Devils Tower National Monument
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Devil’s Tower, made famous by Steven Spielberg’s film ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’, is a worthwhile stop if you are in the area. It has a large explorable surrounding parkland and line of outpost lookouts overlooking the vista of America’s first national monument.
The tower itself is so iconic, imprinted on the public consciousness by Hollywood and iconic markers throughout the region, that you already know what to expect before you arrive. The ark has several campgrounds and trails that radiate away from the tower. Entry is a bit steep (pun not intended) at $25.00, but you can get an annual pass for only $45.00.
Rising 867 feet (265 m) above the black hills, the monument takes up your whole field of view and dominates the entire parkland. Despite it having lots of visitors (up to 400,000 per year) only around 400 people make the climb to the top (yes, unfortunately, there is no way up without using ropes and facing your fear of heights).
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If you are interested in climbing the tower, you need to register first at the visitors’ center and pay a small fee. There is no climbing allowed in the entire month of June in an effort to help stem erosion of the structure. Don’t be put off by crowds when planning a trip to the monument. Most of the popularity comes from looking at the tower from the visitors center and not the surrounding parkland which is more sparsely traversed.
Once you have explored the Native American history of the site (The Native Americans actually call it bear tower, it was only a bad translation that got the name “Bad God’s Tower” in our English tongue), head towards the Red Beds Trail to explore the lesser-seen side of the tower. For those looking to stay overnight, I suggest checking out the campground near the Prairie Dog Village as it is far less crowded. Another recommendation is to head to the nearby Belle Fouche River is a great little spot to camp and watch the sunrise over the tower.
In the winter the park is open, but the visitors center is closed from the 1st of December to the end of March. The roads and trails can be really slippery in the winter months and I found the entry price to be quite expensive for a quick visit for an hour or two. Also, in the summer months, the crowds really can be too much and parking is incredibly limited so try to get there as early or as late as possible.