Whether you’re a fan of Stephen Spielberg’s 1977 sci-fi classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind or simply enjoy the outdoors, Devils Tower is probably on your list of must-see places. This iconic rock formation jutting above the northeastern Wyoming prairie was considered a sacred site by Native Americans, who believed the butte was created by the Great Spirit as a rocky refuge against a giant bear. Its name is an incorrect translation of the Lakota word wahanksica (“bear”), mistakenly transcribed as wakansica (“bad god”), eventually morphing into Devils Tower. In 1906, Theodore Roosevelt designated it as the first National Monument in the U.S.
There’s no denying Devils Tower is an impressive sight to behold and well worth the drive, but after spending so much time in the car, you’ll want to take advantage of all there is to see and do around the area. With that in mind, we’ve compiled an itinerary to ensure you don’t miss a thing! Gas up your ride, pack a few snacks, and get ready to hit the road—adventure awaits!
Devils Tower National Monument
Visitor’s Center. No trip to Devils Tower is complete without a stop in the Visitor Center. Built in 1935 as part of a Civilian Conservation Corps project, the rustic building was constructed of ponderosa pine and resembles a log cabin. It’s even listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Inside, you’ll find interpretive exhibits offering information about the park’s natural history and cultural significance; a well-stocked bookstore with shelves full of books, CDs and DVDs, clothing, and other gifts and collectibles; and a knowledgeable staff who are happy to answer questions and provide recommendations. The National Monument is open 24/7 365 days a year, but Visitor Center hours vary by season.
Ranger Programs. If you’re visiting between Memorial Day and Labor Day, take advantage of one of the many available ranger programs. They are educational, fun, and free! In addition to several daily 20-minute ranger talks covering a variety of topics, special events include guided hikes around the base of the Tower; evening programs at the amphitheater; astronomy programs; bird walks and more. Junior Ranger programs are available for the kids, too. Check with the Visitor Center for information on available programs during your visit.
Hiking. Several short but scenic hikes are available for those desiring an up-close experience with the monument. The most popular is the Tower Trail, a 1.3-mile paved loop around the base of the Tower. The Red Beds Trail is a little more challenging; this 2.8-mile loop offers picturesque views of the Tower and sprawling Belle Fourche River valley. Both are accessible from the Visitor Center parking lot. The Joyner Ridge Trail is located on the park’s northern boundary; it’s a 1.5-mile loop that sees less foot traffic than the other trails, but the views are every bit as spectacular. A 0.6-mile connector leads to the Red Beds Trail if you’re looking for a longer trek. The South Side and Valley View Trails start by the amphitheater and will take you through a prairie dog village before linking to the Red Beds Trail. You’ll have an opportunity to complete a 1.5-mile loop.
Circle of Sacred Smoke Sculpture. Japanese sculptor Junkyu Muto’s third in a series of sculptures called Wind Circles, designed to promote world peace and introspection, is located near the picnic area. This tribute to the Native American tribes who considered Devils Tower sacred resembles a puff of smoke from a pipe and perfectly frames the Tower. It’s a great spot for quiet contemplation or a picnic lunch.
Devils Tower Trading Post. If you’re in the mood for a bite to eat or looking for the perfect souvenir to bring home, stop by the Trading Post on your way out of the park. Here you’ll find everything from hamburgers, hot dogs, and hand-dipped ice cream to post cards, coffee mugs, t-shirts, and key chains. The real draw is the great view of the Tower from behind the store.
Hulett, WY. Located just nine miles from the monument, this community of about 400 is home to the Devils Tower Frontier Museum and Rogues Gallery. It showcases the artwork of Bob Cornonato and houses an extensive collection of pioneer, cowboy, and Native American artifacts. Other Hulett attractions include a number of cafes and saloons where you can whet your appetite, a general store, and a corner market. The Golf Club at Devils Tower offers upscale dining and lodging options.
Sundance, WY. Named for the Native American sun dance ceremonies performed in the region, the town’s biggest claim to fame is the moniker given to Butch Cassidy’s sidekick, who spent time in the Sundance jail in 1888. You can learn more about the Sundance Kid and other Western outlaws at the Crook County Museum and Art Gallery, which features over 7,000 historical artifacts, dioramas, and exhibits. You can drive up to the Warren Peak Lookout Tower for 360-degree views of the surrounding Belle Fourche River valley .
Moorcroft, WY. Between 1880 and 1890, Moorcroft was the largest shipping point for cattle and sheep in the U.S. Today, it’s a much quieter town of about 1,000. The West Texas Trail Museum houses artifacts from the longhorn cattle herders who made Moorcroft a key stop along the route from Texas to Montana, as well as early settlers and Native Americans.
Vore Buffalo Jump. This archaeological site contains an ancient sinkhole where Native Americans herded stampeding bison to their demise. An estimated 20,000 buffalo were trapped in the pit, providing tribes with a prime source of food and other materials. Located along Interstate 90, the site is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day and offers exhibits detailing the culture and history of the Plains Indians. Take exit 205 one mile west of the Wyoming/South Dakota border.
Keyhole State Park. Located beside Keyhole Reservoir just outside of Moorcroft, Keyhole State Park offers a variety of recreational activities including swimming, boating, fishing, hiking, and birdwatching. It’s a great place to stop for a picnic after a busy day spent exploring, or spend a night or two at one of the 10 campgrounds nestled along the lake; there are plenty of sites for both tents and RVs. Cabin rentals are also available.