None of the 200 people attending the first Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in 1938 suspected that the event would grow to become a worldwide phenomenon. Today, the Rally is the biggest motorcycle gathering in the world, injecting the town of Sturgis each August with rumbling life while attracting hundreds of thousands of people—the 75th Annual Rally in 2015 brought in 773,000! But during the rest of the year, Sturgis is a charming small town (population: 6,900) just off Interstate 90 where any visitor can spend a great couple of days.
DAY 1: GET YOUR MOTOR RUNNING
There’s no better way to start a day in this quaint Black Hills community than with some bold caffeine. For just that, head to Sturgis Coffee Company for one of the tastiest cups of joe in town. It should only take one sip for you to understand why bikers making their annual pilgrimage to Sturgis always leave with a few bags of coffee. Unsurprisingly, the “Heavy Metal” blend is very popular.
Given the community’s reputation as the best place to celebrate all things motorcycle, visitors should definitely take in some of the rich biker culture. Start by experiencing two-wheeled history at the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame. Dating back to 1907, the collection of nearly 100 motorcycles includes unique, vintage and rare V-twin and metric motorcycles. Visitors can see a 1908 Harley-Davidson, a 1909 Imperial, and a 1913 Indian Single as well as other motorcycles of all kinds. Get a comprehensive glimpse into the world of motorcycles and see how they evolved from motorized bicycles to symbols of freedom across the world.
Motorcycles aren’t the only vehicles you can learn more about during your Sturgis visit. The Saab Heritage Car Museum features more than 75 of the Swedish automobiles dating from 1950 to 2011. Learn more about these unique vehicles, and note that the museum’s owners are looking for unique pictures of visitors and their Saabs. Whether it’s a classic photo or recent, let them know and your photo may end up as a giant poster in the museum! The museum is open every day from May to October from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
From there, take a very short walk to the town’s Main Street for some food and exploration. It won’t be long before you realize that Sturgis spends all year gearing up for the main event — the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. But if you can’t make it for the Rally, stop into one of the souvenir shops to pick up your own Sturgis Motorcycle Rally gear. Even if you’re not in town during the celebration, you’ll still get plenty of biker cred by picking out the perfect t-shirt or other item to show that you’ve been to Sturgis. (Bonus: It’s also usually cheaper than buying during the Rally.)
As you wander, keep an eye out for some nighttime entertainment options as well as your lunch spot. The Knuckle Saloon is one of the most popular places for a bite & a brew in town. Treat yourself to some pizza, wings, steak tips, nachos, or one of a variety of sandwiches (including, of course, a “Knuckle Sandwich”) designed to satisfy any palate. The sizable saloon also acts as a museum complete with Sturgis memorabilia and friendly staff that’ll make you feel right at home.
Don’t forget to order a beer. The Knuckle has been brewing its own beer since 2014 at the adjoining Knuckle Brewing Company, a venture that’s been so successful that they doubled their fermentation capacity two years later. But supply has never been able to match demand, so work is underway to construct a new facility that will result in the annual production of 15,000 barrels of beer. Treat yourself to a cold one (or more)—the Pipe Wrench Porter and the Runkle Road IPA are favorites—and see why the Knuckle’s popularity has never done anything but grow.
If you want to get a hint of the Rally experience without the crowds, there are two must-see spots. The first is the Full Throttle Saloon. Claiming to be the “world’s largest biker bar,” this 550-acre bar, venue, and campground epitomizes the indomitable spirit of bikers. A 2015 fire completely destroyed the iconic landmark, but the owners rebuilt bigger and better at a new location on Highway 79. The indoor/outdoor bar features both a main and a bar stage where concerts are held at different events throughout the year including, of course, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Winter hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday, weather permitting. For winter hours Monday through Thursday, call 605-515-0863.
And then there’s the one and only Buffalo Chip. In 1981, a field outside of Sturgis became a makeshift campground for bikers attending the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Since then, the area has transformed into the Sturgis Buffalo Chip Campground, a logical destination for Rally visitors looking for live music, entertainment, a swimming hole and a heckuva lot of fun. This 600-acre campground becomes its own community during the Rally with six stages of entertainment, more than 25 bars, and six days of racing, art exhibitions, stunt performances, and more. If you're in the area during the off-season, driving by will still give you a sense of the immense party that happens every year on the legendary grounds. Warning: By the time you leave Sturgis, you may be making plans to return for the next Rally. We don’t think that’s a bad idea at all.
Whether or not you take in some Rally hotspots, you deserve a little relaxation. Head to the scenic Belle Joli’ Winery Sparkling House, where delicious wines pair nicely with the friendly staff and a beautiful 5-acre view of a spot that Matador Network recently named "the best place to taste wine in South Dakota." One sip is all it will take for you to agree.
Settle in for a meal and some drinks at one of the spots that return visitors make sure to hit during their annual visits. The Side Hack Saloon & Grill is a lively, biker-friendly place to get everything from breakfast to steaks and seafood. For entertainment and deliciousness, check out the Loud American Roadhouse. It's known for both its live entertainment and legendary steak tips, but there are plenty of menu options for a hungry visitor. When your meal is done, check out your entertainment options and be sure to stroll down to the Harley-Davidson Rally Point, a central plaza where you might find a concert or other event taking place.
After a day well spent, kick your feet up and catch some z’s right across the street at The Hotel Sturgis downtown. Or, check out other accommodations close by including—Best Western Sturgis Inn, Days Inn by Wyndham, Baymont Inn & Suites, or the Super 8 by Wyndham. If you have a taste for spirits, check out Sturgis Liquors. It’s known for carrying limited edition and other unique beers unavailable anywhere else in the area. No matter what, rest well. You have another big day ahead!
DAY 2: STROLL THE WIND
Good morning! Your second day in Sturgis means you can either return to whatever place tickled your taste buds yesterday or find some new vittles. Check out the breakfast offerings at Uncle Louie's Diner, the Side Hack Saloon or Wanda’s Kitchen. No matter where you go, you are bound to leave full and satisfied.
Now that you’ve explored the town, it’s time to experience the outdoor must-sees of the Sturgis area. Start off strong by heading to legendary Bear Butte State Park. Located just a few miles outside of Sturgis on Highway 79, this intrusion of igneous rock—commonly mistaken for a mountain—was formed millions of years ago. Since then, Bear Butte been a sacred place to many Native Americans—Red Cloud, Crazy Horse, and Sitting Bull all logged some spiritual time at the butte’s peak—and the base was once a popular place for gold-seekers and expeditioners to camp. Today, Bear Butte is a National Historic Landmark that offers a 1.85-mile hike to the 4,426-foot summit where hikers can get a stunning view of four states. (There’s a reason Bear Butte made our list of the Great 8 ways to experience Native American Culture in South Dakota.) The hike should take between two and three hours to complete, depending on how many times you stop to take in the amazing views of the Black Hills. Park manager Jim Jandreau recommends that visitors view Bear Butte as a church, so it’s best to walk quietly, don’t disturb the many prayer cloths left in trees, and enjoy the serene beauty of this legendary butte.
Bear Butte isn’t the only place to get in some outdoor exploration. For a town of its size, Sturgis offers a staggering amount of other options that offer some great natural exposure for any level or time constraint. (The bottom of this page breaks down trail options including time, distance, and other information.) To get some fresh air and some fascinating historical perspective, head to the eastern side of Sturgis to Fort Meade Recreation Area.
During the Great Western Expansion, Fort Meade served as a United States Cavalry Post for nearly every cavalry regiment in the United States Army. It’s perhaps most famous for having the “The Star-Spangled Banner” played every evening as the flag was lowered. The song also closed every performance by the fort’s band. Such dedication to the song was a direct factor in “The Star-Spangled Banner” becoming the national anthem of the United States 39 years later. Fort Meade was the last active military fort in South Dakota, outliving all other frontier posts in the Upper Missouri area and surviving as a military installation until 1944, when it became a Veterans Administration Hospital that remains today.
The area is also now home to a preserved historical site and recreational area. Visitors can learn about the fort’s importance at the Old Fort Meade Museum. Located in the former commanding officer's headquarters, this museum offers an in-depth history of the fort that was established in 1878 by the 1st and 11th Infantries and the reorganized 7th Cavalry. Admission is $5 for ages 12 and up. Anyone younger gets in free, and group tours are available. From May 1 to Sept. 30, the museum is open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Winter visits are by appointment only. Check out their Facebook page for information on special events. Once you’re done with your museum trip, feel free to explore some of the approximately 6,700 acres of forest and grasslands.
For a scenic drive, check out the National Back Country Byway. The five-mile gravel road from Exit 34 to the VA hospital will take you by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Chapel, Alkali Creek Trailhead & Recreation Site, the outlaw Curley Grime’s grave, signs of an old stagecoach trail, the area where cavalry trained their horses to jump, and Fort Meade Post Cemetery before ending at the entrance to Fort Meade.
But for those looking to stretch their legs and take in some fresh air, the rec area is home to an 11-mile portion of the 111-mile Centennial Trail. Created in 1989 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of South Dakota’s statehood, the Centennial Trail represents the diversity of South Dakota, taking a traveler over the prairies and grasslands near Bear Butte State Park through the rugged Black Hills high country and south to the rolling hills of Wind Cave National Park. To explore the Fort Meade portion of the trail, start at the trailhead found right in the middle of the Fort Meade Recreation Area. From there, you can head six miles north to Bear Butte Summit Trail or six miles south to Alkali Creek Trailhead.
The trailheads in Fort Meade Recreational Area offer hikes as short or as long as you'd like. The Alkali Creek Trailhead can be found in the picnic and camping area. Pack and enjoy an outdoor meal at one of the 22 picnic areas that also offer access to restrooms and drinking water. Trail guides are available. From this trailhead, you can take a short trip—perfect for kids or anyone looking for a short hike—on the Alkali Creek Nature Trail. Less than a mile in length, the trail shows off local flora and fauna while taking hikers through prairie, forest, and back to Alkali Creek.
There’s also the 7th Cavalry Trail System. Designed for hiking, cycling, and horseback riding, this collection of interconnected trails makes up more than 10 miles of trails in the Fort Meade Recreation Area. Different loops make it easy to plan exactly how long of a hike you’d like to take. In this system, you can access Trail #3 at the Fort Meade Trailhead of the Centennial Trail. That meets up with Trail #2, leading to the Lions Park Trailhead as well as Trail #4. The latter offers views of Sturgis and, with the right weather, both Bear Butte and the expansive prairie to the north. Other trailheads for the 7th Cavalry Trails include Lions Park (just off Lazelle Street) and the aforementioned Alkali Creek and Fort Mead Trailheads. Click here for a complete map.
Hiking can inspire quite a hunger. Head into Sturgis for some lunch at Jambonz Grill & Pub, where soul food and a variety of po’ boy sandwiches can give you a taste of New Orleans in western South Dakota. (Do not leave without getting some of the fresh peach cobbler. Trust us.) The restaurant also offers vegetarian options as well as traditional Midwestern favorites like burgers, hot beef, and ribs.
With a solid lunch complete, you can now hit any of the places already mentioned. More hiking? An exploratory drive? A couple of drinks to reflect on the goodness of life? Wanna knock down some bowling pins at Sturgis Strikers? Whatever your wish, Sturgis is there to grant it. Whether you’re spending two days, taking a few hours to include Sturgis in your South Dakota exploration, or going all in at the legendary Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, you’ll find this western South Dakota town to be a charming place to wander and observe.
STURGIS BY THE NUMBERS
- Red's Grill & Pub (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
- The Knuckle Saloon (Lunch, Dinner, Late Night)
- Loud American Roadhouse (Lunch, Dinner, Late Night)
- One-Eyed Jack’s Saloon (Lunch Dinner, Late Night)
- Side Hack Saloon & Gunner’s Lounge (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
- Iron Horse Saloon (Lunch, Dinner, Late Night)
- Uncle Louie's Diner (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
- Pizza Ranch (Lunch, Dinner/Vegetarian options)
- Pizza Hut (Lunch, Dinner)
- Dairy Queen (Lunch, Dinner)
- McDonald’s (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Late Night)
- Subway (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
- Taco John’s (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Late Night)
- Burger King (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
STURGIS BREWERIES, BARS AND WINERIES
BREWERIES: The Knuckle Brewing Company, Sturgis Brewing Company
WINERIES: Belle Joli Winery Sparkling House, Sturgis Wine Co.
BARS: The Knuckle Saloon, Iron Horse Saloon & Restaurant, Loud American Roadhouse, One-Eyed Jack’s Saloon, Side Hack Saloon & Gunner’s Lounge, Jambonz Grill & Pub, Oasis Bar & Lounge, Sturgis Strikers, Dungeon Bar*, The Beaver Bar*, Dirty Dogs Roadhouse*, Full Throttle Saloon^, various bars at the Buffalo Chip*
(NOTE: * denotes bars that are only open during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally while ^ denotes bars that are open during limited off-season hours as well as during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally or other special events.)
LIQUOR STORE: Sturgis Liquor is open Monday – Friday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
HIKING AND BIKING TRAILS IN/AROUND STURGIS
Bear Butte Summit Trail: Open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., the trail is 2.8 miles out and back. Entry fees are $6 per vehicle (daily), $30 per vehicle and $15 for additional vehicle (annual). An annual transferable license can be purchased for $65.
Centennial Trail: The 11-mile trail is a portion of the 111-mile interagency national recreation trail across the Fort Meade Recreation Area. The Fort Meade Trailhead in the Fort Meade Recreation Area is a day-use graveled parking area that serves as a trailhead for the Centennial Trail.
7th Cavalry Trails: These free trails are accessible by Lion’s Park Trailhead (NE Sturgis just off Lazelle St.), Alkali Creek Trailhead, or on Old Stone Road near Believers Fellowship Church in Sturgis (Map)
SCENIC BYWAYS NEAR STURGIS
Fort Meade National Back Country Byway: The 4.5 gravel route is free to hike, winds through the Fort Meade Recreation Area, and includes historic burial plots, Native American encampment sites, and the preserved fort. North access is east of Sturgis on Highway 34/79 just west of the entrance to the Fort Meade Veterans Hospital. The southern access point leaves Interstate 90 at Exit 34, which is also the access point for the Black Hills National Cemetery. There are signs at both access points. The byway is open year-round, but there is no winter maintenance and access can occasionally be affected by temporary closures due to weather and road conditions.
STURGIS MUSEUMS & HISTORICAL SITES
Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame: Located at 999 Main Street, the museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $10 plus tax for one person and $5 for each additional per person. Senior and veteran discounts are available.
Old Fort Meade Museum: Admission is $5 for ages 12 and up. Anyone younger is free, and group tours are available. From May 1 to Sept. 30, the museum is open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Winter visits are by appointment only.
Sturgis Car Museum, home of the Saab Heritage Car Museum: Opening in May, this new museum will feature more than 75 unique Saab automobiles dating back to 1950. The museum plans to be open seasonally (May-October) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The entry fee is expected to be $10 per person.
Fort Meade Old Post Cemetery: Home to remains of officers, soldiers, and their families, the area overlooks both Fort Meade and Bear Butte.
Black Hills National Cemetery: Exiting Interstate 90 at Exit 34 takes you to the Black Hills National Cemetery, a resting place for veterans and certain family members. The cemetery is open for visitation from sunrise to sunset. For a map, click here.
Bear Butte Cemetery: Located on the east end of Sherman Street in Sturgis, the cemetery contains the remains of some members of the 7th Cavalry.
St. Aloysius Cemetery: Located on the west end of Sherman Street in Sturgis, the cemetery has two sections. Members of the 7th Cavalry are buried in the older section on the hill. The newer section is on a lower level next to Main Street.
ANNUAL STURGIS EVENTS
Sturgis Motorcycle Rally: Held for 10 days ever year in early August, this gathering of motorcycle enthusiasts attracts around 500,000 people every year and fills the Black Hills with the sound of rumbling engines and concerts of all kinds. Even if you’ve never revved a motorcycle engine, the event is something to behold and transforms Sturgis into the biggest celebration of freedom in the country.
Sturgis Off Road Rally: Featuring various off-roading options including a scavenger hunt and poker run, the Off-Road Rally is one of the many unique events held during the Rally.
Sturgis Camaro Rally: If you love all things Camaro, this party’s for you. Held every June, the even includes drag racing, poker runs, cruises and more.
Sturgis Mustang Rally: Motorcycles aren’t the only vehicles celebrated in Sturgis every August. At the end of the month, the week-long Sturgis Mustang Rally includes racing, cruises, a car show, and other fun events. Most events are open to registered participants, but anyone can enjoy the Show & Shine event as well as a parade.
Black Hills Bluegrass Festival: Spend three days clapping and dancing during the only traditional bluegrass and acoustic music festival in South Dakota. The Black Hills Bluegrass Festival is held every June at the Rush No More RV Resort & Campground, so you can enjoy days of delightful music only steps away from your overnight accommodations. 2019 advance tickets range from $18 for a single show to $50 for a weekend pass.
Fort Meade Recreation Area is home to two campsites: the Alkali Creek Trailhead (open year-round*, fees charged for camping from May 15 to Sept. 30) and the Alkali Creek Horsecamp (open May 15 – Sept. 30*, FEE). (*Both campgrounds are closed for three weeks in August during the Black Hills Motorcycle Classic.) Water is available from approximately May 15 to Oct. 1 each year.
Bear Butte State Park: This legendary site features non-electrical campsites for $11 per night or $13 for a horse campsite.
Suzie’s Camp: Open all year, the campground features cabins, 60 RV hookups, and RV rentals on 20 acres where guests have biking, hiking, 4-wheeling, and horseback riding options.
Days End Campground & RV Park: Located just off Interstate 90 at Exit 30, the campground is open from April 15th to October 15th and offers shaded tent sites, cabins ranging from rustic to fully equipped with bathrooms, air conditioning, bunkbeds, televisions, coffee pots and mini fridges. There are also RV camping sites with hookup options. For rate information, click here.
Pappy Hoel Campground: The “Official Campground of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally” features RV sites, cabins and campsites. It is open during the Rally and for special events. For more information including rates, click here.
Full Throttle Saloon during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally: Fees vary for a variety of RV sites (click here) and campsites (click here) available during the Rally and other special events, but the cabins offer visitors the most comfortable accommodations. Each 14’ by 24’ cabin has its own front porch and comes with either two double beds or two sets of bunk beds. In-room amenities include air conditioning, a breakfast table and chairs, microwave, and apartment-size refrigerator. Cabin rentals include access to shower and bath facilities with private stalls. A 7-night Rally Week rental is $2,110, but an early check-in that runs through the Rally can be secured for $2,268. Rental fees include access to the pool at the Pappy Hoel Campground and all events and concerts at the Full Throttle Saloon. To reserve a cabin, click here.
Lamphere Ranch Campground: RV sites, shaded campsites, and cabins for two or four people on this family-owned campground located three miles east of Main Street, Sturgis. Open for the Rally and special events, the campground has showers, a general store, and a restaurant available onsite. For more information, click here.
STURGIS PICNIC AREAS
The Fort Meade Recreation Area features picnicking facilities at the Alkali Creek Trailhead, Fort Mead Reservoir (two picnic tables, a restroom), and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Chapel (picnic facilities with water and restrooms).