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First and Sacred: Devils Tower aka Bear Lodge (Wyoming)

Devils Tower in Wyoming in fall

Devils Tower was declared the first US National Monument in 1906. At that point, it had already been a sacred site to Native American tribes for centuries. They just called it by more inviting names.

Devils Tower is a 867-feet-tall rock formation that stands alone among mellower hills, forests and grasslands in northeastern Wyoming, at the outskirts of the Black Hills. The summit of the butte (steep, flattop hill) rises 1,267 feet (386 m) above the Belle Fourche River and 5,114 feet (1,559 m) above sea level.

Classic view of unique and solitary Devils Tower in Wyoming.
Classic view of unique and solitary Devils Tower in Wyoming.

With its striking shape and its solitude on the horizon, the unique mountain inspires awe and imagination. That’s probably why Stephen Spielberg decided to prominently feature Devils Tower in his 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Much more importantly, the lone butte has been a sacred site to tribes of the Northern Plains for centuries. Spiritual rituals still take place today. As you follow the trail around the hill, you’ll probably see colorful cloths and bundles left as offerings.

Colorful prayer cloths at Bear Lodge Butte (aka Devils Tower National Monument).
Colorful prayer cloths at Bear Lodge Butte (aka Devils Tower National Monument).

What’s in a name? Devils Tower vs. Bear Lodge

The different tribes’ names for the rock formation mostly relate to bears: Bear’s House (Cheyenne, Crow), Bear’s Lair (Cheyenne, Crow), Bear’s Lodge (Cheyenne, Lakota), Bear’s Lodge Butte (Lakota), Bear’s Tipi (Arapaho, Cheyenne), Tree Rock (Kiowa), Aloft on a Rock (Kiowa), and Grizzly Bear Lodge (Lakota). Many of the names relate to imaginative origin tales that often include the monolith rising from the surface to save someone from a bear, which in turn left its claw marks on the tower’s surface.

The name Devils Tower came about when in 1875 an interpreter incorrectly translated the local name to “Bad God’s Tower”. There have been several petitions to change the official name to Bear Lodge National Historic Landmark. However, some people are worried that changing the name would hurt the tourist trade. So it remains as is for now.

Prairie dog's perspective of Devils Tower from the south side.
Prairie dog’s perspective of Devils Tower.

How was Devils Tower (aka Bear Lodge) formed?

The butte is made of igneous rock, meaning it was created by lava or magma cooling off. It’s believed by many that it was not actually a volcano itself, but that the magma had been pushed up between sedimentary rock by the same forces that created the Rocky Mountains. The actual rock formation didn’t become visible until water and wind eroded the surrounding landscape.

Tree growing out of the rocks of Devils Tower.
Scree (boulders, rocks and fragments at the base of buttes and cliffs) surrounding the tower are signs of continued erosion.

Facts for visiting Devils Tower National Monument

The monument is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, year round. The visitor center is open from 9am to 4pm every day, except for Christmas Day and New Years Day.

The Belle Fourche River Campground is usually open from May to October.

There are several hiking trails, the most popular being the paved 1.3-mile Tower Trail that circles the monolith at its base.

The trail that circles the entire monolith leads through a patch of forest.
The trail that circles the entire butte leads through a patch of forest.

Pets are not allowed on the Tower or the trails – only in the parking lot and picnic areas.

The entry fee is currently $20 per vehicle – but will go up to $25 January 1, 2019. We highly recommend purchasing the National Parks & Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass (currently $80) so you can visit and support over 2,000 parks and monuments.

Yes, you can climb the butte – if you register ahead of time. Because of the parallel cracks in-between the large hexagonal columns it very popular for traditional crack climbing.

Birds of prey circling above the summit.
Birds of prey circling above the summit.
The hexagonal (6-sided) columns with their parallel cracks make Devils Tower an ideal environment for traditional crack climbing.
The hexagonal (6-sided) columns with their parallel cracks make Devils Tower an ideal environment for traditional crack climbing.
Tree growing out of the rocks of Devils Tower.
Trees appear to be growing straight out of the rocks of Devils Tower.
North View of Devils Tower
North view of the tower.
Sign at Devils Tower / Bear Lodge: please do not disturb prayer bundles and prayer cloths.
Bear Lodge (aka Devils Tower) remains a sacred site to many.
Gazing up at the Devils Tower from the south side.
Gazing up at the tower from the south side.
Looking south across Wyoming from the base of the Devils Tower rock formation.
Looking south across Wyoming from the base of the Devils Tower rock formation.

Save the following photo to Pinterest, to quickly find this post again when you plan your trip.

First and Sacred: Devils Tower aka Bear Lodge (Wyoming) #HappierPlace


All photos in this post were taken by Luci Westphal. By clicking on an individual image you can see a larger version.

21 thoughts on “First and Sacred: Devils Tower aka Bear Lodge (Wyoming)

  1. I heard a lot of good reviews about this place. Worth checking out!

  2. wow never known about this! You did a great job on adding the link to the video clip! It gives thrill to your post!

  3. This is a very unique location for praying and I would love to visit one day.

  4. There are so many beautiful igneous rock formations around the country. And I love exploring them all.

  5. What a fun place. I have never heard about this place before but maybe I will have to check it out with the family!

  6. Nature is absolutely stunning. I’m also stunned that it’s formed from lava, it’s absolutely breath taking. Would love to visit it someday.

  7. Wow! That’s really breath taking and so curious too. I had no idea that lava could do this. That’s got to be a bucket list visit!

  8. oh wow what a place to visit ! it looks amazing and bit unreal is so perfect

  9. I’ve read about this before. def worth putting on a travel bucket list to go see!

  10. How absolutely incredible! I would love to take a trip there. I haven’t been on a hike in years and it’s something I’d like to do again someday!

  11. This is absolutely an incredible structure! It’s also as interesting looking and a bit eerie as its name suggests. I’ve not yet been to Wyoming when in the US, but will add it to my list for the next time!

  12. What a wonderful place to see and experience! I will have to add this to the bucket list!!!

    1. Love reading that! Hope you get to go. Since it’s a bit out of the way from pretty much everywhere, we recommend combining it with a visit to the Black Hills (Deadwood, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Custer State Park) and/or Badlands.

  13. I’ve never been to Devils Tower, but it looks beautiful. You have great photos. I can see why it’s such a sacred site.

    1. Thank you very much for your kind words about my photography! It feels like a sacred site when you’re there. Maybe you’ll get to see it one day!

  14. I am planning on visiting here next year when I come to the USA 🙂 It looks so striking, and an amazing experience is to be had for sure.

    1. How exciting you’ll be going on a trip to the US and will get to see that corner of the country. I’m sure you’ll have lots of amazing adventures!

  15. I have actually heard of Devils Tower and I know it’s awesome . I really enjoyed reading how it was formed and the native meaning and respect for the sacred site

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment, Kelly. I’m really glad you enjoyed all the information.
      xx Luci

  16. Such an amazing naturally forming beauty. I didn’t know it was formed from lava but this makes complete sense. I can see why tourists come from miles away to see this.

    1. I didn’t know about the lava either until I researched it after our trip there. And not everyone agrees on that origin story. It’s a very unique place and kind of unbelievable since there’s nothing else like it around there.

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