Devil’s Tower National Monument: a monolith dropped from space?

Drive along highway 24 in northeastern Wyoming and as you round a bend, all of a sudden you will see Devil’s Tower, a huge monolith that towers over everything around it, looking totally out of place in the relatively flat landscape.

If it makes you think that aliens must have dropped it there, you won’t be alone. Maybe somewhere in the back of your mind are memories from when you watched the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, or more recently “Paul” (that’s one of our favorites).

What is Devil’s Tower?

This crazy rock butte is not a mountain; it actually looks like rock columns all gathered together into a big bunch. They say it is the largest example of “columnar jointing” in the world. We have seen this at other places like Devil’s Postpile National Monument in California, but Devil’s Tower is much bigger. At Devil’s Postpile the columns are only 60 feet high whereas Devil’s Tower is 867 feet high from base to summit. It is a 1.3 mile long hike to walk around the entire monolith.

What is Devil’s Tower National Monument?

People have marveled at this rock tower for centuries, and in 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt declared Devil’s Tower a National Monument – the first in the United States. In fact, Wyoming is the home of the first National Monument and the first National Park (Yellowstone National Park).

Devil’s Tower National Monument is only a couple miles big, but it preserves the entier butte and surrounding area. The tower has had many names; but Devil’s Tower became the moniker in 1875 when supposedly a colonel misinterpreted a native name to mean “Bad God’s Tower” and it stuck.

Things to do at Devil’s Tower National Monument

Climbing

This lonely butte has attracted adventurers for centuries; daredevils trying to climb to the top. The first person to make the ascent did it in 1893 using a wooden ladder (you can still see bits of it). Today’s climbers (over 5000 each year from all over the world) use much more sophisticated gear. There are over 220 individual climbing routes on the tower. It’s fun to sit on the benches around the base and watch the climbers maneuver their way up the seams.

The top offers them a nice place to take a break – it’s an area of 1.5 acres; that’s a little bigger than a football field!

Hiking/Walking

There are several trails of varying distance, giving you all different perspectives of the tower.

  • Tower Trail – a 1.3 mile loop that starts from parking area at visitor center and takes you around the tower
  • Red Beds Trail – a longer 2.8 mile loop around the monument
  • Joiner Ridge Trail – a 1.5 mile loop; very scenic with great views of the tower and much less traveled. For a longer hike, you can link into the Red Beds Trail.
  • South Side Trail – a short 1/2 mile trail that takes you down to the campground and past Prairie Dog Town. You can see this cute little critters from the road or up close on this trail.

Where is Devil’s Tower National Monument?

Many people will plan trips to the Black Hills of South Dakota; home to Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument, without realizing the hidden gem of Devil’s Tower National Monument is not a very far detour – just a couple hour drive through a beautiful part of the country.

You can stay at the campground at the national monument, or in a nearby town. We stayed in Hullet, a tiny western town (population 383) with just a couple of small cafe’s and a fun “wild west” vibe. We stayed in a little cabin by the river and watched the deer graze on the other side. What a relaxing place this was.

Our main recommendation is that unless you are on a motorcycle you may want to avoid visiting this area during the time of the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. 2020 is the 80th anniversary of this annual event, held the first full week of each August; attracting hundreds of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts.

Need Help Planning Your Visits?

If you would like to explore this or other National Park Units, but need a bit help in the planning, please give us a call at (480) 609-3978. We are happy to offer customized trip planning.

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