Devils Tower - Everything You Need To Know Before You Go
Devils Tower may look familiar to you if you’ve ever watched Close Encounters of the Third Kind and it definitely has a mysterious, almost terrestrial look about it. Standing high above the Belle Fourche River Plain, Devils Tower is 867 feet from summit to base and you’ll see it in the distance long before you ever arrive at America’s first National Monument.
Devils Tower is an impressive site that will wow your kids! We’ve been lucky enough to have visited a few times now and we’re excited to share this natural wonder with you!
The park is open year round although the Visitor’s Center is closed during the Winter months. This year the Visitor’s Center is scheduled to re-open on March 29th, but that is subject to change.
Single Vehicle – $25 ( 7 day pass)
Motorcycle – $20 ( 7 day pass )
Please Note: An improvement project is scheduled to begin in late February continuing through the Summer of 2020. It may impact parking and Visitor Center access during this time. You can call the Visitor’s Center at (307) 467-5283 ahead of time to get any information.
TIP: If you have a child in 4th grade, be sure to get his/her Every Kid In The Park Pass. With this pass, the entire family will have free entry into many of our National Parks & Monuments ( including Devils Tower).
Devils Tower History
Oral history by the Kiowa & Lakota tribes state that a group of girls went to play and were spotted by several bears who chased them. Trying to escape the bears, the girls climbed on top of a rock, fell to their knees and prayed to the Great Spirit to save them. Upon hearing their prayers, the Great Spirit made the rock rise to the heavens so that the bears could not reach the girls. The bears tried to climb the rock and left claw marks on the side. When the girls reached the sky, they turned into the stars of Pleiades. The deep marks left by the bears are what make the unusual columns on Devils Tower.
Other tribes have variations of this story and they are all remarkably beautiful. To this day, Devils Tower is a sacred place for Native Americans.
Native American names for Devils Tower include, “Bear’s Lodge”, “Tree Rock”, “Bear’s Lair” and several others.
TIP: Since Devils Tower is considered a sacred place, you will see cloth tied to tree branches. Native Americans leave these prayer cloths around the base and they are not to be touched or disturbed in any way.
How Devils Tower Got Its Name . . .
Luckily, it doesn’t have anything to do with the Devil himself. Instead, during an 1870’s expedition, Army Colonel Richard Dodge wrote that the Native Americans called it “Bad God’s Tower” which he then changed to Devil’s Tower. However, when it was declared a National Monument by President Theodore Roosevelt, the apostrophe was accidentally left out and it became and still remains – Devils Tower.
Our oldest son on his first visit to Devils Tower and on the right is him on our most recent visit. It was sweet of our now teenage son to oblige me. HA!
What Exactly Is Devils Tower?
This is the question many ask and, depending on who you turn to for answers, you will get a different response.
Some believe that Devils Tower is all that remains from a powerful volcano. Others believe it’s the remnant of a laccolith.
School Time – A laccolith is a large mass of igneous rock that is intruded through sedimentary rock beds without reaching the surface, but instead makes a large rounded bulge in the layers above.
Other theories are that Devils Tower is simply a volcanic plug or the neck of an extinct volcano. Whatever its true origin, Devils Tower is an incredible sight to behold!
TIP: This is a fantastic opportunity to discuss geologic formations in a fun way with kids. Maybe they’ll be the ones that finally decide how exactly Devils Tower came to be!
How To Spend Your Time At Devils Tower
Devils Tower is great in that it offers some really great hiking trails ,as well as, stargazing!
Tower Loop Trail
The most popular trail in the park is a paved 1.3 mile loop that begins across the parking lot at the visitor’s center. This is a fantastic place to take family pictures in front of this incredible monolith.
TIP: While it’s a short trail, it’s a rather steep trail. Be prepared for this before you head up
Red Beds Trail
This 2.8 mile loop offers incredible views of the Tower and the Belle Fourche Valley. This trail is also accessed from the Visitor Center parking lot.
TIP: Overall a pretty easy trail, but it does have some elevation change and steep areas. Please wear appropriate shoes – you’ll thank me later!
Joyner Ridge Trail
This is probably the least used trail loop, but it provides incredible views of Devils Tower. The Joyner Ridge Trail is a 1.5 mile loop that is accessed by a dirt road off the main park road.
If you’re able, we highly recommend staying for the Night Sky program. Truly, the night sky at Devils Tower is unlike anywhere else. With no light pollution, the night sky will take on a whole new perspective. Naturally, one of the constellations you can see is Ursa Major “The Great Bear”. Check at the Visitor’s Center to inquire about the Night Sky program to get more details and viewing times.
Circle of Sacred Smoke Sculpture
Also called “Wind Circle”, this beautiful sculpture was created by well-known artist Junkyo Muto. This is the third in a series of seven “peace sculptures” planned for sites around the world. Sculptures are already at the Vatican and Buddha Gaya, India.
Junkyo Muto was inspired by the beauty of Devils Tower and its importance to Native American culture. In our opinion, he did an amazing job with this sculpture and if you stand in front of it, Devils Tower is framed perfectly in the center.
TIP: The easiest way to view the sculpture is to park in the amphitheater/picnic parking lot and take the short walk to the sculpture.
Prairie Dogs At Devils Tower
Our family LOVES prairie dogs! They’re cute, funny and always make for good wildlife watching. As you leave Devils Tower, make sure to stop at Prairie Dog Town. You’ll be able to watch them pop-up from the ground, talk to each other and eat. Kids in particular will get a kick out of watching them.
I used the zoom on my camera to take this video of a very talkative prairie dog 🙂
TIP: Remember that you cannot feed them, no matter how cute they are. Keep them wild!
After leaving Prairie Dog Town, be sure to stop at the trading post. There have lots of great souvenirs and don’t forget to pick up a Christmas Ornament for your family travel tree!
Nearby Things To Do
- Mount Rushmore – 130 Miles
- Belle Fourche – 52 Miles
- Deadwood – 74 Miles
- Custer State Park – 113 Miles
Devils Tower has really become a favorite of ours! From the first time we visited to this most recent visit, it simply does not fail to impress. The lore and mystery around Devils Tower only lends to its awe.
We’ve incorporated our visits to Devils Tower into fun family road trips! If you are planning a road trip to any National Parks in South Dakota, Montana or Wyoming, definitely include Devils Tower in your plan. Click HERE to read our itinerary for a National Park road trip that includes Devils Tower.
I hope you’ve found this article helpful and that a visit to Devils Tower is in your future!