Steamboat Butte is long and narrow, with a north-south axis. The east side provides easier access routes. Any attempt to scramble up the west side should be done with great caution, due to the very steep side down to the canyon floor. Usually, most groups that try the west side from the canyon floor eventually re-adjust their route to go around the south end and complete their scramble on the east side.
UPDATE: Approximately 70% of Chadron State Park was burned by the forest fires of September 2012. While Steamboat Butte did get some fire damage, the trails are open. Please consult the state park office for any safety warnings before heading up the trail.
Once you arrive at Sawmill Shelter, you will see at the back of the clearing the sign for the Steamboat Loop Trail. The loop is about 1.8 miles. If you travel around it in a counter-clockwise manner, it will only take ten minutes maximum to reach the south edge of Steamboat Butte. There is no sign there, so be sure to check out the photos so you can familiarize yourself with your objective. The trail loop continues on back to the trailhead, so it is up to you at that point to create your route the rest of the way up the rock. The hike back will take you along a ridgeline for several hundred yards before winding back into the forest and down to Sawmill Shelter.
You can also access the west side of Steamboat Butte from the canyon floor. Using the free online map from the Chadron Wellness Group, you can see the canyon route from the RV Camping and Tenting Area. The Nebraska Interactive Trails Map also covers the Steamboat Trail. This trail is part of a loosely organized loop consisting of this canyon trail, the Black Hills Overlook Road and the Black Hills Overlook Trail. From the canyon floor, there are great views of the buttes and canyons to the north, but the thick forest on the south and west sides of the canyon as it winds around, make it difficult to see Steamboat Butte. However, where the canyon gets the narrowest and with the steepest and highest rocky walls, you will be almost right under the summit area of Steamboat Butte, and you should be able to see it. Of course the view there will be considerably different than from what you would see from the other trail.
Red TapeAnyone driving into Chadron State Park will need a daily or annual state park permit. There are strict campfire regulations and firearms are not allowed in the park. For any other questions, please call the park office.
Camping and Information Resource LinksThe best camping in the area is right at CHADRON STATE PARK. You can reach their office by phone at (308) 432-6167.
If your preference is lodging, you can contact the Chadron Chamber of Commerceat: (308) 432-4401 for up-to-date information.
For more information on hiking and climbing in western Nebraska, check out Panhandle Trails.
If you would like to see a general overview of the state park, click here:
Chadron State Park on YouTube