The year 1906 was another big step for conservation. President Theodore Roosevelt established Devils Tower as a national monument, and in doing so, he established the first national monument in the United States.
Located in the northeastern corner of Wyoming, this butte is 867 feet tall and stands 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River. You can't miss it, and you don't want to ...
Native Americans see this tower as a sacred site. Rock climbers see it as a challenge. Film buffs see it as iconic. And visitors find it to be a fun stop on their road trips.
What You'll Find In This Post:
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When To Go To Devils Tower:
There are two "whens" I want to discuss in the first section of this Devils Tower guide: what time of year you should go and at what point on your vacation this stop should be included (and on what vacation).
Although the monument is open year-round, winter is not the best time to go if you want to walk around the tower unless you come prepared for the cold and snow. The picnic and campground areas are open from May 15 to October 15, which is probably the best time to visit the tower. However, if you can beat the heat and the summer crowds and go at the end of May or August through October, then do so, as that will make this site more enjoyable.
I also suggest pairing Devils Tower with a South Dakota road trip unless you live nearby. Make it your first stop or your final stop, depending on which way you're coming into the state. The monument is only about 1 hour from Deadwood, SD, and less than 2 hours from Rapid City. Of course, if you're planning on doing a long trip and seeing South Dakota and Wyoming, Devils Tower can be your first Wyoming stop before driving across to see Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Jackson Hole or your final Wyoming stop before heading into South Dakota.
How To Prep for Devils Tower:
Watch the movie that made the monument popular. In 1977, a Steven Spielberg film came out that immensely increased the number of visitors to the monument: Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This sci-fi drama is filled with drawings, sculptures and the geographical coordinates of Devils Tower in addition to the tower itself. Why? Because this is where the UFO the government has been tracking is going to land (in the movie, of course).
I'm a movie buff, so watching this film was a must before visiting the monument. It was cool to see "the set" that was used, and you'll find that there is a lot of UFO/E.T./alien paraphernalia in the tower's gift shops too. So if you haven't seen this movie in a while or haven't seen it at all, consider watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind before you take your trip.
Buy a National Park Pass. This pass is good for a year and gets you into a long list of parks and monuments. It costs $80 for most people, but veterans and military personnel get one for free, and seniors can pay $80 for a lifetime pass. And it's completely worth it!
Let me explain why this pass makes sense through an example: Devils Tower is $25 for private vehicles, and if you go on a South Dakota trip, it's $30 to get into the Badlands. You're already at $55 with just those two places. Say you tack on Yellowstone. That's $35 for private vehicles. Already, you've passed the amount you would spend on the National Park Pass. And keep in mind that you have a year to use the pass, and the parks and monuments are all over the U.S.
Pack walking shoes, water and snacks. The best part about visiting Devils Tower is that you get to walk around it. The path is paved, which is nice, but it is also nearly 2 miles. So come prepared with the right footwear, water and at least some snacks to keep you hydrated, especially in the summer months with the scorching heat and especially if you decide to do some hiking in addition to the paved path.
Pick up the brochures/maps at the entrance. I suggest people do this no matter what national park or monument they visit as most of the time there's no cell service so the maps come in handy and you can learn a lot about the park in a condensed way. The same is true for Devils Tower. I found the information in the brochures to be helpful and interesting, so ask for them if they don't offer them to you at the gate.
What To Do When You Visit:
Take photos at the scenic pull-off. If you're driving the southern route to Devils Tower, you'll come across a scenic pull-off on the left. This is a great spot for a first look at the tower and to take a group photo, especially on a clear day.
Learn about the tower at the visitor's center. The visitor's center is located inside the park at the base of the tower (it's not a part of the shops before the entrance). Although it is small and can get crowded, it does offer some interesting information, including how the tower was formed, the indigenous groups' view of the site, what animals live in the area and the history of how it came to be the first national monument. There's also a small gift shop inside, and this is where you'll find the bathrooms as well. (Just go out of the building and down the stairs on either side of it.)
Climb Devils Tower. Are you an experienced rock climber? If so, climbing Devils Tower might intrigue you. According to the park, there are 4,000 to 5,000 climbs every year. I'm not a climber, but I did see many of them going up the monument while I was there and it was terrifying but fascinating.
If you are considering doing some rock climbing, just be sure to check out this page, which gives you information about registering as well as what you can and cannot do at Devils Tower.
Walk the paved trail around Devils Tower. Although the heading of this section might not sound very exciting, this is the coolest part of the monument, in my opinion, because it entails several different activities. First, there's obviously the fact that you're getting exercise as you walk the paved trail. Some sites claim it's just 1.3 miles, but others find it closer to 1.7 miles, and that's what we found it to be as well.
When you first start walking, you'll find a pavilion with a ranger of sorts who will explain to listeners how to climb Devils Tower (what makes it difficult to climb it, what tools are needed to climb it, etc.). Plus, during the walk, you'll get to see several different things: the climbers attempting the tower; signs with explanations about the various faces of the tower, its geographical makeup, why the tower is viewed as sacred; a wooden ladder left on the tower many years ago (that you can see through a viewing machine); the prayer cloths tied to trees; and scenic views of the river in the area below.
Depending on your walking speed and how much time you spend enjoying the activities along the way, this paved trail will take at least an hour. But really, take your time! It's a beautiful nature spot.
Hike the other trails near the monument. The paved trail that lies on the outskirts of the tower isn't the only trail in the area. Rather, there are some unpaved ones that you can hike. These can be seen on the map you'll receive at the entrance to the monument, or you can look them up on AllTrails to see how long they are and where they begin and end.
Pack a picnic to eat outdoors. There is a picnic area and campground on the left before you get to Devils Tower. (There you'll also find the peace sculpture and prairie dog town, which will be discussed below.) I suggest packing a meal since you'll likely be at the monument longer than you think. Additionally, if you're on a road trip and have more driving to do after this stop, this will make lunch move a little faster. There is a restaurant outside of the park, but we didn't eat there, so I can't comment on the quality of its food.
View the peace sculpture. Wind Circle, also known as the Sacred Circle of Smoke, is a statue by Japanese artist Junkyu Muto located near the parking lot before you get to the tower. It's part of a series of peace sculptures he's creating around the world. This is the third; the others can be found at the Vatican and at Buddha Gaya, India. Wind Circle was meant to honor the area's sacred history.
Not only is it cool that this sculpture looks like a puff of smoke, but it's also a great photo op, as it was created to outline the tower when you look at it from one side. (Check out the final photo in this post to see what I mean.)
Watch the prairie dogs. I don't know about you, but I never get tired of watching prairie dogs pop in and out of their holes. And Devils Tower National Monument has a great place to do that called Prairie Dog Town. You can park on the side of the road on a pull-off to watch and take photos or park in the parking lot just past the pull-off area where you can walk up the peace sculpture trail, which has a lot of prairie dog holes surrounding it.
Visit the gift shop before you leave. There is another gift shop in addition to the one at the visitor's center that might have some paraphernalia you'd enjoy. It's located just outside of the entrance. You can't miss it! You'll find t-shirts, alien-related items and more.
Why You Should Visit:
I really enjoyed Devils Tower, and it was actually one of my most memorable days during my full trip (we went to Yellowstone afterward). We only spent the afternoon there, but in my opinion, it was the perfect break from driving as it was a mix of activities and allowed for a slow day of simplicity. Here, you can learn, get exercise, go on a picnic, take Instaworthy photos, see wildlife, and even try calling the aliens if you want!