The colors represent the four quadrants of the Great Compass. This is the best place for meditation in the region, and a short trip from Deadwood and Mount Rushmore.

In Sturgis after the hike is the Knuckle Saloon. The burgers are hot, and go best with a Crow Peak Brewery beer!

Pack List

  • Hydration Pack
  • Polarized Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Hiking Shoes
  • Cloth for prayers
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Reviews

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Bear Butte is a great half day hike near Sturgis, SD. It costs a few dollars to drive into the state park which helps support the visitor center at the base of the butte. The hike to viewing platform at the top takes a couple hours, less if you're fit. The trail is easy to follow but rocky in places and the views of the Black Hills and surrounding prairie are fantastic. I have hiked the trail in all kinds of weather and often it is extremely windy at the summit. My favorite climb was in a thick fog which added a mystical quality to the experience. Bring at least two quarts of water, it is uphill for two hours, comfortable trail shoes, and hat and sunscreen. The butte is sacred to the region's Indian tribes, so you will see hundreds of colorful prayer bundles tied to the trees for the entire climb. At certain times of the year tribal members can be seen well away from the summit platform conducting vision quests.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

While you don't get the Forrest views like the black hills, this hike still gives a nice landscape view. At the end, it is great to reflect and meditate.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

The name is Bear Butte. Super awesome hike!

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

I sincerely appreciate the historic and scientific information that you provide about this sacred place. This has moved to the top of my list for sites to visit in Paha Sapa (Lakota for "Black Hills.") And you are spot-on with Crow Peak Brewery! The Cream Ale is a can't miss!

about 2 years ago
about 2 years ago

Michael Wigle Explorer

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