A movie made me do it. Back in 1977, Steven Spielberg’s movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind introduced a generation of kids to Devils Tower, including me. Since then, I vowed to see the eery stone tower in person. About 110 miles west of Rapid City, South Dakota, Devils Tower in Wyoming offers hiking and mountain climbing. Read on for what to do in Devils Tower.
History of Devils Tower National Monument
Sacred to Native Americans, like the Northern Plains Indians, its native name was misinterpreted by explorers to Bad God’s Tower. Bad God’s Tower became Devils Tower when the monument was named.
Since it is scared to 20 different tribes, The Circle of Smoke sculpture by Junkyu Muto honors the signficance. It’s located in the picnic area and frames Devils Tower.
Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower the National Park Service’s first national monument in 1906.
A laccolithic butte of igneous rock sits in the Bear Lodge Mountains. Devils Tower stands 1,268 feet above the nearby Belle Fourche River. It offers one of the premier crack climbing areas in North America. Though most ascents take four to six hours, the fastest climb was completed in 18 minutes.
What to do in 2 Hours at Devils Tower
Devils Tower National Monument offers an iconic destination for midwest road trips. And best of all, you can see it in a couple of hours, depending on your itinerary.
- Stop by the Visitor Center and see the interpretive display.
- Attend a Ranger Talk.
- Kids can earn a Junior Ranger Badge.
- Hike the Tower Trail.
- Drive through the Prairie Dog Village.
Kids at Devils Tower
The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about a National Park Service site. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet.
We stopped by the Visitor Center to pick up ourJunior Ranger Booklets and sat down for a Ranger Talk, a requirement to earn the collectible badge. Avolunteer ranger and school teacher explained how to climb Devils Tower and she showed our group climbing equipment. My boys wanted to climb the 1,200-foot high rock but we hiked instead.
Hiking at Devils Tower
Hiking is my go-to activity for families in National Park Service Sites. Devil Tower offers several hikes for families.
- Tower Trail, a 1.3 mile paved loop that encircles the Devils Tower, features Native American prayer clothes tied to the trees and shrubs. It starts a short way from the Visitor Center.
- Joyner Ridge Trail, a 1.5-mile loop offers a less crowded trail at the edge of the park.
- Red Beds Trail offers a 2.8-mile loop for views of Devils Tower.
- South Side/Valley View Trails, a .6-mile trail that takes families to the Prairie Dog Town.
Visit the Prairie Dog Town
On the way out of the park, we stopped at the Prairie Dog Town, right inside the entrance gates. The kids loved watching them duck into their tunnel system.
Listen for their tiny barks as they communicate to each other. Don’t touch or feed them even though they’re super cute.
For dinosaur lovers, nearby Montana has a dinosaur trail.
Dark Skies over Devils Tower
If you are staying overnight at Devils Tower, attend a Dark Skies Ranger Program. The Lakota people are known for their star knowledge. Passing down their observations for generations, learn about the Mato Tipila, a Lakota constellation.
Camping at Devils Tower
Devils Tower features a 50-site campground open from May until October. The Belle Fourche River campground offers potable water though no hookups.
During my visit to Devils Tower National Monument, I found a nearby camping cabin at the Key Hole State Park, 41 miles away from Devils Tower, a quick 50-minute drive. Our cabin featured full electricity, but the potable water is outside at the spigot and no indoor plumping.
Where’s Devils Tower
Located 33 miles northeast of Moorcraft, Wyoming, or 27 miles northwest of Sundance, Wyoming, on Wyoming Highway 24, Devils Tower is open 24 hours a day, closed Christmas and New Years Day. The Visitors Center opens from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the summer season and opens from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the rest of the year.
Use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or purchase a 7-day pass for $25 per vehicle to explore the monument.
- Devils Tower is a popular destination and I found limited parking at the base of the tower.
- Arrive early during the summer season.
- Don’t feed the Prairie Dogs. They carry Tularemia, a bacterial disease.