Devil’s Tower National Monument is just a little over an hour from Sturgis, SD and we arrived in the late afternoon, but with still plenty of sunshine in the long summer days of the northern U.S. As you approach Devil’s Tower from any direction, the veritable monolith juts ominously from the otherwise flat Wyoming prarieland. It is no mystery why the strange formation is steeped in legend. The tribal legends, however, blame the deep gashes on the sides of the tower on the claw marks of an enormous bear. The term “Devil’s Tower” actually came from a white man’s translation error…typical.
Once inside the park, the only campsite is called Belle Fourche River Campground and it (used to) cost just $12 a night! Sadly, that has now increased to $20, but it was a steal last summer.
Devil’s Tower Camping
The campsite itself is one of the best that we stayed at on the whole trip. The sites are right at the base of the tower, there was free, pre-chopped firewood for anyone to take, and it was relatively empty. After our two long days of mostly driving we were ready to pull out our camping chairs, pour ourselves some box wine on ice and just enjoy the view. One of the best parts about camping is all the time you have to just sit with the ones you love. I would go through our itinerary plans, we would chat about which things we wanted to see. I would try, and fail, to identify local birds using my recently purchased field guide to North American birds. But mostly, we just sat and chatted. If you don’t like sitting and chatting to the same person for 16 hours a day, day after day, then camping and road tripping as a couple is not recommended for you.
Hiking Devil’s Tower
After an hour or two of enjoying ourselves and decompressing, it was time to hike around the tower. Hiking around the base takes just a couple of hours including the walk from camp. You can pick up one of the main trails from the campground by taking either the South Side Trail or the Valley View trail. Both are 0.6mi through the Belle Fourche River Valley, and both skirt the edges of “Prairie Dog Town” where you will see hundreds of prairie dogs peeking their little heads out of the ground and scampering among their mounds.
The South Side Trail has two relatively steep switchbacks on its way to meet the Red Beds Trail, the 2.8 mile loop surrounding the tower. While overall there isn’t much elevation, it can be steep as it climbs up and drops back down a few times. Just before the South Side Trail met up with the Red Beds, we came across a rattlesnake who decided he liked hanging out right next to the trail. We decided to let him go about his business.
Looking at Devil’s Tower from a distance is certainly an experience, but you can’t really understand how deep the ‘claw marks’ are until you hike the trail. These columns of igneous rock have been slowly crumbling down over millions of years, and as you walk among the rubble of columns past you get that wonderful reminder of how tiny you are. Then you are reminded again when you see a tiny speak of a human ascending the monolith. These climbers speckle the sides of the tower, utilizing large cracks in the columns to make their way upwards as their loved ones and strangers watch below. Climbing is “voluntarily closed” in June in order to honor the ceremonies of the Native Americans, so if you can climb in a different month, definitely do that.
Once we had completed the Red Beds Loop, we made our back down to the campground to enjoy some more box wine and sitting around doing nothing. Overall, I highly recommend stopping at Devil’s Tower for an afternoon to enjoy the hike, or for a night if you’re looking for a campground. Unless you’re climbing the tower, there isn’t much more than an afternoon of activities, so you may as well make your way onward the next day.
The following morning we packed up early for our drive across the state of Wyoming to: