Devils Tower was declared the first United States National Monument in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt (remember him from Mount Rushmore?). To the everyday person, Devils Tower is most recognizable as the Close Encounters of the Third Kind mountain in Steven Spielberg’s 1977 film about extra-terrestrials; Devils Tower is featured throughout the movie. More importantly though, Devils Tower is a sacred place for the Native American Plain tribes (Lakota, Cheyenne, Kiowa) and – to respect their culture – I urge everyone to try to begin referring to Devils Tower as “Grizzly Bear Lodge” when visiting.
A view of Grizzly Bear Lodge, popularly known as Devils Tower, from the road
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What is Devils Tower [Grizzly Bear Lodge]?
Devils Tower, or Grizzly Bear Lodge, is a 867 foot (265 meter) geological formation in northeastern Wyoming, seemingly jutting into the sky out of nowhere. There isn’t one agreed upon reason as to how Devils Tower came to be — some believe that that the tower is what remained after a volcanic eruption, while others believe it’s the neck of an extinct volcano, the remnant of a laccolith, or even molten rock that never surfaced during an explosion. Devils Tower must not have been as visibility protruding from the otherwise flat landscape until the other sedimentary rocks eroded over the years, leaving us with Devils Tower.
Approaching Devils Tower, Wyoming
It was initially named Devils Tower during an expedition from 1875 when an interpreter misinterpreted the native name to mean, “Bad God’s Tower.” Whoops! What a mistake. Needless to say, as it’s an important spiritual symbol for the Native Americans, I recommend using the Native American names for the Monolith, such as “Grizzly Bear Lodge.” It does, however, have many names depending on the tribe you ask. Two different proposals were addressed to recognize the Native American ties and to rename the sacred site “Bear Lodge National HIstoric Landmark,” however, the government was afraid that it would hurt the tourism economy and the name was never officially changed sadly.
Devils Tower Legend
The Devils Tower legend – according to the Lakota and Kiowa tribes – says that a group of girls were out playing when bears started chasing them. To escape, the girls climbed to the top of a rock and prayed that the Great Spirit save them. The Great Spirit then raised the rock from the ground toward the heavens so that the bears wouldn’t hurt the girls. The bears tried to climb the rock, but it was just too steep; they left claw marks all over the rock in an attempt to reach the girls. Today, the bear marks appear on the sides of Devils Tower. The girls, on the other hand, never came off that rock; instead, they were turned into the stars of the Pleiades. As with most folklore, the Devils Tower Legend has many differing stories depending on which Native American tribe you ask.
“Bear Marks” according to the Devils Tower Legend
Devils Tower National Monument
Established on September 24, 1906, the Devils Tower National Monument became the first National Monument in the United States. Devils Tower [Grizzly Bear Lodge] sees about 400,000 tourists a year. In recent years, hundreds of rock climbers have taken to summiting Devils Tower [Grizzly Bear Lodge] as well. There are many climbing routes on each side of the Tower. As Devils Tower [Grizzly Bear Lodge] is a sacred site to the Plains tribes, climbers are asked (but not required) to refrain from climbing the national monument during the month of June when the tribes conduct ceremonies around the monument.
While Devils Tower [Grizzly Bear Lodge] looks quite impressive from afar, make sure that you enter the National Monument and take the time to walk around the base of Devils Tower to see its intricacies.
Standing at the base of Devils Tower National Monument
There are a few different hiking routes around the base of Devils Tower National Monument, with the most popular being the Tower Trail at 1.3 miles (2.1 kilometers) round trip. It’s a relatively easy hike for just about anyone. From the trail you will be able to see a few wooden pegs in the side of the rock face; these wooden pegs remain from a 1893 climber who summited Devils Tower [Grizzly Bear Lodge] by constructing a ladder of wooden pegs. Each hiking trail at Devils Tower National Monument offers differing perspectives and viewpoints of the Tower.
Where is Devils Tower [Grizzly Bear Lodge]? Devils Tower, Wyoming
Devils Tower [Grizzly Bear Lodge] is located in northeastern Wyoming, in Crook County. It’s not nearby the main United States tourist attractions, however, if you’re doing the long drive from Badlands National Park to Grand Teton as we did, it is an easy and worthwhile detour.
If you’re not road tripping through the parks, the closest airport to Devils Tower [Grizzly Bear Lodge] is the Gillette-Campbell County Airport. It is 67 miles from Devils Tower National Monument. If you think this will be your plan-of-action, you can search flights here.
Devils Tower Map [Grizzly Bear Lodge Map]
Since Devils Tower National Monument is seemingly in the middle of nowhere, here is a Devils Tower Map to help give you a visual of where in the States it’s located. I have also pinpointed Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore National Monument, Custer State Park, and Grand Teton National Park for those of you that are doing a big sightseeing road trip.
Devils Tower [Grizzly Bear Lodge]
Badlands National Park
Mount Rushmore National Monument
Custer State Park
Grand Teton National Park
Know Before You Go
Packing for Devils Tower Wyoming [Grizzly Bear Lodge]
Now that you have a Devils Tower map on hand and have read about its interesting history, make sure you’re prepared! If you’re camping, ensure you have a reliable tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, camping pillow, and a warm coat at absolute minimum. All of the gear I linked to, I own and recommend personally. Of course, there are many more things that I recommend packing for your trip though, and I highly recommend that you check out my “137 Travel Essentials” to pack for your trip to Wyoming.
The Best Travel Card for Devils Tower, Wyoming
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Purchase Travel Insurance for your Trip to Devils Tower National Monument
I hope you don’t embark without travel insurance! If you do, you better think again. Travel insurance is arguably the most important thing to have on hand (after your passports and visas) for a trip like this. I’ve had to use my travel insurance multiple times on the road, even though I’m healthy. You never know when something might happen; take comfort in knowing that whether your flight gets cancelled or you wind up sick and in the hospital, you will be covered. I recommend World Nomads Travel Insurance for each and every one of you travelers. You can get a free quote here.