Bear Mountain Summit Lookout TowerThough it does not look imposing, Bear Mountain is the third highest mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Odakota Mountain, just a few miles away, is the second highest. Some maps for Bear Mountain show a loop of marked trails in the area. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the trail markers have been removed, making first-time hikes difficult because of the many unmarked intersections along the loop, especially past the summit. But, one can still hike to the summit of Bear Mountain without too much trouble, if they remember to stay to the left at the only intersection between the trailhead and the summit. There is another intersection a few hundred yards from the summit, but by then it is clear where the summit is.
At the summit, there is an active firetower. And, there are actually men's and ladies restrooms, though they are just vault toilets. There is also a picnic table there. If you can find a ranger there, and you wish to hike the loop, ask for detailed instructions on how to hike the complete loop, including which fork to take at each succeeding intersection. Some intersections are three-way. Since there are no longer any trail markers, it could be estimated that the trail to the summit is roughly three miles long one-way.
Bear Mountain TrailTo get there from Custer, South Dakota, go north on Highway 385/16 about 4 miles, and then go northwest on County Road 297, which is also named Medicine Mountain Road. When you come to County Road 299, take a left and go approximately one mile to the Bear Mountain Trailhead. You have the option of going on another mile to the Boy Scout Camp and using their parking lot if you know how to hike the unmarked loop. Otherwise, your best bet is parking at the trailhead.
Red TapeCurrently, there is no red tape to climb the mountain. Changes do seem to be occurring, so please check with the National Forest Service before embarking on any extensive hiking around there. Since there is an active firetower at the summit, along with a few cell phone towers, the hiking trail/jeep trail up will be used regularly. So, the summit should remain accessible to hiking for the foreseeable future.
Area CampingCamping facilities are abundant in the region, with campgrounds in nearby Custer and Hill City. It is in your best interest to contact the chamber of commerce offices in each town for the latest updated lists of campgrounds, since information on these seems to change frequently. You can reach the Custer chamber office at (605)673-2244, or the Hill City chamber office at (605)574-2368. These offices should also be able to answer any other questions you may have concerning your stay there.
Resource LinksBlack Hills National Forest Service Website
Custer, South Dakota Chamber of Commerce Website
Hill City, South Dakota Chamber of Commerce Website
CautionsThis area of the Black Hills is a little more remote, so hikers should be aware that mountain lions are occasionally seen in the area. Ticks can be a problem in grassy areas. Cell phone service does not work in all areas. There is no drinking water available on the mountain, so be sure to bring adequate water for the conditions you are hiking in.