Devils Tower title

Things to do around Devils Tower are terrific

Top things to do around Devils Tower in the Black Hills

Devils Tower is the icon of the Northern Black Hills. Even though the national monument is across the Wyoming state line, touring the Black Hills without seeing Devils Tower is like eating pizza without cheese — or mashed potatoes without gravy. The drive from the Black Hills’ largest city, Rapid City, S.D., to Devils Tower requires about an hour and 45 minutes without stops. 

If you’re interested in the Southern Black Hills, learn more here.

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Get the inside scoop on a nearby Montana Family-Friendly Trip.

Things to do at Devils Tower: Play the “Theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind

If you think Devils Tower National Monument looks otherworldly, you’re in good company. Steven Spielberg did, too. The monument stars in the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” as the site where humans and aliens converge. Eric loves that movie. Me? Not so much. The first time we visited Devils Tower in 2000, he insisted on playing the theme on a poorly-dubbed cassette tape from the late 1980s. Repeatedly.

The second time we went to Devils Tower, we played the digital version of “Close Encounters“, which was a lot more tolerable. Even so, I asked him to limit playing it to one time while we were driving to the monument.

Related: Enjoy eight terrific places around Rapid City.

Things to do at Devils Tower: Learn more at the Visitor Center

Devils Tower model, a thing to do at Devils Tower
Model of Devils Tower

At the Visitors Center, note the elevation, 4,250 feet, on the exterior sign. Two interior features are worth examining in detail. The first item is the Devils Tower model that sits on a table. Examining the model gives a visitor a better idea of the tower’s topography. (SketchFab has uploaded a digital 3D model. Try turning the tower upside down.)

The second item, a painting, depicts the Cheyenne oral history of the tower’s formation.

While there, talk with a ranger about the park and pick up maps and checklists for the monument’s wildlife and birds.

Joyner Trail, one of the Things to Do Around Devils Tower
The sun’s rays stream down the Belle Fourche River Valley, spreading lens flare hexagons along the way.

Things to do at Devils Tower: Hike the trails

Things to Do at Devils Tower: Hike
Eric on the Tower Trail.

Devils Tower offers four trails. We hiked two of them.

Hiking Red Beds Trail

We started with the 2.9-mile loop of Red Beds Trail. Hikers there will enjoy tower views and the Belle Fourche (pronounced “Bell FOOSH”) River Valley. It’s rated moderate and, to be honest, we struggled at times. In the fall, hikers will enjoy the flaming yellow cottonwoods in the river valley.

climbers ascend Devils Tower
Climbers (at right) ascend Devils Tower as the light begins to change the tower’s coloring.

Hiking Tower Trail

The 1.3-mile loop Tower Trail starts out with a steep ascent from the visitors center parking lot. At the junction above the parking lot, hikers may turn either way to circle the tower. After the initial section, the paved trail is nearly flat. It features benches and interpretive signage. If you arrive later in the day, you’ll see the light change the tower’s colors. The tower changes from green to gray to olive to peach to orange to charcoal and then to black. You’ll enjoy watching the crack climbers ascend the tower and rappel down.

Also, look for the sunlight’s interaction with the vegetation as the sun goes down. The sun shining through the leaves is a beautiful sight.

Oak leaves at Devils Tower
The setting sun shines through oak leaves on Tower Trail.

Things to know about hiking at Devils Tower

  • Watch for wildlife, such as whitetail deer, rabbits, chipmunks, and porcupines.
  • Beware of rattlesnakes.
  • Especially if you’re unused to hiking, bring trekking poles. Every hiker should carry plenty of water.
  • No pets are allowed along the trail.
  • You may see bundles of cloth tied to trees. These are Native American prayer offerings. Do not touch them or photograph them.
  • The stairs to the visitors center restrooms are the best place to take unobstructed views of the tower as the sun sets.

At Devils Tower, “half the park is after dark”

When the sky is clear, Devils Tower is a popular place to view the night sky. The monument suggests two options for stargazing. Turn left before the visitors center to reach Joyner Ridge Trail’s parking lot or turn left at the park’s administration building and head to the Circle of Sacred Smoke Picnic Area. Check the event calendar for ranger programs.

Things to know about Devils Tower

  • Take a look at Devils Tower via webcams.
  • Before you visit, please familiarize yourself with parking options. The monument is most visited between 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and parking is limited. Please plan accordingly.
  • Entrance fees vary by mode of transportation and group numbers. (Learn how the fees are used.)
  • Bring cash to pay the entrance fee. Their credit card machine does not always work. Especially if you are visiting during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, don’t expect any of the area ATMs to have cash.
  • All pets must be leashed. They are not allowed on the trails or in the buildings.
  • To truly enjoy the park, allow at least 3 hours.
  • Bring a picnic lunch.

Related: Search for William Clark’s signature at Pompeys Pillar National Monument.

Eric with the Center of the Nation Monument
Eric with the Center of the Nation Monument in Belle Fourche, S.D.

More to do around Devils Tower

On your way, you’ll find more interesting things to do around Devils Tower. Two quirky destinations are reachable from Wyoming Highway 24/South Dakota 34: The center of the nation and the site of a strange battle. Another pair, a buffalo jump, and a huge tipi are along Interstate 90. We suggest taking 24/34 to Devils Tower and Interstate 90 back into South Dakota.

Visit the Center of the Nation Monument along Highway 24/34

Center of the Nation Monument
The 21-foot Center of the Nation Monument is so wide that a fisheye lens is necessary to capture it.

From Devils Tower, follow the Belle Fourche River an hour east on Wyoming 24/South Dakota 34 to the Center of the Nation Monument and Tri-State Museum in Belle Fourche, S.D. The actual center of the nation is in a rancher’s pasture about 20 miles from Belle Fourche. Instead of taking people into the country, Belle Fourche Chamber of Commerce built the lovely 21-foot diameter monument at 415 Fifth Ave., next to the museum. The monument is surrounded by all the state flags and a walking trail along the Belle Fourche River.

If you are determined to stand at the exact center, the Tri-State Museum’s staff will give you directions.

Western history shines at Tri-State Museum

Great Western Cattle Trail marker
Great Western Cattle Trail marker at Tri-State Museum

If you enjoy Western history, the Tri-State Museum is a good place to stop. Your first clues are outside the main building in the Johnny Spaulding Cabin and the Great Western Cattle Trail marker. Spaulding built the log cabin in 1876 and Belle Fourche moved it into the city in 1960. The Great Western Cattle Trail’s route started in Texas and passed through Belle Fourche on its way to Montana and into Canada.

The exhibits inside the museum offer a good perspective on the cattle drives and pioneer settlement. Since we live near one of the cattle trail’s many branches, I was fascinated by what the museum offered.

Sticking with the Western theme, no cowboy is without a good saddle and you’ll see examples of tack in the museum’s collection, as well as a saloon, pioneer home, law office, and Native American artifacts.

Things to know about Tri-State Museum
  • Children will enjoy the dress-up trunk and the Western activity table.
  • Take home a souvenir from the gift shop. They stock some beautiful jewelry.
  • Allow about an hour to see the monument and museum.

Where to eat in Belle Fourche

Cowboys eat steak. If you want to follow their example, head to The Branding Iron Steakhouse & Social Club, 10979 Highway 85, a mile south of Belle Fourche. The restaurant brings together a bar straight out of a Western, with sports grill and biker bar touches. Enjoy a hand-cut steak.

Dig in at Vore Buffalo Jump along Interstate 90

In prehistoric time, a gypsum sinkhole opened up on what would become the Vore Ranch in eastern Wyoming. Taking advantage of the precipitous drop, Native American hunters drove herds of bison into the sinkhole where they were easily finished off. The Native Americans used the sinkhole for 300 years. Over that time, they butchered as many as 10,000 bison in the sinkhole, converting the animals into food and household articles.

Wyoming Department of Transportation found the sinkhole while excavating for Interstate 90’s construction. Because of its importance, the contractors moved the Interstate’s route to preserve the site for research.

When you visit Vore Buffalo Jump, you’ll learn how the buffalo were entrapped, how the Native Americans prepared the bison for food and other products, and how the jump fits within overall Native American culture.

Take Wyoming Interstate 90’s eastbound exit 199 or westbound exit 205 to reach the buffalo jump along Wyoming Highway 14. Follow these directions.

Giant tipi poles
Admire the giant tipi at the South Dakota Travel Information Center on Interstate 90 near Spearfish.

Experience the giant tipi

Make sure to stop at the South Dakota Travel Information Center near Spearfish. While you’re there grab a selfie with the South Dakota Welcome Sign and the giant tipi. If you’re lucky, you’ll watch the sunset behind the Wyoming Welcome Center.

sunset over the Wyoming Welcome Center
The sun goes down behind the Wyoming Welcome Center.

Where to eat in Spearfish

Head for the Dough Trader Pizza Company. Nothing beats pizza that’s freshly baked in a brick oven. Try the Jeffersonian pizza. It’s a long way from Spearfish to Jefferson’s hometown of Charlottesville, Va., but that doesn’t matter. Eat up!

Things to know about Dough Trader
  • They accept cash only. An ATM is on the premises.
  • The restaurant offers vegetarian and vegan options.

Where to stay


In Belle Fourche, the lobby and balcony at the AmericInn will make you feel like you’ve entered a Western movie set. Soak in the indoor pool and hot tub. Ask for upgrades to rooms with a balcony and/or a whirlpool tub. The hotel does not have an elevator.

In Spearfish, stay at the Best Western Black Hills Lodge. The hotel is pet friendly. Hang out in the Lookout Lounge.


For RVers, try campgrounds around Spearfish. Chris’ Campground and RV Park is open from May to October. Elkhorn Ridge Resort is open all year round.

Learn more

Visit more destinations in the National Park System, places in the Midwest or specifically in South Dakota; the Rocky Mountain Region or specifically in Wyoming. Wherever you go, you will have a close encounter of the third kind.


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