Hiking Bear Butte [South Dakota]

I flew out from Philadelphia last Thursday to meet my extended family for a vacation in South Dakota. They had been there since Monday, so I was little late to the party, but it was great to see them nonetheless. My parents picked me up at the airport, we dropped my stuff at the cabin, and then we headed to Bear Butte State Park for some hiking. Obviously, I picked the right day to arrive.

Bear Butte South Dakota

Bear Butte isn’t actually a “butte” (which is kind of like a mesa or plateau), but a mountain. Or so says the sign at the trail entrance. I’m still not entirely sure of the difference. It looks like a bear lying on its stomach as you approach it, hence “Bear” in the title. Maybe they just thought that “Bear Butte” sounded more catchy than “Bear Mountain”. You could also call it “Mato Paha”, which is what the Lakota called it, or “Noahvose”, which is what the Cheyenne called it.

bear butte south dakota

Along with being a state park, the mountain is a sacred place for many Northern Plains Indians. Occasionally the trails are closed to the public for worship services or sweat lodges, and as you walk along you notice colorful cloth and tobacco ties on the trees, another act of worship. This also means no pets are allowed on the mountain.



The day we were there was sunny and windy. The weather service was reporting 30 mph winds, and I’m sure the gusts were stronger as we climbed higher along the trail. At some points we walked along exposed ridges and I almost got blown off my feet– thankfully, my Aunt Kathy had thought to bring along walking sticks to help our hike. We needed them!



We felt quite accomplished when we made it to the top– after two miles and 1000 ft in elevation gain. Thankfully the day we hiked was clear, and you could see for miles!


Lucky for you, I took a lot of pictures on this trip! More to come of our South Dakota adventures… Check back tomorrow for Wind Cave National Park and Needles Highway in Custer State Park!

5 thoughts on “Hiking Bear Butte [South Dakota]

  1. Pingback: Scenic Drive: Wind Cave National Park & Needles Highway | two green kayaks

  2. Pingback: Badlands National Park [South Dakota] | two green kayaks

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