Devils Tower National Monument is a strange, almost otherworldly place. It rises above the ocean of prairie grass in northeastern Wyoming like a lone sentinel. This formation is so unique that it is revered as a holy place by many Native American tribes. It also holds the title of the world’s first National Monument which Theodore Roosevelt established in 1906 shortly after he was given the power to do so with the passage of the Antiquities Act. Devils Tower holds a lot of wonders and we’ve got the top 5 things not to be missed when planning your own trip with this Devils Tower Guide.
Top 6 – Devils Tower Guide
- Geology and History of Devils Tower
- Climb the Monument
- See the Prairie Dogs
- The Sacred Circle of Smoke Sculpture
1) Discovering the Geology of the Monument
Devils Tower is a massive piece of igneous rock that was created by a column of magma rising to the surface of the earth. Over time it has been revealed by the natural erosive forces. To me, it looks like an 867′ high stump from a giant tree. The Native American’s believed that the mountain was scared by the nails of a giant grizzly bear. In reality, the tower’s grooves are the world’s largest example of columnar jointing which was created when the magma cooled and contracted, splitting the rock into massive vertical columns some of which are 20-foot in diameter and can reach nearly 600 feet high.
The park has many signs placed on the trails to educate hikers and we recommend taking time to read them while taking on the park’s 8.5-miles of trail. The visitor center is small but also does a decent job of explaining the geologic creation of the tower as well as the myths passed down by the native tribes.
With only 8.5-miles of trail Devils Tower is not a hiking mecca but exploring the five different trails is the best way to see the igneous tower from all sides. All the trails are fairly easy and create connecting loops allowing one to hike the entire park in a few hours. It is not only a great way to learn about the history and geology of the park but hikers get to explore the ponderosa pine forest, prairie grass, boulder fields, and western cliffs. You can immerse yourself in each environment and seek out the creatures like prairie dogs, red-headed woodpeckers, and white-tailed deer that call them home.
We highly recommend hiking the entire 8.5-miles of trail but if you only have the time or energy for one trail make sure to hike the Tower Trail loop around the base of the monolith. It gets you up close and personal with the formation and it is a paved trail making it accessible to everyone. For that reason, we also suggest arriving early to beat the crowds.
3) Climb the Monument
The first recorded summit of Devils Tower was on July 4th, 1893 and it was done via a wooden ladder. The remnants of which can still be seen clinging to the tower today. Out of the 500,000 people who visit the park each year nearly 1% attempt to climb the massive formation. While it is an intimidating-looking monolith, in reality, the columnar jointing cracks make it easier than most popular climbing destinations and there are over 200 routes up the tower. The park’s service also makes it easy as they only require that you register at the kiosk near the visitor center before starting up and signing out after.
Obviously, you should have some rock climbing experience if you are undertaking the 867′ climb on your own. However, if you are inexperienced and still want to climb the monument there are several outfitters in the area that can guide you up Devils Tower.
4) See the Prairie Dogs
Anyone taking a trip to one of the major parks out west must visit a prairie dog village. The one at Devils Tower is a massive sprawling community that should not be missed. The varments are cute to watch as they hop in the air, sling their heads back, and bark and chirp. According to the World Wildlife organization, their dialect is one of the most advanced yet to be decoded. They not only can warn the community about predators like humans but they can give descriptive characteristics about what we are wearing. While the monument is home to many spectacular creatures that should be searched for while visiting the park, the prairie dogs are easy to find and entertaining to watch, making them a must-see for our Devils Tower guide.
5) The Sacred Circle of Smoke Sculpture
One of the most unique things to see while visiting Devils Tower is the Wind Circle (AKA: Sacred Circle of Smoke) sculpture. Devils Tower is a sacred place to dozens of Native American tribes. This sculpture highlights and celebrates the significance of the tower linking it to other holy sites around the world. The work of art is the third in a series of pieces sculpture artist Junkyu Muto has created. The first two were placed in Vatican City and Bodh Gaya, India. Each sculpture is carved from Carrara marble which came from the Fantiscritti quarry in Italy. This is the same mine used by Michelangelo in the statue of David. Equally special the base of the statue was quarried from the Black Hills at the Crazy Horse Monument.
We saved the best for last in this Devils Tower Guide. Most visitors to the park arrive for a quick drive-by on their way to Yellowstone National Park or the Black Hills. However, if you miss spending a night under the stars at this unique spot you have done yourself a disservice. Spielberg used the tower as the backdrop for his movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the park reaches a special zenith on a dark moonless night. We especially loved sitting under the stars at the base of the tower in the boulder field on the west side. It was a tranquil experience that we only had to share with the bats that softly chirped piercing the otherwise completely silent night.
Note on the Milky Way
Staying at the park’s campground is a great way to experience a quiet night at Devils Tower but if you want to see the Milky Way Galaxy stretch out over the tower you will need to head towards the northwest side of the park. The parking lot at Joyner Ridge makes a great spot from which to watch the sunset and then stick around for the Milky Way to rise directly above the tower. If you want to be closer to the tower, you will have to wait a few more hours for the galaxy to rise above the tower. Or at least that is the generalization for visiting during the peak summer season. To get a better idea of when and where you can expect to see the Milky Way we suggest using the Star Walk 2 app, one of our favorite Outdoor Apps.
Logistics – Devils Tower Guide
Typically just over 500,000 people visit Devils Tower National Monument annually. While that number may not sound like a lot when compared with the nearly 5 million who visit Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park the two vary drastically in size. Devils Tower has one short paved road, one entrance gate, three small parking areas, 8.5-miles of trails, and a small campground. It can get very crowded, very fast. So much so that it is not uncommon during the peak summer season to see the line of cars at the gate stretch out over the horizon. For these reasons, we recommend staying close and arriving early if you plan to visit during the busy season.
While most visitors to Devils Tower only stay for a few hours we recommend a day and a night as the minimum. To feel you have truly explored this place requires a night in the park. If you intend to climb the tower that will take some pre-planning and leaving contingency for inclement weather. Hiking every trail in the park can be done in 3 – 4 hours at a moderate pace.
The Summer (July – August) is the most popular season to visit the towering monolith. The temperatures are typically mild although July and August can be hot. However, you will want to arrive early to beat the crowds.
In Autumn (September – early November) temperatures are cooler and the crowds are diminished making it perhaps the best season to visit Devils Tower. September tends to be a bit rainy and the park’s campground close in mid-October making stargazing tougher. For this reason, we think the first half of October is the best time to visit the monument.
Winters (December – March) can be cold and harsh with the park typically receiving more than 3-feet of snow in a season. However, for adventurous souls looking for solitude and a different perspective a fresh layer of powder just might be the ticket.
Spring (late March – May) brings warming temperatures and rain to Devils Tower National Monument. I recommend avoiding April altogether as it is the wettest month of the year. The park’s campground typically reopens in mid-May and provides a two-week window of secluded bliss before the summer season cranks up on Memorial Day Weekend.
The Belle Fourche River Campground is the official Devils Tower Campground. The campground is beautifully perched on the bank of the Belle Fourche River with great views of Devils Tower and a mature shade tree covering nearly every site. While the campground has a lot of beauty, the bathrooms are strictly utilitarian and without showers. It has 46 campsites, with no power or hookups and they are first-come, first-served. While the park gets a lot of visitation for its size, it seems few people stay the night. It is fairly easy to snag a campsite any night of the week when they are open (mid-May to Mid-October). However, they do tend to fill up on weekends so it is recommended that you arrive early.
The Devils Tower KOA Campground is located right at the entrance gate to the monument. This is the only campground we could find nearby that offered showers and had a laundry room. They also offer full hookups as well. Unfortunately, they are also only open from mid-May to mid-October.
If you are looking for a hotel room near the monument you have very few choices. One option is to get a cabin at the KOA which puts you very close to the park entrance. If you prefer a more traditional hotel room you will need to travel 10-miles up the road to Hulett, Wyoming where you will find a Best Western.
Your food options are almost as sparse when visiting Devils Tower as your choices of accommodation. The Devils Tower Gultch is a good option for getting a good meal, but on a whole, we suggest bringing your own grub to be cooked at your campsite under the stars.
Devils Tower Guide – Top 6 Must See and Do
Devils Tower National Monument is not only a geological wonder with the largest example of columnar jointing in the world, but a culturally significant place. It rises above the prairie grass in Wyoming like the giant trunk of a tree that would have reached the heavens. It is an astonishing sight and place to explore day and night and we hope that this Devils Tower guide helps you to make the most out of your visit to the world’s first National Monument.