National Park Getaway: Devils Tower National Monument
Autumn comes early to northeast Wyoming. As the days shorten, the lingering daytime summer heat fades with the coolness of evening. In the Black Hills, a rocky sentinel bears witness to the changing seasons as it has for millions of years. Lengthening shadows of ponderosa pines reach like dark fingers towards Devils Tower National Monument.
The park’s namesake tower rises over 800 feet from its base, comprised of giant columns of igneous rock—the largest in the world. Light and shadow play across the lichen-covered rock throughout the day, but as the sun sets, the tower softens to tones of orange and purple. As darkness envelops the sky, a new light emerges as dozens of stars multiply to hundreds and thousands. The Milky Way arcs majestically over the tower, a dark mass against the backdrop of night sky. This after dark experience is just one of many ways to enjoy the national monument.
From its humble beginnings as an isolated monument, today Devils Tower hosts nearly half a million visitors every year. The majority of people come between Memorial Day and Labor Day. This makes autumn an ideal time to visit the park. Ranger programs and other services are still available, but summer congestion begins to ease, and the prairie winter has not yet blanketed the park in snow. The weather is ideal for camping, hiking, and learning about one of the world’s unique places.
Entering the park during daytime, visitors are greeted by a town of black-tailed prairie dogs. These ground squirrels are sure to entertain with their social antics as they forage about their town. Pullouts along the park road and trails around the town’s edges offer visitors a chance to experience this keystone species that provides shelter and food for dozens of other prairie organisms.
The park visitor center was built in 1936 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The rustic log structure holds exhibits on the natural and cultural history of the park, as well as the Devils Tower Natural History Association bookstore. Devils Tower awaits across the parking area, beckoning you to come explore its many wonders.
Many visitors walk the Tower Trail, a 1.3-mile paved footpath that circles the base of the tower. Stunning views of the formation and the surrounding valley are mixed with quiet sections through pine forests. Massive boulders protrude through the trees and pile at the base of the tower, giving scale to the columns they once belonged to. The boulder field offers a challenge for those interested in rock-scrambling.
For a quieter park experience, consider hiking the Red Beds Trail or Joyner Ridge Trail. Red Beds shows off the diversity of the Black Hills, with great views and fascinating geology. Joyner Ridge offers solitude as you gaze upon the leaning northern face of the tower. Chat with a ranger in the visitor center, or attend a short Ranger Talk outside the building, to learn more about your park and how you can experience the world’s first national monument.
Last updated: August 30, 2018