A hike up Bear Butte is less than 2 miles each way, but it feels like more.

All of us probably have a place we have driven by countless times, intending to stop and check it out "someday."

For many years, my "someday" place was Bear Butte State Park, which rises above the prairie northeast of Sturgis. I had only seen it from Interstate 90 on drives to and from Deadwood and Rapid City, but each time, I was on my way to somewhere apparently very important.

Finally, one sunny and lightly breezy day, my husband and I decided to check it out up close.

Bear Butte - called Mato Paka or "bear mountain" in Lakota - is a sacred site to many Native Americans. Prayer cloths can be seen hanging from tree branches along the hill and the hiking path to the summit.

From a distance, Bear Butte looks like a very steep hill, but not a rocky mountain. I have heard some people say they decided to hike it on a whim when they were wearing flip-flops.

Now, I am not a hiking elitist - I wouldn't even say I'm an experienced hiker - but I would not recommend that. 

Bear Butte may look like an easy climb from a distance, but after the first few turns, you get a really good workout. The hike is less than 2 miles each way, but if you're like me (less than athletically fine-tuned), it feels like more. There are carved paths, some slippery rock areas, downed dead trees and some log steps built in precarious places. Standard hiking advice applies: Wear solid hiking shoes and bring water.

My favorite part of the hike was that it didn't take long to see how much progress we had made, which encouraged us to keep going. I love my photo from a high point on the mountain of the tiny-looking parking lot from which we had started.

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The beautiful views along the entire hike are expansive because there aren't as many trees on the hill as in other areas around the Black Hills. Ponderosa pines are stunning, too, and I love to walk among them. But if you want an unobstructed view, go to Bear Butte.

Partly because of the lack of trees, the wind is also much stronger up there than in town, so don't go on a breezy day unless you're braver than I am.

We made it to the second-highest part of the butte before the path narrowed significantly and the wind kicked up, resulting in having to chase our hats. Those gusts made me feel as though I were about to be knocked off the trail.

So we finally decided to make our way back down to the car. Along the way, we enjoyed new views and perspectives of where we had been.

I don't know whether Bear Butte is considered an "official" mountain, but when I was perched up high and could literally see how far I had come in less than two hours, tackling the butte felt like I conquered one. I could finally scratch this off my "someday" list and add it to my favorite places list.

Getting there

From Interstate 90, take Exit 32 north at Sturgis onto Junction Street. Drive into town, and turn right onto Lazelle Street/S.D. Highway 34 for about 6 miles. Continue to S.D. Highway 79, where you'll turn left (north). Or just follow the signs - and view - to Bear Butte State Park. The daily fee for park admission is $4 per person or $6 per car. There is camping available for a separate fee.

Stephanie Smith is a Rapid City Journal copy editor. Contact her at 394-8426 or stephanie.olson@rapidcityjournal.com

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