I’ve always wondered why you’d want to go to Devil’s Tower National Monument. After all, the best views are from a ways away from the tower—like, outside the park—right? You could just drive along the highway and get a great view. Well, I suppose you could, but that doesn’t allow you to take pictures or to see the tower huge and awesome above you. So, after visiting it twice, I’d say you should visit to really see the tower. I still think it’s very nice from the highway, but you can’t get the full effect unless you’re within the park boundary. My favorite hike for experiencing the tower is the 3-mile loop Red Beds Trail. The trail takes you all the way around the tower, although the best views are on the south side of the trail. However, there are some other lovely views along the trail, especially on the east side. I highly recommend the trail if you’re in the National Monument and you want to get out and stretch your legs.
To get to the national monument, from I-90 W take Exit 185 to I-90 BUS W/US-14 W. This will be a right turn off of the exit ramp. Drive 19 miles, then turn right onto WY-24 E and drive 6 miles. Turn left onto WY 110/County Road 174/Devils Tower National Monument Road. In a few miles you will enter the monument, and, three miles after the turn, the road will end in the visitor center parking lot. Actually, the road won’t end, but you’ll know when you’re there. If you’re coming from I-90 E (best if you want good views of the tower from the highway), take Exit 153 and turn right off of the exit ramp and left onto US-14/US-16 for 1 mile. Then turn left onto US-14/N Yellowstone Ave. Follow this road for 25.5 miles. In this section you’ll get some great views of the tower, and there are occasional pullouts for you to get out and take pictures over the hay bales. Eventually, turn left onto WY-24 for 6 miles, then left onto WY 110/County Road 174/Devils Tower National Monument Road for 3 miles up to the visitor center. Don’t get confused by another visitor center outside of the park—you want the one well after you’ve entered the park and crossed the river.
Devils Tower National Monument actually holds the position of being the very first national monument in the country. I guess Wyoming’s got it pretty good: they have both the first national park (Yellowstone) and the first national monument! The tower itself was formed when a volcano plugged up with cooling molten lava. The surrounding dirt and other debris eroded away, leaving the plug behind. Today, the tower is popular with climbers, who come from all over the world to do the 5.7-5.13 climb. I recall reading a funny story about one of the climbers: a rope snapped back at her when she was part way up, and managed to knock one of her contacts out of her eye. However, she kept climbing and enjoyed the slightly-blurry view from the top. Then she and her climbing companions went back down. When she reached the bottom, she looked on the ground, and there was a little ant trying to carry her missing contact back to its ant hill. Now, how miraculous is that? All climbers and those who want to boulder scramble on the rock pile below the tower need to register at the visitor center (free of charge) before climbing and immediately after returning.
However, back to the Red Beds Trail: Take the main trail that leaves from the visitor center parking area. A sign should mark the way, as you’ll be going towards the Tower Trail for a short while as well. Fairly quickly, the Red Beds Trail will branch off on your left. Alternatively, you could have taken the Red Beds Trail from near the back side of the visitor center. If you’re looking for great views of the tower, but don’t want to take the whole trail, find this trail and walk down it for less than 0.7 miles to some awesome views of the tower. However, we decided to go clockwise around the tower, which if you’re looking for views while you’re hiking is the best way to go. The problem with going this way is that you’ll have to walk quite a ways before the tower does anything more than peek over the trees. So, going clockwise makes the trail end-loaded with views, while going counter-clockwise makes the trail front-loaded with views. Take your pick, but I recommend the clockwise direction, as you’ll be able to see all the views as you’re hiking instead of having to turn around.
Assuming you’re going the way I did, turn onto the Red Beds Trail after walking a short ways down the Tower Trail. This junction is well-marked. Another trail will go off before you’re halfway around the loop, but stay on the Red Beds Trail. The junctions are all well-marked, so simply stay on the right trail (and don’t go off down an old road!). The first half of the hike has very few views of the tower itself. You are walking through a pine woods/open prairie on a trail that is mostly downhill. It’s a nice little jaunt, but not heavy on scenery. In the woods, you can occasionally see over on the left out to more open prairie.
When you’re about halfway around the loop, you will finally get to the Red Beds. These are just red badlands that stick out of a hillside. They’re nice enough, but not really that exciting. If you’re looking for a view, go just slightly further down the trail to a place where you can see the road crossing a bridge. Especially in the fall, when the poplars turn gold, this is a very pretty view along the river and grass with an occasional poplar tree. I thought this was one of the nicest views on the trail, although later views of the tower are more spectacular.
Keep following the Red Beds Trail. You will intersect the Valley View Trail at 1.8 miles from the visitor center (the Red Beds are just before this). Half a mile later, you will intersect the South Side Trail. Keep walking. After this intersection, you will begin to get some really great views of the tower. Unfortunately, the sun went under while we were on this part of the trail, so we sat for a while and waited for it to come back out and shine on the tower. Take your time in this area, as ever since the pretty view you will be walking uphill. It’s all downhill from the Visitor Center to the Red Beds and all uphill back to the Visitor Center. If you have a shuttle vehicle, an option is to park one vehicle in the last (third) pullout for the Prairie Dog Town (assuming there are no signs saying you can’t), and the other in the Visitor Center parking lot. You can then walk the southern part of the Red Beds Trail as well as part of the South Side Trail, then down the road to your vehicle. This way, if you prefer only hiking uphill or downhill, you can. A map can be seen at http://www.nps.gov/deto/planyourvisit/upload/park-map.pdf
Once you’re done taking pictures and taking in the spectacular view, keep walking along the trail up to the visitor center and your vehicle. It’s not the most exciting hike in Wyoming (you’d probably have to go to Yellowstone for that!), but it’s the best trail I’ve hiked in Devils Tower National Monument. So if you decide to visit, want to stretch your legs, and want a better view than you can get from the highway…check out this trail.
Round Trip Trail Length: 3 miles (loop)
Facilities: Restrooms, information, etc., at visitor center
Fees: $10 per private vehicle, good 7 days
Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this?
This Week’s Featured Product!
This is a cool camera I received for Christmas. No pictures on the blog with it yet, but I’ve really enjoyed is many features, especially the three manual/semi-manual settings that allow you to get special effects. Check out the link for the full specifications.
Sun Apr 23
Rain. Lows overnight in the upper 30s.
Mon Apr 24
Chance of Rain
Partly cloudy early followed by increasing clouds with showers developing later in the day. High around 55F. Winds NNW at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 60%.
Tue Apr 25
Snow likely. High 29F. Winds NE at 10 to 20 mph. Chance of snow 100%. 3 to 5 inches of snow expected.
Wed Apr 26
Generally sunny despite a few afternoon clouds. High 41F. Winds ESE at 5 to 10 mph.
Thu Apr 27
Chance of Rain
Mostly cloudy skies with a few showers later in the day. High 41F. Winds ESE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 30%.