There’s something otherworldly about northeastern Wyoming’s Devil’s Tower. Once you see this 5,112-foot tall magma rock formation first-hand, you’ll understand why Steven Spielberg chose this as the central location in his classic film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Although we can’t promise you’ll meet extraterrestrials here, everyone who tours Devil’s Tower never forgets the experience.
Why Do We Call It “Devil’s Tower?”
Surprisingly, the way Devil’s Tower got its name has almost nothing to do with the devil. The earliest recorded name of this geological wonder is Matȟó Thípila, which roughly translates to “Bear Lodge” from the Lakota language. Many Native American tribes have many myths that explain the creation of “Bear Lodge,” but the most popular story says the gods raised this rock from the ground to save innocent kids who were being chased by hungry bears.
So, why do we refer to this natural monolith as “Devil’s Tower?” Simple answer: poor translation skills. When colonists arrived in the area in 1870s, they apparently thought Matȟó Thípila means “Bad God’s Tower,” so they decided to change it to Devil’s Tower and just kept it at that.
There are quite a few surprising facts about Wyoming. Devil’s Tower has the distinction of being the first US National Monument (1906). Amazingly, this isn’t the only fantastic first in Wyoming. The Equality State also boasts the first National Park (Yellowstone) and has the distinction of being the first state to grant women suffrage.
Popular Activities At Devil’s Tower
After checking out the Devil’s Tower Visitors’ Center, most tourists choose to walk on the 1.3-mile long Tower Trail. The trail encircles the massive tower and gives visitors a great sense of this towering geological wonder. There are, however, five trails in total in the Devil’s Tower National Monument area. We did four of the five trails during our visit and none disappointed. Park rangers offer guided tours on each of these trails at certain times of the year. Be sure to check with the staff at the Visitors’ Center if you’re interested in going on a guided tour.
Although Devil’s Tower is the obvious focal point, don’t forget to look up at the stars when touring at night. It is amazing. Anyone visiting Devil’s Tower in the summertime should consider signing up for a special nighttime tour of the area. Bring a camera that has long exposure capability and you will walk away with some incredible photos of the night sky. The clear weather during summertime makes Devil’s Tower a popular place for amateur astronomers to study the stars.
If you’re a serious rock climber, then you’ll be happy to know you can climb Devil’s Tower…provided to register online well in advance! Please note, this climb relies heavily on your ability to grip parallel cracks, so it’s not for the rock-climbing newbie. We did not attempt the climb, but met some people who were preparing for it. If you are wanting to brave the face, be aware that Devil’s Tower doesn’t have emergency personnel on location. You need to be certain in your ability to handle this climb beforehand. You can find more information about the registration process as well as what times Devil’s Tower is closed for climbers on the National Parks Service webpage.
While the Devil’s Tower is open 24 hours every day of the week, the Visitors’ Center is only open between 8AM – 7PM every day except on Christmas and New Year’s Day. The Visitors’ Center sometimes closes due to seasonal changes, so it’s important to check online before visiting.
Where To Stay Near Devil’s Tower
We stayed at the Belle Fourche River Campground, probably the most popular spot in the area for campers. Please note, however, that Belle Fourche is only open between May and October and it can close due to hazardous weather. It’s important for anyone who wants to stay in this area to reserve their site well in advance because Belle Fourche can only hold up to 50 campgrounds. We only barely got our site and we registered nearly two months prior.
One convenient place you could stay near Devil’s Tower is the town of Hulett, which is only a 15-minute drive north of the National Monument. A few other towns within a 30-minute driving radius of Devil’s Tower include Carlile and Sundance. Any of these cities have hotels that can accommodate those who aren’t fans of camping. There are also a number of lodges closer to the monument, though these can be more difficult to get reservations at.
A Few Nearby Attractions To Consider Visiting
Many people like to visit Devil’s Tower because it’s close to other impressive national parks. The most obvious destination to visit next is Mount Rushmore National Memorial, which is only a 2-hour’s drive away. A few other popular parks near Devil’s Tower include Black Hills National Forest and Thunder Basin National Grasslands. Make sure you have adequate time while visiting any of these wonders. There is so much more to do at each of these than just take a photo and move along! Spend time, find guided tours, and hike the less traveled trails. It is worth the extra time!