Devils Tower, At Least We Can Check It Off The Bucket List

Hmmm… Devils Tower. A lot of us have seen the movie ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind.‘ If you haven’t, and you like sci-fi, it was a cool movie. I liked it. It’s old, but still a good movie. But for those that have, then you know, Devils Tower is at the epicenter of the whole thing. So, being that Doug and I were driving past on our way to Yellowstone, we made the stop.

What I can I say about Devils Tower National Monument.  Honestly, not much. The tower itself is quite impressive. But other than that, there isn’t much going on.

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I realize it’s a National Monument, and there’s rarely ‘much going on’ at any of them. But I guess I was a little underwhelmed. I think I was hoping for more hiking trails, or more interaction with rangers explaining the geology. Instead we were met by a few signs on wooden posts after the short mile drive from the entrance.


You can enter the monument 24/7.
It’s a $25 fee per vehicle if you don’t have an annual pass. But it is good for 7 days.
There’s a lower parking area for oversized vehicle like campers.
They say its a 3 mile drive from the entry gate to the visitor center, but it was closer to a single mile maybe 1 1/2 miles.
If you come in after hours (when it’s dark out) there is a QR Code to scan to make your payment. 

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View of Devils Tower from the Joyner Ridge Trail.
View of Devils Tower from the Joyner Ridge Trail.

What To Do There

You can view the tower.
You can climb the tower. Yup.. that’s right. This place is a rock climbers haven. You do need to obtain a permit, but you can in fact climb the tower.
You can read boards about the theorized geology and formation of the tower.
You can read about Native cultures and why Devils Tower is still a sacred place and vital resource.
You can hike one of the 5 trails.

Climbers Registration Desk at Devils Tower
Registration Kiosk at Devils Tower


There are currently 4 main theories on how exactly Devils Tower was formed. Geologist can tell you about what types of rocks are there. They know how sedimentary rocks are composed by wind and water deposition. And they know that most of the surrounding area around Devils Tower is comprised of sedimentary rock.

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They know that the oldest rocks in this area were deposited 225 to 195 million years ago when the area was a shallow inland sea. They can explain the multiple layers of gypsum and clay, and even agree that 50 to 60 million years ago the tectonic pressures in this region of the United States climaxed creating the Rocky Mountains and Black Hills region.

What they can’t agree on is the formation of what’s is left for us to see. They all agree magma did it. But no one seems to know how. The simplest theory is that magma intruded in the surrounding rock, cooled underground, and then was exposed many years later through erosion.

Another theory is that it’s the remains of a mushroom shaped igneous rock that intruded on the sedimentary rock already there. Once again, millions of years later, the external shell of this mushroom shape has eroded to form what we can see today.  Theory number 3 is that the tower is a volcanic plug, or neck if an extinct volcano after the exterior rock has been eroded.

Our trip to Glacier National Park was much more exciting

The last, and most recent theory, is that the tower was formed when magma under the surface of the earth encounter water, becoming steam, which created a massive explosion of the rock when it expanded. Thus, making a crater which filled with lava like a pool. When this cools, it makes a dome shape. And once again we’re back to erosion if the exterior rock to form the tower we see today.

I didn’t learn this from a ranger. As I said, there seemed to be a lackluster of engagement. I read the signs as we went, and truthfully, read up on it after we were home because I was curious.

Sign at Devils Tower depicting the Native American legends of how the tower was created.
Depiction of the Native American legends of How Devils Tower was formed.

Native American Culture

There are over 20 Plains tribes that consider Devils Tower a sacred place and important cultural resource. They too have their own legend of how the tower itself was formed.

Native Americans call it Bear’s Tipi, or Bear Lodge, because of the number of bears that live and roam in the area. And although there are several narratives among the many tribes, a lot of them tell of a bear chasing a few girl’s until the crater saves them by raising the rock up where they stood out of the bears reach.

Again, this was learned through my own research after perusing the scattered signs about the tower.

Sign at Devils Tower explaining that Native American tribes still come here to place prayer bundles in the trees.
Native American tribes still come to Devils Tower to place prayer bundles in the trees.

My Experience

We opted to do the hike around the base of the tower. It was relatively flat with only some moderate inclines and declines. It was paved the whole way, which was wonderful amidst the rocky terrain we were surrounded by.  The whole trail is less than 1.5 miles, so it wasn’t too long, or take too much time to complete. You do have an amazing up close view of the tower the whole way and can truly appreciate how different it is from anything else around you.

My Recommendation

I would still suggest stopping here and seeing the monument because it really is intriguing, making it a bit mysterious. Especially since no one really has an answer as to how it got there. However, I wouldn’t propose planning a vacation here. Even for the rock climbing enthusiasts, once the climb is done, you may look for a place to stay for the night to rest, but after that, as I said, there isn’t much going on. Maybe I should blame Steven Spielberg for getting my hopes up for an alien encounter.  Devils Tower National Monument is a great Road Trip stop. It’s a cool place to walk around and stretch your legs for a bit, but not much more than that. 

Devils Tower
Watch our YouTube video of our trip to Devils Tower

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