The best hike in Devils Tower National Monument is a double loop that encompasses all the park’s trails. From this epic 8-mile journey, you can see the giant monolith, which is the World’s first National Monument and a holy site to Native Americans, from every angle. Along the way, you will most likely catch glimpses of native wildlife like prairie dogs, white-tailed deer, and an assortment of birds and raptors. Hiking this moderately-difficult trail is one of the best ways to take in all that this tiny 1,346-acre park has to offer.
Best Hike in Devils Tower National Monument
Stats for the Best Hike in Devils Tower
- Trailhead: Visitor Center (The campground is a great alternative)
- Type: Loop
- Rating: Moderately-Difficult
- Distance: 8.25 miles
- Total Elevation Gain: 1,030’
- Highest Elevation: 4,385′
- Lowest Elevation: 3,865′
- Time: 3 to 4 hours
Summer (June – August) is without a doubt the most popular season to visit the towering monolith and with relatively mild temperatures for the majority of the season, it is typically a great time to take on the best hike in Devils Tower. Just make sure you hike with plenty of water.
With smaller crowds and slightly cooler temperatures, Autumn (September – early November) is a great time to hike the park.
Devils Tower National Monument is open year-round but the park is remote and the Winters (December – March) can be harsh. However, if you are up for a little cold weather strap on some snow-shoes or cross country skies and take on the best hike in Devils Tower on a unique and stunningly beautiful adventure.
Spring (late March – May) in Devils Tower brings warming temperatures and rain. I recommend avoiding April as it is the wettest month of the year and instead of shooting for a visit in mid-May before the crowds show up on Memorial Day Weekend.
The nice thing about hiking every trail in one epic loop is that almost any parking area is going to be a great place to start. That being said we recommend hitting the trail early so you can have the often busy Tower Trail section all to yourself. For this reason, we recommend parking at the Visitor Center and beginning the best hike in Devils Tower National Monument from there.
Alternative Parking Options
A great alternative is camping in the park’s campground and heading out from there or if you come later in the day and fear finding a good parking spot head straight for the Joyner Ridge Trailhead in the northwest corner of the park as very few visitors find their way to this parking lot.
Starting from the Visitor Center climb the small hill up to the base of the monolith and begin the 1.3-mile paved and mostly flat inner loop known as the Tower Trail. This path leads all the way around the giant and while either way is magnificent we prefer hiking in a counter-clockwise rotation. If you are starting early this allows you to pass through the rocky boulder field on the west side before the crowds arrive. It is a very popular area.
The 1893 Ladder
As you round to the southeastern side of the monument search for the old wooden ladder that was used to first ascend the geologic marvel on July 4th, 1893. There are signs along the path to help you locate the tiny sliver of wood clinging to the cracks 100s of feet above.
Climbing the Tower
While hiking the inner loop keep an eye peeled for modern-day climbers making their accent. Over 5,000 climbers flock here every year to take on one of the more than 200 routes to the top of the 867′ high tower.
Red Beds Trail
Once you have completed your first journey around the monolith on the Tower Trail you will find yourself headed back down the hill towards the visitor center. Next up, is the outer loop known as the Red Beds Trail. While you can hike this trail in either direction, we recommend the counter-clockwise direction. This allows you to stop by the toilet at the visitor center as well as fill up on water before heading out on the much longer trail. Taking on the outer loop in the counter-clockwise direction also allows you to take on the steeper sections early in the hike.
South Side Detour
The start of the Red Beds Trail traverses the ponderosa pine forest below the monolith but rather quickly emerges onto a long moderately exposed cliff that descends towards the Belle Fourche River. About 3/4 of a mile on the trail the path finds the intersection for the South Side Trail that leads towards the campground. Taking this detour adds-on about one mile (already included in our total) to the overall journey. We recommend making the descent as it leads to a massive prairie dog village as well as the Wind Circle Sculpture (AKA: The Sacred Circle of Smoke).
Once on the South Side Trail descend swiftly into the valley and towards the Belle Fourche Campground. Once you cross the park’s main road you will find the Sacred Circle of Smoke Sculpture on the right via a short spur. Make sure you stop and check out this unique sculpture that ties three spiritually significant sites together from around the world.
Prairie Dog Village
Continuing down the South Side Trail you will arrive at the Campground’s Amphitheater where the unmarked Valley View Trail will lead northwest above the campground and along the edge of the massive prairie dog village. It is easy to spot the little creatures scurrying about and even easier to hear them chirp noisily to each other about your presents. On the north side of the prairie dog village, the Valley View Trail will cross back over the park’s main road and begin to climb back towards the Red Beds Trail.
Red Earth and a Beautiful Fork
Once you return to the main Red Beds Trail loop, take a right and enjoy incredible views as the path cuts through the red earth terrain from which the trail undoubtedly derived its name. This is also a great stretch to take in the beauty of the Belle Fourche River. You will quickly understand why the French trappers who explored this region in the 1700’s named the river the beautiful fork river.
Joyner Ridge Access Trail
As the path rounds to the east side of the monument, you will leave the red earth behind and enter into a lightly wooded prairie. This is one of the best areas to spot white-tailed deer. While looking for deer make sure to keep an eye on the trail as it isn’t long before you will reach the Joyner Ridge access trail. The access trail can be hard to see as it is less traveled than the Red Beds Loop and therefore a much narrower path through the prairie grass. The access trail is a short half-mile journey through the prairie to the intersection with the Joyner Ridge Trail Loop.
Joyner Ridge Loop
The Joyner Ridge Trail is a 1.5-mile Loop that we once again recommend hiking counter-clockwise when on the best hike in Devils Tower National Monument. Taking a right onto the loop and heading north the trail quickly climbs to the top of the rocky Joyner Ridge. This elevated perch provides some truly amazing views of the north side of the monolith that most visitors to the park never see. After taking in the cliffside views the trail continues west where it enters into another open prairie and finds the small Joyner Ridge Parking Lot. This is a great vantage point from whence to see the Milky Way Galaxy stretch out over the monument on a clear night.
Leaving the parking lot the trail passes back through the prairie and then descends into the woods quickly finding its way back to the access trail that leads back to the Red Beds Trail.
The Ponderosa Pine Forest
Back on the Red Beds Trail the path turns to the west and climbs up the cliff on a sweeping switchback. Once atop the cliff, the climb moderates a little but continues to ascend towards the north side of the monolith. This section is through the densest forest found along the best hike in Devils Tower. The forest is mostly comprised of tall Ponderosa Pine and it is a great area to look for woodland creatures including beautiful red-headed woodpeckers.
Finishing the Best Hike in Devils Tower
Before long the trail begins a long arched hook back towards the south and glimpses of the monument begin to reappear through the ponderosa pine trees. You will also begin to hear the traffic coming up the park’s main road and before long you will rejoin the crowds of people making their way up from the visitor center.
For ideas on where to stay or what else to do when visiting Devils Tower National Monument check out our Devils Tower Guide.
Dehydration is the major concern when taking on the best hike in Devils Tower National Monument. Make sure to carry plenty of water, especially when hiking during the summer months. Water is available near the Visitor Center and in the campground.
Wear good shoes and watch your footing as the terrain can be loose in certain areas of the trail.
While bears have been known to pass through the park, none call it home and they are rare sightings. Use your best judgment on whether you need bear spray when hiking in Devils Tower. Do not approach wild animals in general as they can be unpredictable and you do not want to disturb their natural habits.
Toilets (Visitor Center, Campground)
The only toilets in Devils Tower National Monument are found at the Visitor Center, the picnic area near the Wind Circle Sculpture, and the campground. Make sure to take advantage of these facilities as you pass them when on the best hike in Devils Tower.
The Best Hike in Devils Tower National Monument
If you are short on time when visiting Devils Tower National Monument make sure you plan on arriving early and hiking the paved Tower Trail. However, for those who are looking to fully explore the small park, we suggest you take on the best hike in Devils Tower. This series of interconnected loops encompasses the majority of the park’s 8.5-miles of trail. It is one of the best and easiest ways to fully experience all that the park has to offer.