A view of rolling hills covered in dark pine trees.
The dark green ponderosa forests appear almost black from a distance, lending the name "Black Hills" to the region.

NPS / Joe Bruce

An island of forest amid a sea of prairie...

The Black Hills are a forested shelter that rises up from the windy, sun-baked Great Plains. These mountains are dominated by ponderosa pine forests, speckled with a few other conifers and deciduous trees. The contrast of dark ponderosas against the lighter grasslands give the mountains their name, one derived long before English words were spoken here.

Within the monument, these ponderosa pine stands make up the vast majority of forests. Small stands of oak and aspens share the hills, with tall cottonwoods, ash, and oaks growing in the floodplains. The forests provide critical habitat for other plants and numerous animals.

Healthy ponderosa pine forests have a mix of mature trees, younger saplings, and dead snags. The trees thrive with more space, and generally do not grow very close together. Fire is a critical component of ponderosa pine ecosystems; today, the park uses prescribed burning to mimic the benefits of natural wildfire.
Trees and rocks covered in snow
Devils Tower averages between four and five feet of snow annually. The ponderosa pine forest waits stoically for the snow to melt and spring warmth to revitalize its habitat.

NPS / Katie Karnes

Before the park service began managing this small corner of the Black Hills, the forests around the Tower have hosted countless generations of people, representing an array of cultures. Indigenous people depended on the forests for food and shelter, while explorers and emigrants sought them out for refuge and resources. Some of the same trees that a person saw hundreds of years ago grow today within the monument.

These living sentinels bear witness to the passing seasons. Through heat and drought they patiently wait for the rain to fall. Under the biting cold of winter snows they stand ready for the spring thaw. Swaying gently in the stiff winds coming off the prairie, the forest offers us a chance to reflect on the cyclic nature of life and the wonderous bounty of nature.

Last updated: August 25, 2019

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PO Box 10
Devils Tower, WY 82714


307 467-5283 x635
Devils Tower National Monument Information Line

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