The Legend of Devils Tower: America’s First National Monument

This post is a part of my Black Hills Road Trip Series 

Devils Tower National Monument is a geographic and historic wonder nestled in the Bear Lodge Mountains of northeastern Wyoming, an extension of the Black Hills. It makes a great day trip from Rapid City, South Dakota and many who choose to visit the region for Mount Rushmore also explore Devils Tower.

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How To Get to Devils Tower

Things To Do Near Mount Rushmore Devils Tower

Devils Tower National Monument is located in northeastern Wyoming. The entrance to the park is 33 miles northeast of Moorcroft, Wyoming and 27 miles northwest of Sundance, Wyoming.

Most navigation apps will pick up the location by simply typing in the monument’s name, but if you are having trouble, you can enter

149 State Highway 110
Devils Tower, WY 82714

It’s only about a 90 minute drive from Rapid City, South Dakota to Devils Tower, making it an excellent day trip option.

Quick tip: make sure to stop in Belle Fourche, South Dakota on the drive over. It’s the geographic center of the United States! 

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Quick Tips for Devils Tower

how to get to devils tower national monument wyoming

It’s best to visit in the spring or fall, when the weather is cooler and the crowds aren’t as large. If you visit during the summer, get there early, as parking is often completely full for a few hours a day.

The park is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but the visitor’s center has more restricted hours. It is open daily from 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM, with the exception of being closed December 24th, 25th, 31st and January 1st.

It is currently $20.00 per vehicle to enter the park.

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Why Is Devils Tower Important?

how to get to devils tower national monument Wyoming

Devils Tower National Monument was the very first National Monument in the United States, designated as such by President Teddy Roosevelt on September 24, 1906.

The name “Devil’s Tower” originated from an 1875 expedition when an interpreter misunderstood a Native name to mean “Bad God’s Tower.” However, it’s now referred to as simply “Devils Tower” because apparently the geographic naming standard indicates that all apostrophes should be eliminated. 

So as much as it’s killing me to write it without one, “Devils Tower” is the correct name.

But many don’t think so.

Long before it was a National Monument, the mountain and surrounding area was sacred to many Native Americans. For 10 years, from 2005 to 2015, there was a campaign to rename the monument Bear Lodge National Historic Landmark in recognition of its original discovery and meaning. Unfortunately, unlike the campaign that changed Mount McKinley’s name to Denali, this one failed…so far.

Why Bear Lodge National Historic Landmark, you may ask? Well, for the name of the mountains surrounding it. But there’s history behind that, too…

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The Legend of Devils Tower

how to get to devils tower national monument Wyoming

There are a few variations on the legend of how Devils Tower came to be.

The Kiowa and the Lakota tribes say the one day, when a group of little girls were playing on the plains, a group of giant bears began to chase them. The girls were terrified and climbed on top of a rock to try and get away from the bears, but the rock was not high enough to keep them safe. So, they cried out to the gods for protection.

The Great Spirit heard them and made the rock grow into a tall mountain, whisking the girls away from the bears, who didn’t give up and tried to climb the new mountain, their claws leaving deep gashes in the sides. The mountain eventually grew to touch the sky and the girls became the Pleiades constellation.

The Sioux believe that when two small boys wandered away from the village, Mato, a huge bear, began to chase them because he wanted to eat them for breakfast. His claws were the size of tipi poles, so the boys were terrified and prayed to Wakan Tanka the Creator for help. He heard them, raising them on a rock for protection.

But Mato was very hungry, so he persisted, his huge claws leaving scratches on every side of the mountain. He eventually gave up, and the wise eagle, Wanblee, helped the boys back to their village.

Bottom line: Children in distress. Pursued by a giant bear. Saved by the gods.

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Things To Do at Devils Tower

how to get to devils tower national monument Wyoming

Devils Tower is all about nature: hiking, camping, and climbing. Of the 400,000 visitors a year, only 1% choose to climb to the top. If that’s you, congratulations! If not, there’s still plenty to see and do.

Stop by the visitor’s center for more information on the geographic, cultural, and historic context of Devils Tower before hiking the one-mile loop around the base of the monument.

There are plenty of places to stop, rest, and enjoy the view of Devils Tower and surrounding valleys, so plan to take at least an hour, if not 90 minutes for the hike.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind was also filmed in the area, so keep an eye out for aliens as well.

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2 Comments

  1. Kerry
    March 12, 2018 / 3:28 PM

    Favorite part of the post:
    “apparently the geographic naming standard indicates that all apostrophes should be eliminated. “

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