Side Trip: Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming

Devils Tower in Wyoming was on my bucket list for some time. I’m not entirely sure why. I hadn’t even seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind (sadly, I still haven’t, but that’s another story…).

I guess I just thought it looked really cool, so I literally built our three-week summer road trip from Denver to Minneapolis around one of the hidden gems of the USA, Devils Tower. It was pretty much smack dab in the middle of our 2,632 mile journey. It was very remote, but definitely worth a stop.

Devils Tower is 110 miles northwest of Rapid City, so it’s a fairly easy day trip if you’re spending a few days in Rapid City to explore Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial. Plus, you can stop half-way in Deadwood, SD for lunch to experience a true Wild West town. So fun.

If you’re thinking about checking out Devils Tower, here are a few helpful tips:

1. If you can stay the night, you should. There really isn’t much around Devils Tower, and given it’s kind of a long day trip from Rapid City, why not stay the night. We stayed in a deluxe cabin at the Devils Tower KOA. It is literally, no exaggeration, 25 feet from the gate to Devils Tower National Monument.

I was amazed by how close the Devils Tower KOA was to Devils Tower itself. I mean, it’s right there, and even when you’re just walking around the campground, it’s right there. You can’t get any closer and it’s amazing to see this 867-foot monolith there all the time. Every time I saw it, which was all the time, I had to take out my iPhone to take a photo.

We stayed two nights at the Devils Tower KOA, which is just right. We got in around dinnertime the first night, then spent much of the next day exploring before settling in the second night. You’ll also want to make time for the nightly viewing of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. There are daily hayrides and a full-service restaurant, so everything you need is there for you.

2. Hike the Tower Trail. There are only a few hiking trails at Devils Tower, but the most popular one is easily the 1.3 mile paved Tower Trail. It’s wheelchair-accessible, though getting up to the trail from the visitor center is fairly steep.

Once you reach the start of the trail, however, it’s a nice loop trail around the base of Devils Tower. There are lots of great spots around Devils Tower to snap photos. The slightly longer 1.5 mile Joyner Trail also goes around Devils Tower though it’s a bit further out, allowing for views of the tower from more of a distance.

3. Watch the climbers. I still can’t believe it, but there are a number of climbers who challenge themselves to climb Devils Tower. And yes, it’s pretty much straight up, though it did appear as though one side was a bit easier than the others and attracted more climbers.

There is a voluntary closure throughout the month of June to respect American Indian ceremonies given the site is sacred to them. We were there in late-June and the voluntary closure didn’t seem to stop more than a few climbers, which made me kind of sad. I read that about 80% of climbers respect this closure in June (and unfortunately this figure is dropping).

4. Attend a ranger program. Anytime you visit a national park, my advice is always to attend a ranger program. Unfortunately, there were no ranger programs going on while we were there, but my kids did have the opportunity to complete Junior Ranger activity booklets for a badge.

Get a head start on some of the activities, like the word search and connect-the-dots, by downloading the Junior Ranger activity booklet before you go. And don’t forget to buy the sticker and get your National Parks Passport stamped. That’s always one of our favorite activities.

Have you ever been to Devils Tower National Monument? Let me know in the comments section.