Frequently Asked Questions

Devils Tower as seen from the visitor center
Devils Tower as seen from the park visitor center

Joe Bruce / NPS Photo

General Information

How tall is Devils Tower? Devils Tower is 867 feet from its base to the summit. It stands 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River and is 5,112 feet above sea level.

How big is the summit of the Tower? It's approximately 1 1/2 acres, about 180 feet by 300 feet. (About the size of a football field.)

What is it like on top? The summit is slightly dome shaped and rocky, with native grasses, cactus, and sagebrush. Chipmunks, mice, pack rats and the occasional snake are found on top.

How far is it around the Tower? The circumference of the base of the Tower is 1 mile. The Tower Trail is 1.3 miles (2 kilometers).

Why is it called Devils Tower? The name "Devils Tower" originated during an 1875 scientific expedition. The Army commander in charge of the military escort, Col. Richard Dodge, wrote that "the Indians call the shaft "Bad God's Tower," which he modified to "Devil's Tower." The earliest official maps of the area label the formation as "Bear Lodge," which is a direct translation of the Lakota name Mato Tipila. Other American Indian names include Bear’s Tipi, Home of the Bear, Tree Rock and Great Gray Horn.

Some contend that Col. Dodge simply got a bad translation of the indigenous name; others say it was an intentional renaming. The truth is lost to history. When President Theodore Roosevelt declared the site as the first national monument in 1906, Devils Tower was used as the appelation and the name became official. A clerical error resulted in the lost possessive apostraphe (i.e. "Devils Tower" instead of "Devil's Tower").
 

Geology Questions

Is Devils Tower an old volcano? No. Geologists agree that Devils Tower is an igneous intrusion; this means it formed underground from molten rock. Magma pushed up into the surrounding sedimentary rock. There it cooled and hardened. The sedimentary rock has since eroded away to show the Tower. Some theories suggest it was once part of a volcanic system, others say it was simply an underground intrusion.

Is it hollow? No - you could compare it to a bunch of pencils held together by gravity.

What kind of rock is it? The rock is called phonolite porphyry; it is similar in composition to granite but lacks quartz. Phonolite refers to the ringing of the rock when a small slab is struck, and its ability to reflect sound. Porphyry refers to its texture: large crystals of feldspar embedded in a mass of smaller crystals.

How often do the columns fall? There have been no major falls since in recent history (200 years).

How old is the Tower? Evidence shows the Tower formed about 50 million years ago. The erosion which exposed the Tower likely took place between 5 and 10 million years ago.
 

Climbing Questions

Why is climbing allowed on the Tower? Devils Tower boasts a climbing history that dates back to 1893 when it was first climbed by two local ranchers using a wooden ladder. Climbers from all over the world consider Devils Tower to be a unique and premier climbing area. Currently, about 5000-6000 visiting climbers come to Devils Tower each year. Although early rock climbing techniques have left an indelible (though slight) scar, contemporary rock climbers leave little trace of their ascent. Today, most climbers rely solely on their physical strength in order to make a climb. The modern technical equipment that is used for safety is designed to be efficient, removable, and non-damaging. Pitons, the steel “pegs” that were historically hammered into cracks, have almost exclusively been retired from use. The National Park Service (NPS) considers rock climbing a legitimate recreational activity at Devils Tower.

What is the June Voluntary Closure? As a culturally significant site for American Indian people, some perceive climbing on the Tower as disrespectful. It appears to many American Indians that climbers and hikers do not respect their culture by the very act of climbing on or near the Tower. A key element of the 1995 Climbing Management Plan (CMP) and 2006 update is the June Voluntary Climbing Closure. The NPS advocates this closure in order to promote understanding and encourage respect for the culture of American Indian tribes who are associated with the Tower. June is a culturally significant time when many (not all) ceremonies traditionally occur. Although voluntary, this closure has been very successful, resulting in a significant reduction in the number of climbers during June.

During June, the NPS asks climbers to voluntarily refrain from climbing on the Tower and hikers to voluntarily refrain from scrambling within the inside of the Tower Trail Loop. Please consider the closure when planning a climbing trip to Devils Tower. Alternative climbing areas are located within 100 miles of Devils Tower National Monument. The Access Fund fully supports the voluntary closure and the CMP at Devils Tower.

How long does it take? Time of ascent depends on skill, route difficulty, and the number of climbers in the group. The average time for two climbers to climb the Durrance Route is between 4-6 hours. It takes about one to two hours to rappel down.

Has there ever been anyone killed? Yes, there have been six climbing fatalities since 1937. Three of these fatalities occurred while descending (rappelling) the Tower.

Do climbers spend the night on the Tower? Not intentionally, park regulations prohibit camping on the tower.

Does climbing damage the rock? Although early rock climbing techniques have left an indelible (though slight) scar, contemporary rock climbers leave little trace of their ascent. Today, most climbers rely solely on their physical strength in order to make a climb. The modern technical equipment that is used for safety is designed to be efficient, removable, and non-damaging. Pitons, the steel “pegs” that were historically hammered into cracks, have almost exclusively been retired from use.

What’s the fastest the Tower has been climbed? In the 1980s, Todd Skinner – a Wyoming native - free-soloed (climbed alone, without ropes or protection) the Walt Bailey route in 18 minutes.

How do they get their ropes up there? Climbers typically climb in pairs. The first person to climb – the lead climber – climbs upward using only their hands and feet. They periodically place protective equipment in the rock and clip their ropes through this gear. The second climber belays (securely manages the rope) the lead climber. When the lead climber arrives at a good stance, they secure themselves to the rock and belay the second up. The second will remove all the gear that was placed on lead. Nothing is left behind.

How do climbers get down? Climbers rappel to descend off the Tower. One rope is passed through permanently installed anchors (expansion bolts) in the rock and then tied to a second rope. Climbers place both ropes through a mechanical friction device (attached to their harness) and slide (rappel) down both strands of rope until they reach the next rappel stance and anchors. In order to retrieve their ropes for the next rappel, one of the ropes (the knotted side) is pulled down – pulling the other rope up and through the anchors. Eventually, all the rope is pulled through the anchors and the process is repeated (3 or 4 times) until the ground is reached.

Last updated: July 19, 2017

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

PO Box 10
Devils Tower, WY 82714

Phone:

(307) 467-5283 x635
Devils Tower National Monument Phone Number

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