SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – The vehicle count for the 2023 Sturgis Rally was down over eight percent from the previous five-year average. Just over 458,000 vehicles entered the rally over the ten-day period. This is down from 2022, which saw 497,835 vehicles.
“I have not seen that low of a count on a day coming into Sturgis for a long time,” said Deb Holland, the director of communications for the City of Sturgis about the opening day Friday, August 4.
The South Dakota Department of Transportation counts traffic based on a number of factors including sensors that count vehicles, the number of vendor licenses issued, amount of garbage hauled in Sturgis, Mount Rushmore traffic counts and the South Dakota Department of Revenues sales tax calculation.
This year, there was a decrease of six vendor licenses from last year with 751 in 2023 and 757 in 2022. But, the city hauled 226.97 tons of garbage this year, which is up from 203.82 tons in 2022.
Holland also attributed the lower numbers, in part, to the cold and rainy weather at the start of the rally. Holland spoke with the National Weather Service and confirmed that since 1938, when the rally was started, this year was the second coldest high temperatures on record, behind only 1999.
Saturday, August 5 saw a high of 64 degrees with Monday’s high at 66. Saturday’s vehicle count came in at 38,126, by that time last year the count was 60,000.
“We took a real hit on the rainy day but then we actually bounced back,” Holland said. “I was kind of excited, Wednesday we were up and Thursday we were up almost 15 percent and usually that’s a day that people are leaving. It was great to see that, with the sun shining, people either stayed longer or decided to hang on and come later in the week.”
While the rain may have caused lower numbers, the bars in Sturgis didn’t feel the impact.
Dean Kearney, the co-owner of Loud American, said this year was the best they had since the 75th celebration in 2015. Kearney said part of that was due to the cold and rain pushing people inside at the start of the rally.
“I have heard anecdotal stories of some people feeling it was down in some areas, and I don’t doubt those, but we just didn’t see it,” he said. “We thought the foot traffic was great, everything was very similar to last year which was also great.”
Both of Loud American’s concert venues are covered, so none of their performances were impacted negatively. Kearney said they will begin planning for next year’s rally soon.
“It’s pretty important for our business,” Kearney said. “For Loud American, it is definitely a vital part of our year, as is all of summer tourism.”
Below is the daily vehicle count from the Department of Transportation. All percentage comparisons are based on the previous five-year average.
Friday, August 4: 45,652 vehicles entered; down 13.4%
Saturday, August 5: 38,126 vehicles entered; down 37.3%
Sunday, August 6: 60,586 vehicles entered; up 4.4%
Monday, August 7: 50,487 vehicles entered; down 16.9%
Tuesday, August 8: 55,848 vehicles entered; down 4.2%
Wednesday, August 9: 56,444 vehicles entered; up 1.4%
Thursday, August 10: 52,195 vehicles entered; up 3.7%
Friday, August 11: 45,661 vehicles entered; up 0.4%
Saturday, August 12: 33,278 vehicles entered; down 4.5%
Sunday, August 13: 19,884 vehicles entered; down 6.5%