Devils Tower: Red Beds Trail, Wyoming

devils tower red beds trail

Devils Tower National Monument, in northeastern Wyoming, has significance to several different groups of people. It’s a sacred Native American site. It’s a world-renowned rock climbing destination. It became America’s first National Monument even before there was a National Park Service, back in 1906.

Our family visited the Tower last June, on our way from the Black Hills to the Bighorn Mountains. We camped overnight nearby so we could get an early start on our hike the next morning.

Devils Tower National Monument
Devils Tower from our campground. It looks like it’s right across the road—really it’s 3 miles away!

There are five hiking trails at Devils Tower. The shorter 1.3-mile Tower Trail is the most popular. This paved trail circles the base of the Tower.

The hike we chose was the 2.8-mile Red Beds Trail, both for it’s length and the variety of terrain and views of the Tower. We weren’t disappointed! But first, a little about the Tower…

About Devils Tower

This really is a unique piece of rock sticking up out of the surrounding hills.

Geologists now agree it’s an igneous intrusion—formed by molten rock pushing up into a pocket of sedimentary rock, then hardening. The sedimentary rock eventually eroded away, exposing the tower we see today.

At any rate—it’s cool! 867 feet from base to summit and a mile around at it’s base. It has massive columns that run vertically all the way up to the top. In fact one of the Native American legands is that a giant bear made the columns with its huge claws.

Here’s an interesting bit of trivia for the Grammar Police: A clerical error resulted in the official name being Devils Tower instead of Devil’s Tower. (So don’t blame me for the lack of apostrophes here!)

We found out when we got there that the folks who climb the Tower voluntarily and corporately take the month of June “off” out of respect for the indigenous people who still hold it sacred. So our timing was such that we weren’t able to witness any climbers. A bit of a bummer.

Apparently, the first two guys who climbed Devil’s Tower in 1893 were local ranchers who summitted it with a wooden ladder!! What?! I can’t even imagine.

(Source: National Park Service website. This page will also give you the history of its name, if you’re interested.)

devils tower national monument
You can see the vertical columns easily from this view (Our son, Jason, his fiancee, Cheyenne, and our daughter, Jamie, were having fun on this trip!)

Highlights of the Red Beds Trail

Red Beds Trail devils tower
Hiking through a beautiful, tall Ponderosa pine grove

The main highlight of Red Beds is, of course, the great views of the Tower from all angles. Amazing. Other highlights, though, are the beauty of the area.

We headed to the west side of the Tower first, which takes you through a beautiful Ponderosa pine grove. Since we were there quite early and there were few people yet, we saw several deer right off the bat.

Before too long the trail takes you out into the open for great views of the surrounding hills, the Belle Fourche River valley, and a couple nearby campgrounds.

The trail section on the east side of the Tower is where you really see how this trail gets its name. The dirt, the rocks—all red.

(I have a feeling it would stick like clay when it’s wet!)

devils tower red beds trail
The Red Beds that give this trail its name.

Most of the east section of the trail is in the sun…and it was hot already at 10:00 in the morning. Bring water and sunscreen!

It took us about 1-1/2 hours to hike the whole thing, including stopping for pictures and a bit of exploring. We stuck to the trail for the most part, as this is definitely rattlesnake territory.

We’re glad we got an early start for several reasons:

  • We were done before it got really hot…
  • We arrived at the Monument before 9:00 am, didn’t have to wait to get in, and had our pick of parking spots.
  • By the time we finished the hike, the parking lot was full and cars were waiting in line at the entrance.

 

belle fourche river valley
A nice view of the Belle Fourche River from the south side of the Tower

How to Get To Devils Tower

Devils Tower is a few miles north of Interstate 90 just west of the Black Hills and east of Gillette, Wyoming. Take Highway 14 from either Sundance or Moorcroft, it circles back to 90 either way. On the north end of 14 is Highway 24, which will take you right to the Tower.

It’s Worth the Trip

Devils Tower isn’t the kind of place you could spend a week (unless you’re going to climb it!). But it’s certainly worth a day trip, or even half a day like we did.

It’s proximity to the Black Hills makes it easy to plan a combo-destination. And include Badlands National Park, on the other side of the Black Hills, and you can easily keep busy for a week.

We recommend it!

red beds hike devils tower
My husband, Nick, on the Red Beds Trail near the base of Devils Tower