Devils Tower National Monument

Common questions about Devils Tower:

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 200 ft. by 400 ft ... or about the size of a football field.  The summit is slightly dome shaped and rocky, with native grasses, cactus, and sagebrush. Chipmunks, mice and 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 3/10 mile.

Why is it called Devils Tower?

Some Indians called it Mateo Tep, meaning Bear Lodge.  Other American Indian names include Bear’s Tipi, Home of the Bear, Tree Rock and Great Gray Horn.  In 1875, on an expedition led by Col. Dodge, it is believed his interpreter misinterpreted the name to mean Bad God's Tower, later shortened to Devils Tower.

Is it part of an old volcano?
One scientific hypothesis states that Devils Tower is the neck of a small volcano.  Another theory says that it is part of a laccolith.  A third theory is that Devils Tower is a plutonic plug - an igneous intrusion that failed to reach the surface. 

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

What kind of rock is it?
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 large are each of the columns?
The columns that make Devils Tower are the tallest and widest in the world!  They are more than 600 feet tall and each column is between 10-20 feet wide!

How often do the columns fall?
There have been no major falls since we have a history of it (200 years). 

Why is climbing allowed on the Tower?

Devils Tower boasts a rich and colorful climbing history that dates back to the late 1800s 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 4000 visiting climbers come to Devils Tower each year. The National Park Service considers rock climbing to be a legitimate recreational and historical activity 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 (the easiest) is between 4-6 hours. It takes about one hour to rappel down.

Has there ever been anyone killed?
Yes, there have been five 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.

Doesn’t climbing damage the rock? 
It is generally assumed that rock climbing is inherently very damaging to the Tower. 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-soled (climbed alone, without ropes or protection) the Durrance 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.


The information above comes from the following page on the National Park Service website:

Click here for a map of Devils Tower



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