Hiking at Devil’s Tower National Monument is the best way to experience this exceptional natural landmark. There are short hikes, paved hikes, and longer treks, so there is a little something for everyone in terms of trails. Exploring on foot will allow you to see the mountain from nearly every angle, to enjoy views of the surrounding valleys, and take in the powerful energy of this sacred place. This guide will speak to a few of the trails that you might consider, and give you some tips for planning your trip out here. This particular national monument is pretty remote, and there are not loads of amenities out in this corner of Wyoming.
I will also be speaking to the fact that it’s about time we stopped calling this beautiful place “Devil’s Tower.” I will be using that term only for SEO purposes, but otherwise, I will be referring to the Tower as Bear Lodge. Come with me to explore why it’s time to start using a more friendly and appropriate name for this formation.
Hiking at Devil’s Tower National Monument (Bear Lodge)
Need to Know Info
In order to go hiking at Devil’s Tower National Monument, it goes without saying that you will need to get to the park and park your vehicle first.
Most likely, you will come from the east or west via the Interstate 90, which runs horizontally across South Dakota and parts of Wyoming to Buffalo, where it then heads north into Montana. From the I-90, you will take the 14 north; there is an east and west entrance to the 14 and both head north. From the 14, you will then take the 24 north again until you come to the large stop lights and signage for the park.
It is $25 for a vehicle to get a 1-7 day visitor pass to the park (as of 2023) and only credit cards can be used to pay now; or you can pre-play or use your Interagency Annual Pass. I would personally suggest planning for a 1-2 day trip unless you are a climber and might be climbing and hiking.
There are bathroom and visitor center facilities on-site, but no restaurants.
The Tower Trail
The Tower Trail is a 1.3 mile hike that travels around the base of Bear Lodge. This is the most popular trail in the park, and provides the best views of the mountain. It comes complete with informational signage, and there are several spots along the way that I would suggest you stop to admire Bear Lodge and share a spiritual moment with the land around you.
In terms of hiking at Devil’s Tower National Monument, this is the must-do trail. Yes, it is crowded and parking can be difficult at the visitor’s center, but to experience the namesake of this place fully, this is the trail you want. Generally speaking, there is a little bit of an incline, but I’d consider this trail easy. It isn’t too long or steep. And it is a loop trail, so you will end up finishing right where you began. It’s a great trail to bring kids on as well!
Just please stay on the trail. Remember that Bear Lodge is a sacred place, and generally we can protect the natural environment by staying the trail to keep the impacts of travelers confined to trail areas.
Red Beds Trail
Red Beds Trail is the longer and less crowded cousin to the Tower Trail. It is essentially a larger loop around Bear Lodge, and it is about 2.8 miles to do the whole thing. In terms of hiking at Devil’s Tower National Monument, this is also one of the harder trails, because it does have some elevation gain. But aside from this being a quieter trek, I also loved the variety of Red Beds Trail. It really showcases the all-encompassing beauty of Bear Lodge and the surrounding lands.
I took this route clockwise from the visitor center parking lot. When traveling this direction, you will follow the trail through the forest for a time. But don’t expect to have forest coverage for the whole hike. You will be hiking downwards and as you get to lower elevations, you will find yourself in a more arid setting. This is a mix of grasslands and red sands. It can also be a bit hot here in the summer, with little to no shade.
Add to this the fact that you will start hiking back up while in this bright and exposed area. Specifically, you can expect to hike up from the junction with the South Side Trail, where you are also closest to the road. Luckily, you will find your way back up into the forest along this route, but it can still be a difficult time. In particular, you will just want to have sufficient water with you and avoid really hot parts of the year/day.
For any hikers, I would highly suggest doing both this trail and the central loop. You get great views of Bear Lodge and the surrounding landscape by doing both.
Tips for the Trail
Although this is a relatively small park, compared to some other national park units, you will still want to keep safety in mind. I had a real heck of a time on Red Beds Trail because I didn’t have enough water with me when I did it. So, follow our typical tips and always remember, whether you are hiking at Devil’s Tower National Monument or anywhere else, you need to take care of your safety first. This guide does not guarantee your safety.
In addition to our typical safety tips, check in with the rangers at the visitor center to see if there is anything you need to know before you head out.
Unfortunately, crowding is also an issue all the way out here. For good reason, Bear Lodge is a very popular place for people to visit, but this can impact your experience there. In particular, it can be hard to park at the visitor center. If you can’t park at the visitor center, you can park at the admin building, and use the South Side trail to hike up to Bear Lodge.
Tips for Planning Your Trip to Bear Lodge
If you want to go hiking at Devil’s Tower National Monument, you will have to stay somewhere nearby, because it is quite removed (or camp). The interesting thing is that there really aren’t any large towns very close to the park. When I stayed, I got a hotel room in Hulett, which is a very small town north of the park. Luckily, this place had more amenities that some of the towns I have been to in Nevada (towns so small they don’t have gas stations or food). Nonetheless, I almost ran into some trouble.
Because I was traveling around the same time as the Sturgis motorcycle event, things were a little odd. Basically every restaurant in town was booked or closed. And the restaurants closer to Bear Lodge was closed when I visited in the late afternoon. So, I almost had to go without dinner, except that someone at a restaurant in town took pity on me and sold me some leftovers from earlier in the day.
Point being, plan out your food situation when you are in the area. Check in with the restaurants to make sure that they will be open when you need them to be. You really don’t want to go hungry after a day of hiking and driving.
Time to Restore the Name of Devil’s Tower to Bear Lodge
The exceptional and unique mountain that is Bear Lodge has been an important fixture for all people living in and crossing the plains for thousands of years, since people arrived in this landscape. Indigenous people had many names for this place, but these days, it is agreed that many of the names are similar to Bear Lodge. This relates to stories about the origins of the mountain, which usually included bears carving the pillars into the lodge.
Unfortunately, the name “Devil’s Tower” is associated with the genocide of indigenous people of the plains. Around the time that the name was changed, the bison that native people relied on for their livelihoods were hunted to near extinction in an effort to support the United States’ settlement of these areas. There are some records that suggest that Euro-Americans mapping this area mistranslated indigenous names for the Lodge, hearing “bad god” instead of “bear.” However, others say that the name change was purposeful. Either way, the name Devil’s Tower is not reflective of original name or indigenous regard for Bear Lodge. And it is now associated with a very dark period of history.
For one Indigenous perspective on this: https://ictnews.org/archive/devils-tower-name-offensive-disrespectful-repugnant-tribes
To learn more about this history from the National Park Service – check out their page on the subject.
So, for me personally, I am hoping that we will see the more original version of the English name restored to this place someday soon. Although there are many who would disagree with me.
My Stance on Changing the Name
My opinion isn’t the super important, but I will just share my stance after the experience that I had at Bear Lodge. I feel like this special place deserves my support.
So, first off, from an uninformed standpoint, I think Bear Lodge is a better name than Devil’s Tower. There is something very powerful about this place, and it isn’t a simple, nice spiritual experience. But that’s the thing about bears, they are beautiful, (very cute), but also an animal deserving of respect and some fear. Bear Lodge sounds both inviting and deserving of some careful trepidation.
When I experienced hiking at Devil’s Tower National Monument, this was exactly the experience that I had. The trails weren’t particularly hard on paper, but it was still a heavy and reverent experience. Many cultures believe that struggle and pain lead to spiritual enlightenment, and that was more of my experience on these trails than the distance and elevation gain might suggest. In fact, by the time I got back to the trailhead, I was about ready to collapse. I was so grateful to be back at my car. Which… I should have been more prepared for the trails, but it was also something speaking to me. This isn’t a big park, but it is powerful.
Bear Lodge is a return to the ancient spirit of this place. It feels like a truer identity. And importantly, I think the indigenous movement to restore Bear Lodge’s name deserves the support of visitors who pilgrimage to this unique place.
Planning a Trip to Wyoming?
If you are planning a trip to Wyoming’s National Park units, give our Guide to Wyoming a peek. I have guides to some easy hikes at Grand Teton National Park, as well as my first impressions of Yellowstone, among other posts on nature and culture in the state.
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