Devils Tower, Wyoming
One of the strangest, most unusual places we've ever visited. Devils Tower National Monument has been on both of our bucket lists since we saw "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" back in the 1970s. Even after having visited the park, walking all around the tower, speaking to rangers and learning more about the Tower, this is a place that is really hard to wrap our heads around. We've never seen geologic formations like this before. And the more we looked at it, the more amazed we were. In our opinion, Devils Tower should be on every traveler's bucket list!
Devils Tower is located in Northeast Wyoming in the Wyoming Black Hills. We visited immediately after leaving Custer State Park and the South Dakota Black Hills. If you'd like to see our video on Devils Tower and part of the drive to get there, check out our 1880 Train/Devils Tower Travel Vlog.
Our Campsite at Belle Fourche River Campground
Camping at Devils Tower
Before we talk more about the Tower itself, let's talk about RVing and camping here. You have two options for camping at Devils Tower...
1) The Belle Fourche River Campground offers tent and RV camping inside Devils Tower National Monument from May through October. There are two camping loops with 43 pull-through sites, each including a picnic table and fire ring. There are no hookups. Belle Fourche camping is dry camping. Restrooms are available in the camping area, but do not include shower facilities. All campsites are first come, first served; no reservations are accepted. Max RV length is 35'. There is no dump station on property.
2) Devils Tower KOA is located immediately outside of the park entrance. It offers back-in and pull-through sites with 30/50amp electric, water and some full-hookups. It looks like any size rig could camp here.
Both camping options have space for both RVs and tents, and both have views of the Tower. We chose to dry camp inside the park at the Belle Fourche River Campground and really enjoyed our stay. This was our first time camping inside a National Park/Monument and we weren't sure what to really expect, but it was GREAT! The park hosted ranger programs in the evening at the amphitheater located right next to the campground. The campground was super clean and quiet. The views were amazing. The park hosts were really helpful. And there is a trail that will take you from the campground to the Visitor Center and Tower Trail if you don't want to drive through the park. There is a US Post Office right outside of the KOA by the park entrance.
Devils Tower Rock Field
How Was Devils Tower Formed?
225 million years ago, this area (along with a lot of North America) was under water. The Tower is made up of a rare igneous rock formed about 50 million years ago from magma buried a mile or two below the earth's surface. As the magma cooled and became solid, it contracted and cracked into columns.
Changing water levels, weather and the Belle Fourche River weathered and eroded the land surrounding the Tower over millions of years. The softer rock surrounding the Tower washed away, and Devils Tower emerged as the largest example of "columnar jointing" in the world. As you walk around the Tower Trail, you can see the enormous columns of stone that make up the Tower. Each one is several hundred feet tall and about 10 feet wide!
Over the years, rain, the sun's heat and gravity have caused columns to break off of the Tower and form a boulder field at its base. Park Rangers say some of the large rocks that have broken off sit a quarter of a mile away. We also heard that pieces of the Tower about the size of basketballs fall from time to time, but no one has reported seeing a large column separate from the Tower since people began studying it in the late 1800s.
Scientists still have a lot of unanswered questions about the Tower and we can understand why. Even after seeing it in person, it's hard to wrap our brains around this very unusual geologic formation. You can read more about some of the theories about how the Tower formed on the park's website.
History of Devils Tower
Native peoples have lived here for thousands of years. For many Native American tribes, the Tower is a spiritual place. And many visit today to tie prayer cloths to tree branches. Please do not disturb these cloths during your visit. They say that over 24 Native American tribes have a connection to the Tower, which they call "Bear Lodge".
Farmers and ranchers began moving into the area and built the town of Hulett in the 1880s, and the railroad began running near Moorcroft. Efforts to protect the Tower as public land began in 1890. It became part of a temporary forest reserve in 1891, and President Theodore Roosevelt named Devils Tower the first US National Monument on September 24, 1906.
Even though, the park became an official National Monument in 1906, it wasn't an inviting park until the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) arrived here in 1935. Over three years, the men of the CCC built roads and trails, installed water and electricity and created picnic and camping areas. The 1930s also saw the arrival of the park's first full-time employee.
Shouldn't It Be Devil's Tower?
Believe it or not, there was a typo on the official proclamation that named Devils Tower as a National Monument in 1906. The person who typed the proclamation, forgot the apostrophe and the official name became Devils Tower instead of Devil's Tower.
Climbers on Devils Tower
Prayer Cloths at the Tower
Crazy Stories from Devils Tower
While we were at the park, we watched several rock climbers working their way up the Tower. The first official public climb came in 1893 when local ranchers William Rogers and Willard Ripley drove wooden pegs into one of the cracks between columns to build a 350 foot ladder. Historians estimate that 1,000 people came to watch them plant an American flag on the top of the Tower that 4th of July. History goes on to say that the flag was then cut into pieces and sold to the crowd as souvenirs.
The first woman to be noted for climbing Devils Tower was William Rogers' wife, who used her husband's ladder to summit the Tower on July 4th, 1895. As you walk the Tower Trail, you'll come across a group of viewing pipes that point toward an original section of the wooden ladder that is still lodged between the columns!
Perhaps the oddest stunt that has occurred at Devils Tower happened in 1941 when professional parachutist George Hopkins parachuted onto the top of the Tower without getting approval from National Park officials. Mr Hopkins had planned to repel down the Tower using a 1,000 foot rope that was to be dropped onto the Tower. However, the rope missed the Tower and he was stranded on the top of the Tower until experienced climbers could rescue him 6 days later. It's said that 7,000 people came to Devils Tower during that week to witness officials dropping blankets and food on top of the Tower for Hopkins.
Filming Devils Tower
Hiking Tower Trail
Hiking at Devils Tower
We really enjoyed hiking the Tower Trail. This 1.3 mile trail departs from the Visitor Center and takes you all the way around the base of Devils Tower. The beginning of the hike is fairly steep, but the entire trail is paved. We were amazed by how the look of the Tower changes as you look at the different sides and as light changes. Take your time, sit on the benches and enjoy the views. It is truly fascinating. Don't forget to pause to look out over the valley as well. You can see for miles!
Other hiking trails inside Devils Tower National Monument include Red Beds Trail (a 2.8 mile loop accessible from the Visitor Center), Joyner Ridge Trail (a 1.5 mile loop), and the South Side and Valley View Trails (0.6 mile trails that connect the amphitheater by the campground to the Red Beds Trail).
Also in the Area
The town of Hulett is approximately 10 miles North of Devils Tower. It features a grocery store, saloon, and ice cream parlor. To see more about Hulett, check out our video and photos on our Travel Vlog Post on this area. Moorcroft, WY is 32 miles to the South and has diesel and unleaded fuel.
Keyhole Reservoir and State Park and the Black Hills National Forest are also nearby. Gillette, WY is 62 miles from the Tower and Spearfish, SD is 60 miles away.
Do We Recommend Devils Tower?
Absolutely! We were fascinated by the geology and history of the Tower. We spent 2 nights in the Belle Fourche River Campground within the park, and even though this is not a big park, we definitely could have stayed longer. For us, this was a bucket list stop!
Tips for Visiting Devils Tower
Take Your Time. Don't be in a rush. You can't see this kind of thing anywhere else. This is the kind of place that will have you asking a lot of questions. So be sure you budget at least a couple of days to take it all in.
Carry Binoculars. We enjoyed watching the climbers in the crevices of the columns, but to the naked eye they are usually specks. (The Tower is HUGE). Binoculars were helpful in watching the climbers, seeing more detail on the columns and looking out over the valley. (Plus, they helped us spot the old wood ladder!)
Wear Comfortable Shoes. The hiking trails may not be long, but they took us a while because we did a lot of stopping along the way to take it all in. You'll want shoes that you feel good in and that give you good grip and stability.
Stop in at the Visitor Center. Like the park, the Visitor Center at Devils Tower is small, but it shares some really interesting history and stories about the area and the Tower. Rangers are available to answer questions as well.
Visit Between Memorial Day and Labor Day. If you enjoy ranger programs, visit the park during the Summer. Ranger programs are not typically offered outside of the Summer. Cultural programs are also held during the Summer and all of the trails are maintained during that time of year. The Belle Fourche River Campground is partially open May through October and completely open during the Summer.