Devils Tower National Monument is one of the most iconic landmarks in the United States. Sacred to Native Americans, popular road trip destination, and alien landing site a famous movie, Devils Tower evokes mystery and wonder from visitors of all ages.
In this post, learn how to visit Devils Tower National Monument, with things to do, how to plan your time, and tips to have the best experience.
Devils Tower has long been sacred to Native Americans. Six tribes have a geographical or cultural tie to the tower, with the Lakota people having one of the strongest connections. They call the tower by names like Bear Lodge, Ghost Mountain, and Mythic-Owl Mountain.
Every year, ceremonies are conducted at Devils Tower by local tribes. As you walk around Devils Tower, you will see colorful cloths tied to the trees. These are prayer offerings and sometimes the cloths are placed in remembrance of another person.
Devils Tower was the first national monument in the USA, established on September 24, 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt. He made Wyoming home not only to the first national monument, but also the first national park, Yellowstone National Park.
There are several theories about the formation of Devils Tower. The most likely theory is this: 50 million years ago, molten lava was forced into underground layers of sedimentary rock. As the magma cooled, it formed hexagonal columns of igneous rock. Over millions of years, the sedimentary rock eroded away, gradually revealing Devils Tower.
The hexagonal columns of Devils Tower
Devils Tower rises 867 feet from its base and stands 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River. It can be seen for miles on a clear day.
Devils Tower was featured in the 1977 movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which turns the tower into an alien landing site.
How to Get to Devils Tower
Devils Tower is located in northeastern Wyoming.
You can visit Devils Tower on a day trip from Rapid City or as part of a road trip across the USA.
Here are driving distances and times from nearby destinations:
- Rapid City, South Dakota: 107 miles, 1.75 hours
- Gillette, Wyoming: 66 miles, 1.25 hours
- Cody, Wyoming: 300 miles, 5 hours
- Yellowstone National Park: 350 hours, 6 hours
- Billings, Montana: 265 miles, 4.25 hours
The closest airport is located in Gillette, Wyoming.
Rapid City, South Dakota has a larger airport, making this is a great home base, not only for visiting Devils Tower, but for exploring this part of the country. From Rapid City, you can also visit Badlands and Wind Cave National Parks, Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, and numerous historic towns.
View of Devils Tower from Highway 24
Things to Do at Devils Tower
On a visit to Devils Tower, you have the option to hike one of the trails that circle around its base, take a ranger tour, go rock climbing, or gaze up at the night skies. Here is a list of the things to do at Devils Tower.
Hike the Tower Trail
Distance: 1.3 mile loop | Difficulty: Easy | Length of Time: 45 minutes to 1 hour
If you do one thing on a visit to Devils Tower, it should be a walk on the Tower Trail.
The Tower Trail circles around the base of Devils Tower. From here, you get up-close views of the tower. You’ll have to crane your neck back quite a bit to look up at it, since you are standing so close, but you do get quite a few nice views of Devils Tower.
From this walk, you get to truly appreciate the massive size of Devils Tower. You can also watch as rock climbers scale the columns of rock.
This is a paved trail that starts and ends at the visitor center. It is the most popular hike in the park.
Red Beds Trail
Distance: 2.8 mile loop | Difficulty: Moderate | Length of Time: 1.5 to 3 hours
For stunning views of Devils Tower and the Belle Fourche River Valley, put the Red Beds Trail on your to-do list. Like the Tower Trail, this trail loops around Devils Tower, but since the loop is located farther away from the base of the tower, you get better views of it.
From the Red Beds Trail, you get to see Devils Tower from all angles. You’ll see that its appearance changes depending on the direction you view it. The views over the river valley and the walk through the Red Beds are also very nice.
Since this trail is longer and more strenuous than the Tower Trail, there will be fewer people here. There are a few short climbs on the trail but kids should do just fine.
South Side Trail
Distance: 0.6 miles | Difficulty: Easy | Length of Time: 15 to 30 minutes
Walk through a prairie dog town on this short, easy trail. It connects the picnic area parking lot with the Red Beds Trail.
Valley View Trail
Distance: 0.6 miles | Difficulty: Easy | Length of Time: 15 to 30 minutes
This flat trail also starts at the picnic area parking lot, heads through prairie dog lands, and travels beside the Belle Fourche River.
Joyner Ridge Trail
Distance: 1.5 mile loop | Difficulty: Moderate | Length of Time: 1 hour
Leave the crowds behind and have a unique view of Devils Tower. This trail travels along a ridgeline, offering great views of Devils Tower, before dropping down into the valley and looping back to the parking lot.
Prairie Dog Town
On highway 110, as you drive through the park, there will be a few turnouts where you can park your car and look out over the prairie dog town. Another way to see the prairie dogs is on the South Side Trail and Valley View Trail.
Circle of Sacred Smoke Sculpture
This modern sculpture, also called the Wind Circle Sculpture, is located near the prairie dog town and the picnic area. The sculpture was created by Japanese artist Junkyu Muto and it is the third in a series of “peace sculptures” that are located at important sites around the world.
Climb Devils Tower
Devils Tower unique shape and hexagonal towers attract rock climbers from around the world.
The most popular way to reach the summit is on the Durrance Route, a 5.7 crack climb, although there are numerous routes to the top.
Can you spot the rock climbers?
Before you climb, register at the visitor center. Even if you only plan to rock scramble on the boulder field you must register in advance.
In June, climbing is suspended when the Native Americans hold their ceremonies. In the spring, some routes will be closed for nesting falcons. Learn more on the National Park Service website.
Ranger programs are typically offered from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Go on a ranger-guided hike, learn more about the history and geology of Devils Rock, or view the night sky.
Night Sky Viewing
Devils Tower, with its remote location away from light pollution, is a great place to gaze up at the night sky. During the summer months, the national park service offers ranger-led night sky programs. Or, you can simply view Devils Tower and the night sky from one of the hiking trails.
Please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trail, pack out what you bring to the hiking trail, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.
What to Expect on Your Visit
Devils Tower National Monument is small and easy to visit. Devils Tower National Monument Road runs through the park, connecting the entrance station with the top places to visit and the visitor center.
After passing through a small collection of shops and restaurants, you will pay your fee at the entrance station ($25 per vehicle, valid for 7 days).
Before entering the park, you will pass a few shops and restaurants.
Continue on Devils Tower National Monument Road, cross the Belle Fourche River, and you will come to the Prairie Dog Town. You can stop now to see the prairie dogs or save it for the end of your visit.
Devils Tower National Monument Road ends at the visitor center. From this large parking lot, you can hike the Tower Trail and the Red Beds Trail. If you plan to climb Devils Tower, this is also where you will park. There are restrooms here if you need one.
Once you are finished here, you can drive to the parking lot for the Joyner Trail or begin your drive out of the park. You will drive past the prairie dog town and the picnic area parking lot, where you have the option to hike the Valley View Trail or South Side Trail or see the Circle of Sacred Smoke Sculpture.
Map courtesy of the national park service.
How Much Time Do You Need in Devils Tower?
For the best experience, plan on spending at least half of a day at Devils Tower. It takes at least an hour to drive here, so I think it’s worth spending a few hours in the park, to see the tower from different perspectives.
With that being said, one hour is really all that you need to see Devils Tower. Park in the visitor center parking lot and hike the Tower Trail.
With more time, I recommend hiking the Red Beds Trail. This hike offers a different perspective of Devils Tower and, with lower crowds, is more enjoyable that the Tower Trail. It’s possible to hike both of these trails even if you only have a half of a day.
With one full day at Devils Tower, hike the Tower Trail, take your pick from the Joyner Trail and the Red Beds Trail, and have a picnic lunch at the picnic area. Walk the South Side Trail or Valley View Trail to get up close with the prairie dogs and/or the Belle Fourche River. Consider joining a ranger program if you are visiting during the summer months. For the full experience, stick around until after sunset to view the night sky.
Devils Tower National Monument makes a great day trip from South Dakota. Learn how to plan your day trip from Rapid City or the Black Hills of South Dakota here.
Devils Tower National Monument is open 24 hours a day 365 days per year.
Entrance Fee: $25 per vehicle, valid for 7 days. If you have an America the Beautiful Pass, you do not have to pay the entrance fee.
Restrooms are located at the visitor center and the picnic area.
There are no restaurants in the park, however, you can get food at the small shops and cafes that sit right outside of the park, just beyond the entrance station.
If you plan to view the night sky, consider camping at the Belle Fourche River Campground, to save yourself a late night drive.
Before you go, get updates on park conditions and closures on the official website.
If you have any questions about planning your visit to Devils Tower, or if you want to share your experience, let us know in the comment section below.
You Might Also Like:
- WYOMING: The Complete Guide to Yellowstone National Park
- WYOMING: Best Things to do in Grand Teton National Park
- WYOMING: One Perfect Day in Grand Teton National Park
- DEVILS TOWER: The Perfect Devils Tower Day Trip from South Dakota
- SOUTH DAKOTA: 15 Best Things to do in Badlands National Park
- SOUTH DAKOTA: Custer State Park: Everything You Need to Know Before You Go
- SOUTH DAKOTA: Mount Rushmore: 10 Things to Know Before You Go
- NATIONAL PARKS: The Complete Guide to the US National Parks
If this is part of a bigger road trip through the USA, visit our United States Travel Guide for more inspiration and travel planning tips.
All rights reserved © Earth Trekkers. Republishing this article and/or any of its contents (text, photography, etc.), in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.