Experience Sacred Ground in South Dakota's Black Hills

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June 8, 2009

The southwest corner of South Dakota is packed with significant cultural and historic sites. The Black Hills have long been a sacred area for many Native American tribes. When gold was discovered there in 1874, the onslaught of white settlement created cultural upheaval and violent conflict for both groups.

bearbutte-from-a-distanceGeneral Info: Near the Black Hills National Forest and six miles northeast of Sturgis is Bear Butte State Park. The park protects the mountain called Mato Paha (Bear Mountain) by the Lakota tribe. The Cheyenne name is Noahvose. Bear Butte is a sacred site to both groups, who view it as a place where people can communicate with the creator through visions and prayer. Please respect the area as a religious site and don’t disturb worshippers. Prayer cloths, tobacco ties and other religious offerings hanging from the trees are not to be photographed or otherwise disturbed.

Hours and Fees: The park is open daily year-round for day use only. Entrance costs $6 per vehicle per day, or $28 for an annual pass.

Activities: Hiking the mountain is a great way to enjoy its natural wooded splendor and appreciate why the area is sacred to native tribal peoples. The trail around Bear Butte Lake is an easy scenic route, while the more-challenging Summit Trail gains 1000 ft. for extensive views of four states from the peak. Be sure to bring water with you because it’s only available at the trail base. Download a PDF trail map to plan your hike.

bearbutte-with-bison-foregroundCast a line in Bear Butte Lake for crappies, bullheads and northern pike. The fishing dock is wheelchair accessible. Only boats with motors 25hp or less are allowed on the lake.

The historic gold mining boom town of Deadwood is nearby and you can tour some the original buildings. Watch out for gunslingers!

Pets: No pets allowed on the Summit Trail because it’s too narrow to safely allow both hikers and pets. Call the park office at (605) 347-5240 for more detailed pet information.

Camping Info: The Bear Butte State Park campground features 16 gravel RV sites (14x 49’) for $8 per night without electricity or $12 with electricity. The restrooms have no showers and feature vault toilets.

If you’d like a little more space and a few more amenities, there are also a couple of Good Sam Club RV Parks in the area to use as a base camp for exploring the beautiful Black Hills. The Days End Campground in Sturgis has 133 full hookup RV sites, with pull-thrus 90’ long. Rush-No-More RV Park & Campground five miles down the road from Sturgis has 104 full hookup RV sites, including big rig sites with 50 amp service.

Weather: At an elevation of 3200 ft., this area is subject to hot dry summers with temperatures in the 90s °F, but often cooling down to the 60s °F at night. Thunderstorms with high winds and hail are also common in the summer months.

If you’re from the Mount Rushmore State or have visited this historic state park in the past, please chime in with your stories and tips! Your insights can help others have a fantastic trip.

Leave a Reply


  1. Francis Schilling

    Re: “White people do not understand when they are on sacred ground”

    While I do understand where this is coming from, you may have wanted to limit your generalization to “some” or even “many”. I would no more desecrate or disturb a Native American sacred site than I would paint a swastika on a synagogue or burn a cross on a church lawn. We are not all insensitive boobs ignorant of history beyond what we were fed in school. Thanks for your perspective.


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  4. Bus

    Thank you for saying this is a sared site
    White people do not understand when they are on sacred ground
    I have witnessed people driving there cars or atv’s right through a sacred site with no mind of it
    In other words treat it like you would treat your church
    but keep in mind that there are no walls or ceilings
    and the natives church extends farther than you may think.

    All natives of the Lakota and Cheyenne tribes would also like everyone to boycott the bar that was built on and or near Bear Butte that they fought so hard to keep out of that area…. It disturbes the peace and quite that is so needed for the peolpe that are there praying….

    Thank You