The Devils Tower hiking trails will give you the opportunity to be amazed at the tall rock columns and explore the tower from a 360 perspective.
Designated as the first ever US National Park by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, Devils Tower is steeped in wonder and surrounded by legends. While no one knows how the formation came to be, one Native American legend has it that a giant bear clawed the grooves into the mountainside while chasing several maidens.
The Bear motif is intrinsic to Devils Tower as the formation is commonly known among northern plains tribes by Bears Lodge; making the tower a sacred site for Native Americans. A more modern legend may come to mind as the tower was showcased in the classic sci-fi film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. The tower is a perfect place to spend the day, as you can take a variety of hikes, do some rock climbing and study the unique formation up close.
Even if you are not into geology, you can’t help but marvel at the weirdness of the tower’s details. Devils Tower is an amazing geological foundation composed of symmetrical columns which are the tallest and widest in the word. They almost look like an upside-down mop or giant cables enclosing the tower. If you look closely at the columns you will see they are 4-,5-,6-, and even 7 sided; these are also beyond massive, and you’ll get a chance to see that size when you come across some of the fallen columns.
If you are too nervous about rock climbing, like we were, the best thing to do is to go on one or two hikes while visiting Devils Tower. The park offers multiple trails for all levels of experience. You can take a simple walk around the tower or cut through the prairie to get killer pictures. The five trails outlined below provide the best views of Devils Tower. Because we were only at Devils Tower for a couple of hours -and had to deal with the threat of a major, fast approaching, thunderstorm – we only had time to do the tower trail.
Note that some trails can take you approximately 30 minutes while others can take you several hours – don’t worry there are many options to choose from!
Tip: Devils Tower is open year-round, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Note that pets are not allowed on any of the park’s trails.
Here is an overview of the different hikes you can do while visiting Devils Tower:
Joyner Ridge Trail: This is a 1.5-mile (2.4 km) loop trail that follows Joyner Ridge and dips down into the draw below. While we didn’t hike this trail, we came it across on our way back, and it’s a great thing we did – it provided the best setting to take that iconic Devils Tower photo. The view from the start of the trail is my absolute favorite, and the one my husband badgered me about taking for the entire drive (banner photo).
Here you can see the prairie all around with Devils Tower jutting out of the flat landscape in the background. It captures the majestic nature of the tower perfectly, and truly puts such a jaw dropping formation into perspective. It’s no small wonder this place is full of legends and stories.
If you don’t hike this trail, make sure to at least visit the entrance for a few minutes to take a bunch of photos. To access the trail, take the dirt road from the main park road as you leave the visitor center parking lot. There is a very small parking lot where you can leave the car when you reach the trail.
Red Beds Trail: The Red Beds Trail is a 2.8-mile (4.5 km) loop which offers amazing views of both the Tower, surrounding Belle Fourche River valley and geologic formations. You will also get an up-close look at the Towers’ red sandstone base. If we had more time, or better weather, we would have definitely hiked this trail.
You can access this trail from the visitor center parking lot and also from all other park trails. The Red Beds Trail has some steep sections as you will have to climb up and down between the river valley and visitor center.
Tower Trail: The Tower Trail is among the most popular, easiest, and therefore can get very crowded. It’s a paved 1.3-mile (2 km) trail that starts across the visitor center parking area and circles the base of Devils Tower. According to Lakota tradition, it’s better to hike the Tower on a clockwise direction. Personally, I found the best views from the Tower can be found towards the end of the trail if you are doing this hike clockwise.
Watch for the colorful cloths or small bundles attached to the trees. These are Native American prayer cloths and represent the spiritual connection many tribes have with the Tower. It’s important to not touch or remove these cloths. The heavy influence of COVID-19 can also be found on the trees as some have added face masks along with the pieces of cloth. There are also several benches along the trail where you can rest while you enjoy the amazing views.
Tip: When hiking this trail see if you can spot the “window”, one of the Tower’s most distinctive features. The window is a 300-foot alcove located above the boulder field.
South Side Trail: This trail is pretty short: it’s only a 0.6-mile (1 km) trail and there is almost no elevation gain. The South Side Trail begins from the amphitheater and continues through the prairie dog town to link into Red Beds Trail. It’s a nice detour if you are hiking Red Beds.
Valley View Trail: This is another short trail: 0.6 mile (1 km) with only a slight elevation gain. The Valley View Trail also connects to the Red Beds Trail and offers amazing views of the Belle Fourche River. Definitely worth the time if you are hiking Red Beds, and the weather cooperates.
What to bring
Hiking shoes: Essential, especially if you are hiking the longer trails. Here are our recommendations:
Mosquito repellent: Nothing more annoying than having to deal with bugs when hiking. We recommend you bring the Sawyer Insect Repellent Lotion, which is effective against all the bugs you find in the northern plain including mosquitoes, ticks, flies, chiggers, and fleas.
Water: The Nomader Collapsible Water Bottle is sturdy and comfortable to drink from; rolls up for compact travel; loops around your wrist for easy carry; and attaches to your bag for quick access.
Poncho/Waterproof jacket: Make sure to bring a lightweight waterproof jacket or at least a poncho if you are visiting over the summer. Storms will pop up and you will want to stay dry if you are on a hike.
For women we recommend the North Face Women’s Resolve Parka II Waterproof Jacket, and for men The North Face Men’s Resolve Waterproof Jacket. If you want to only take a poncho, we recommend this waterproof Poncho.
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