Summit Trail, two words that strike beauty and pain. Usually there is going to be an outstanding view at the top but it is going to take a little bit of hurt to get there. The Summit Trail at Bear Butte State Park in South Dakota is not the exception. The Bear Butte Summit is pretty but it did cost the legs a little bit of stress to see it.
From a distance Bear Butte just looks like a nice rolling hill. As a child looking up at mountains I often thought to myself…gee that does not look too hard to climb up. As an adult you would think I would know better. I don’t. So arriving to Bear Butte, around nap time for our first daughter who quickly fell asleep driving the park road. My wife parked in the shadiest spot we could find and we gave each other a what now kind of look. I told her I would take our second daughter up the hike. My wife was okay with that. We lathered up with sunscreen, strapped her to me with the Baby Bjorn, grabbed some water, and I took off.
The trail starts off with a slow incline for the first 100 yards or so but after that it really takes off. As it rises 1,036 feet over a mile and half. The path is rocky but defined. So it is easy to follow. As for me it was not so much the incline or having a one and half year old strapped to me that made it a more difficult hike than it looked, it was the overbearing sun shining down, high wind, and in places slippery rocks that made it a bit of a struggle. There are hardly any trees on Bear Butte so we were constantly in the sun. Also because it rises up from the surrounding prairie the wind was much greater towards the top than when we started the hike. There was a time or two I thought I was going to lose my little girls hat.
There are several switchbacks to help keep the steepness of the incline down. I take a 3 to 1 approach. Usually when I hike up hills or mountains with switchbacks I hike 3 in a row and rest on the next 1. However, most of the time recently I have somebody waiting on me at the bottom so I try to hike fast. The main thing is take your time, wear sturdy shoes, a hiking stick or poles can help, bring plenty of water, and listen to your body. At the top of the Summit Trail there is a nice viewing platform with views of the lake below, the Black Hills to the West and vastness of the Great Plains to the east. It really is a nice little hike. Just make sure you’re prepared and don’t listen to the little child in you that says gee that doesn’t look hard at all.
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Summit Trail: Bear Butte
Trailhead located at the parking lot next to the education center
3.1 miles’ roundtrip
Plan about 2 hours to complete
Difficulty- moderate to strenuous depending on fitness level
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