It’s one of the most recognizable natural features in the world, and if it’s on your travel list, you’ll want to know what you can expect when you visit. Here are the top things to do at Devils Tower National Monument.
Devils Tower became the first national monument in 1906, by the proclamation of President Theodore Roosevelt along with about 1,000 acres of land around it.
Today people from all over the world come to take in views of this unique formation. Thousands of climbers ascend the tower every year. Movie buffs remember it as the star location of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
The protected land is home to more than 150 species of birds including prairie falcons, turkey vultures, bald eagles, and more.
A visit to Devils Tower National Monument is one of the most popular things to do near Mount Rushmore.
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What exactly is Devils Tower?
Devils Tower is a unique geological feature caused by the force of magma under the earth’s surface against sedimentary rock. As the magma cooled, it formed columns that were exposed when the rock eroded. Geologists call it an “igneous intrusion.”
Devils Tower is 867 feet tall from the base, which is about 1,000 feet in diameter. The top of Devils Tower is 1.5 acres in area.
Is Devils Tower worth visiting?
Absolutely. I think it’s one of those things that has to be seen in real life to be fully appreciated. Now, you don’t need to spend a lot of time here (see below), and I think this monument is best done as a stop on a longer trip around South Dakota or Wyoming.
Devils Tower makes a great day trip from Rapid City, South Dakota, especially combined with a drive through Spearfish Canyon or a stop in Deadwood, South Dakota.
Where is Devils Tower?
Devils Tower National Monument is in northeastern Wyoming, a little over 50 miles west of Belle Fourche, South Dakota (at the geographic center of the U.S.) and about 110 miles from Rapid City, South Dakota.
The nearest airport to Devils Tower is Northeast Wyoming Regional Airport in Gillette. Rapid City Regional Airport would also make a decent option, especially if you’re going to be making Rapid City your starting point or home base for a road trip.
The nearest major airport would be Denver International Airport, which is about a six hour drive from Devils Tower.
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How much time does it take to visit Devils Tower?
Plan on spending at least a couple of hours at Devils Tower.
This will give you time to stop in at the Visitor Center and bookstore, walk the Tower Trail, and perhaps enjoy a picnic. If you want to include a ranger program and/or do one of the other hikes at the monument, you would easily extend your visit to Devils Tower to a half-day or full-day trip.
What should I expect when I get to Devils Tower?
There is an entrance fee to enter the Devils Tower National Monument grounds, which is payable at the entrance station. Or you can use your America the Beautiful Pass to visit.
You’ll have a little bit of a drive from the entrance station up to the Visitor Center.
Parking at the Visitor Center is pretty limited, especially in the summer months. My recommendation would be to plan on avoiding that area in the middle of the day. It’s busiest between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Even during traditionally less-traveled times of the year, the parking area can fill up quickly.
There is additional parking in the lower gravel lot, which is recommended for those who are planning to climb the Tower. There is more available shade in that lot, which is great if you’re planning to park all day.
Climbing is a popular activity at Devils Tower, and each year thousands of rock climbers head up the tower. Climbers are required to register before they climb and check in when they return.
If you’re planning to hike one of the lesser-used trails, plan to use the parking at the trailhead or the Picnic Area.
Top things to do at Devils Tower
While there are a limited number of things to do at Devils Tower National Monument, there is plenty to fill up your afternoon or a full day. Or even well into the night.
Enjoy the Visitors Center
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. We love National Park Service Visitor Centers and gift shops. They’re “must-do’s” in our book.
The Devils Tower National Monument Visitor Center was built of ponderosa pine logs in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s managed by the Devils Tower Natural History Association, so park ranger staff may have limited availability.
Hike Tower Trail
Even if you’re not much of a hiker, I’d say that walking Tower Trail, which goes around the base of Devils Tower, is a “must do” at Devils Tower.
The first 0.2 miles of this trail, the connector path from the parking lot to the main loop, is accessible. There’s also a lovely covered seating pavilion area there that’s great for just sitting and enjoying a wonderful view of Devils Tower.
The Tower Trail is mostly flat, but there is some moderate elevation change, and I didn’t find it to be an easy stroll.
On a warm day, you’ll want at least some water with you, and I wouldn’t attempt it on an empty stomach. With the accessible connector path from the parking lot, Tower Trail is about 1.8 miles out and back (Tower Trail loop is about 1.3 miles of that.) There are spots where you can take a breather if you need to and enjoy a nice view.
Tower Trail is definitely one of the most popular things to do at Devils Tower, so plan on there being a lot of other people on the trail with you.
Visit the prairie dogs
On the drive up to Devils Tower from the entrance station, you’ll pass a prairie dog town. If you’ve never seen a prairie dog town before, I’d suggest you take the time to watch for a bit on your way up or back down. Please use the pullouts.
If you’ve already seen prairie dogs frolicking, perhaps at Custer State Park or Badlands National Park in South Dakota, you can skip this one.
Please keep your distance from the prairie dogs. While they look fun and cute, they can bite and they actually can carry the plague.
Enjoy a picnic meal
There are no food options within the monument grounds, so plan to bring your own food with you if you wish to enjoy a meal at the monument.
The Devils Tower Picnic Area is in the southern area of the park near the Belle Fourche River Campground and the South Side trailhead. This picnic area includes picnic tables, grills, a shelter, and restrooms.
View the Circle of Sacred Smoke sculpture
The Circle of Sacred Smoke sculpture is located near the Picnic Area and was created to raise awareness of the importance of the Tower to more than 20 affiliated Native American tribes.
The shape of the 12-foot-high white marble sculpture was designed to indicate a ring of smoke from a freshly lit pipe and was created by Japanese sculptor Junkyu Muto. Circle of Sacred Smoke was installed in 2008 and is the third of Muto’s “peace sculptures.”
Participate in a ranger program
Ranger programs at Devils Tower National Monument are typically offered on weekends between Memorial Day Weekend and Labor Day Weekend.
Programs can include guided Tower Trail walks, short talks, or evening programs at the Amphitheater. Ranger Talks are often held at the covered pavilion at the head of the Tower Trail.
If you’re traveling with children between the ages of 5 and 12, they might enjoy participating in the Devils Tower Junior Ranger program.
Night sky viewing
There are a few locations at Devils Tower that make exceptional spots for night sky viewing.
- Joyner Ridge parking lot and trail at the north side of the grounds is a prime location for night sky viewing at Devils Tower. There is little light pollution there and plenty of space to set up cameras and/or telescopes.
- Picnic Area/Circle of Sacred Smoke Sculpture area
Hike one of the other trails
Although the Tower Trail loop is undoubtedly the best-known and most popular trail at Devils Tower, there are several other trails on the grounds
Red Beds Trail
This 2.8-mile loop hiking trail gives hikers views of the tower as well as the Belle Fourche River. Access is from the Visitor Center parking lot as well as from other trails such as the Valley View and South Side. There are steep sections between the Visitor Center and the river valley.
Valley View Trail
The National Park Service describes this 0.6-mile walking trail as “a gentle trail for stretching your legs.” Access is from the Picnic Area parking or the Red Beds Trail. This trail has little to no elevation change and takes the hiker through the Prairie Dog Town before connecting to the Red Beds Trail.
South Side Trail
The 0.6-mile South Side Trail links to the Red Beds Trail from the Amphitheater. Like the Valley View Trail, the South Side Trail passes through the Prairie Dog Town with little/no elevation change.
This trail does have a road crossing and then there is some steep/moderate change in elevation before South Side meets up with Red Beds.
Joyner Ridge Trail
This 1.5-mile loop trail is in the northern part of the monument grounds and has its own trailhead parking. The eastern part of the trail has a significant elevation change. You can reach the Joyner Ridge trailhead from a dirt road off the main park road.
Where to stay at Devils Tower
The campground is the only place to stay within the Devils Tower grounds. When we visited Devils Tower, we opted to stay in Casper, Wyoming, before moving on to Jackson to visit Grand Teton National Park.
If you wish to stay closer to Devils Tower than we did you have a few options such as:
If you also are pushing on to Grand Teton after your stop at Devils Tower, you might also want to consider a stop in Casper. It meant a three-hour drive after Devils Tower, but then we had a shorter day on the road the next day before arriving in Jackson.
We stayed at the Residence Inn in Casper. It was a great place to stop, close to food options and stores for picking up road trip supplies.
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