Bear Butte is a laccolith located near Sturgis on the northeastern slope the Black Hills, an area of uplifted Precambrian formation — made of magma which never reached the surface to generate an eruption. The magma intruded to a shallow level and then stopped, cooled, and solidified. Erosion then wore the overlying layers of rock away.
Bear Butte is located at the east end of a linear belt of volcanic centers that continues westward about 60 miles to Devils Tower and rises 1,253 feet above the surrounding plains.
The local Lakota Native Americans call it Mato Paha — Bear Hill. Artifacts dating back 10,000 years have been found near Bear Butte. The Cheyenne and Lakota people have maintained a spiritual tie to this mountain. Notable Indian leaders including Red Cloud, Crazy Horse, and Sitting Bull have all visited Bear Butte.
A landmark from the earliest of recorded history by Native American tribes and white explorers, the formation’s name of Bear Butte was translated to English by cavalry cartographers in the late 1850s. In 1857 a gathering of many Indian nations to discuss the advancement of white settlers into the Black Hills region was held at Bear Butte.
Perhaps Bear Butte’s most publicized visitor was George A. Custer who led an expedition of 1,000 men into the region. After camping near the mountain, Custer verified the rumors of gold in the Black Hills. Bear Butte then served as a landmark that helped guide a rush of prospectors and settlers into the region.
Bear Butte continues to hold great spiritual significance for Native American tribes. Colorful pieces of cloth and small bundles or pouches hang from the trees. These prayer cloths and tobacco ties represent the prayers offered by individuals during their worship.
Hiking trails include the 1.85 mile Summit Trail, 2.5 mile Lake Trail, and the northernmost point of the 111 mile Centennial Trail. The Summit Trailhead is by the parking lot near the Education Center. The Lake Trail has several trailheads including the boat ramp, middle campground, and main campground.
Pets are not allowed on the Summit Trail, as the trail is too narrow for both a pet and a hiker. A buffalo herd roams near the base of the butte. Buffalo are dangerous, so remember to maintain a large distance.
Fishing spots for bullheads, crappies, and northern pike are available. A fishing license is required.
Horseback riding is only allowed west of Highway 79. Riders can use the Centennial Trail west of the horse camp.
Admission is $4 per person or $6 per vehicle.
Bear Butte State Park is located 6 miles northeast of Sturgis off SD Highway 79.
Green, J. and Short, N.M., 1971, Volcanic Surfaces, Springer/Verlag, New York
South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department