If you are not a rock climber the best way to get a feel for Devils Tower is taking a hike. The most popular hike is the Tower Trail. The 1.3 mile trail winds around the tower. Just a few gradual rises and drops but basically the trail is flat and I would rate it easy. There are several postings along the trail that describe the history, the rock itself and the flora you are looking at. The trail took us about an hour and a half because we made so many stops and took a lot of pictures.
It is best to take the trail either early in the morning or late in the afternoon when there are fewer people on it. Around sunset, weather permitting, it provides a great backdrop for pictures.
Many visitors to the Devil’s Tower apparently simply drive to the parking lot at the Visitor Center and look at the Tower from there without taking another step. OK, for some people that’s as much as they can manage and I can really understand that, but if you are just a little bit fit then you can definitely do this walk.
The trail is 1.3 miles in length and after the initial fairly steep climb that gets you closer to the base of the Tower it’s pretty level and paved throughout, making it easy walking with just few ups and downs. There are also benches provided at various points. Interpretive boards along the way provide interesting snippets of information about the formation of the Tower, geology and local wildlife.
Following this trail allows you to see the Tower from all sides and appreciate its scale. It also allows you to get away from the crowds! If you can, take some binoculars along with you and pause from time to time to scan the face of the rock for climbers both human and animal – we spotted prairie dogs way up high and a couple of vultures’ nests. Another thing that fascinated me were the various prayer bundles and ribbons tied to the trees around the base by Native Americans, who believe that this is a sacred place – the atmosphere was such that I could really understand this belief.
The website and the information leaflet we were given tells you it will take about 45 minutes to 1 hour to complete this walk but we took a little longer than that because we kept stopping to stare at the Tower, to enjoy the serenity of the surrounding woods, and to chat to the few other visitors we met along the way.
After you enter the park surrounding Devil’s Tower look out on your left for several pull-outs. Park and look carefully at the grassy area next to the road. You’ll see lots of prairie dogs – popping in and out of their burrows, nibbling at the grass and other vegetation, and pausing from time to time to check out the tourists and make sure there’s no danger nearby. I really enjoyed watching their behaviour and their interactions with each other.
If you want to find out more about prairie dogs you can buy an interesting little leaflet from a box in the parking area for only a few cents. It describes their burrows, communication systems, what they eat and how they organise themselves and raise their young. For instance, I knew that prairie dogs warn of approaching danger by emitting a series of "barks," but not that they have specific barks for specific dangers, e.g. for a hawk they use a higher pitched and shorter bark.
It's very important that you don't feed the prairie dogs. Human food is hard for them dogs to digest and often contains additives that can make them sick. Also, prairie dogs are wild animals and can inflict a painful bite. They may also be host to fleas that can transmit bubonic plague to humans.
As you enter or exit the monument, the first (or last) real attraction is the Prairie Dog town. There are a number of good sized parking areas where you can pull off and watch and listen to these guys. Two of the trails on the south side of the park border the town, but I'm not sure how close they actually get to the dogs themselves. Of course, don't feed them or mess around with them in any way - just watching them is fun enough. Be aware that rattlesnakes may take home in abandoned holes. And don't forget to turn around and see yet another interesting angle of Devils Tower!
Since the little guy was closing in on nap time, we could only do one other trail, so we went with Joyner Ridge. Joyner Ridge is a 1.5 mile loop trail that stays completely to the north of the tower. After a short gravel road, you'll find a parking lot with a description of the trail. It's listed as moderate, but I think this depends on which way you go. I recommend taking the clockwise route, which leads up the grassy path into the woods. The reason is that about midway along the trail, there's a fairly steep portion as you go from the ridge down into the valley. If you go clockwise, you can go down into the valley, then the second half of the loop is a gradual climb. Counterclockwise leaves you with a nasty climb midway through the hike. Following our route, the hike is a very quiet stroll through a forest with a number of distant views of the tower. The second half, when you have gotten down in the valley, you won't see much of the tower until you make it out of the forest and head back towards the parking lot. At that point, you'll need to look over your shoulder to see the tower.
Joyner Ridge definitely gives you a different perspective of the tower, and is a much different hike than the Tower trail. If you have the time, it is definitely worth the effort.
So you hear about people that shell out their $10, come in, snap a picture, and then leave. I don't understand that (why not just take a picture from the side of the road and save the cash?) The second most popular thing to do is hike the Tower trail, a 1.3 mile trail that loops around the tower.
For my money, the best side of the tower is the one you see from the visitor centers parking lot, but you should see this remarkable site from all angles. The toughest part of the hike is right at the beginning, as you have a short, but steep path from the visitor center before you start the loop. Once you're on the main loop, you'll have a few hills here and there, but nothing too awful. The path itself is paved (although some areas are starting to show some wear.) As you head around the tower, be on the lookout for signs of wildlife (we saw some deer in the woods.) Stop to read the placards and take in the many different faces of the tower (please view the photos with this tip to see some of the different angles.)
In total, the hike takes 30 minutes to an hour depending on your pace.
Devils Tower rises 1267 feet above the Belle Fourche River. Once hidden, erosion has revealed Devils Tower. This 1347 acre park is covered with pine forests, woodlands, and grasslands. Deer, prairie dogs, and other wildlife are seen. Also known as Bears Lodge, it is a sacred site for many American Indians. President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower the first national monument in 1906.
The Visitor Center is open mid-spring through fall. Hours vary season to season. Interpretive exhibits explain the geologic, natural, and cultural history of the area.
Hiking trails meander for approximately 8 miles (12.1 km) through Devils Tower National Monument. The popular 1.3 mile (2 km) paved Tower Trail circles Devils Tower itself. Other longer trails traverse tranquil forests and meadows in the monument.
Interpretive talks explored the natural and cultural history of the monument. These 20 minute talks meet in front of the Visitor Center and are handicap accessible. Subjects and times vary and will be announced prior to each program.
Fee for individual vehicle $10
There is a trail system which circles the entire tower. Devils Tower is America's first National Park. It is rugged, hot and beautiful.
Took the kids on a day trip to Devils Tower. It is about a two hour drive from Sturgis, South Dakota. Devils Tower is run by the National Park Service. They offer guided tours and information about the history of Devils Tower. As usual, the Park Rangers are extremely knowledgable. This never stops impressing me.
The trail which circles Devils Tower actually splits, there is a trail farther out from the tower which is fairly easy to walk. The near trail is a bit more rugged. There are plenty of large boulders for the children, and the childlike father, to climb and play on. Be careful there are plenty of ways to get hurt if you are not careful.
Have you seen the film Close Encounters? If you have then you will remember this mountain being central to the storyline. Films aside, this is a stunning location albeit a little out of the way. There are a number of trails set around the base of varying severity and length with information boards dotted along the way. Watch in awe the tiny dots on the sides of the mountain, look a little closer and you will recognise them as climbers. Brave souls!
Even if you don't do the hike, this road at the northern edge of the park will award you with great views of the tower. Sunset would be the best time to photograph from this vantage point. We went at a gloomy sunrise and any light we had was muted and coming from behind the Tower... If it had been a good sunrise, the silouette of th tower with a stunning sky might have been a great shot...it's all about the light
The Tower trail takes you around the base of said tower. What I found most amazing about the trail was not as you might think the impressive view from the base, but the sounds. it sounds like the ocean an the middle of a landlocked state. It's beautiful.
Get up and personal with this rock tower. The 1.3 mile (2 KM) trail around the base gives you a close look at the tower. From this trail, you'll be able to see climbers (usually on the southeast face) scaling their way up or repelling back down. The trail begins in the rock field where Richard Dreyfus in 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' scrambled through and over rocks to escape the searching helicopters. It was on the southwest buttress that he peered over into the landing field below. The trail will take you around that corner right in to the very woods that occupies the spot that was the landing field in the movie. If you watch the movie before you go, you'll be able to see that many of the actual sites exist, except that they don't line up as they do in the movie. If you don't want the magic of the movie spoiled, wait until after your visit to see it again.
Here is a chance to see more of the habitat of the Black Hills (Bear Tooth Mountains here in Wyoming). the 1.5 mile (2.4 km) trail leads you across a ridge north and west of the tower. You are away from the crowds and get a view of the entire volcanic plug. Wildlife abounds if you're quiet.
As if this impresive monument wasn't enough, you get the added treat of hanging out with hundreds of prairrie dogs! After entering the park, you begin driving a circular road around the base of the tower. Prairrie dog town is not far along this road. You'll see the numerous pullofffs with an open expanse of land on either side of the road. You will see tons of little dirt mounds, and when you stop to look closer, you can see tons of little Prairrie dogs scurrying about! These guys are worth spending some time with, they are so adorable! Please don't feed them though, they get very sick when they ingest people food!
Devils Tower offers a fun option for those touring with children. The Junior Ranger program gives children the opportunity to learn about the tower and the history and legends related to it in a way that will keep them interested. As you walk around the tower, the children have a small book of animals, plants, etc. to look for and mark off on a checklist if they see them. By giving children this task, they are more likely to stay interested. If they get bored of listening to the guide, they can simply look around to see if they can find the things on their checklist. At the end of the tour, the children all receive a Jr. Ranger Certificate, which they can be proud of!