Location: Devil’s Tower, WY
Smashed Penny Machine: Not in the park but we did find one in a small gift shop across from the campground just outside the park
Devil’s Tower is about a two-hour drive from Rapid City making this another easy day or half day trip if you are using Rapid City as a main hub. We arrived at the park about 10:00 and the main gate wasn’t too busy. When we got to the other side of the park to the visitors center (there is only one road through the park) the parking lots were PACKED. I highly suggest getting to the park very early or plan on coming much later in the day.
We then waited about 30 minutes to use the restroom. The bathroom was maybe three stalls big and there were probably 30 ladies waiting in line. I would guess that during off-season this park is not busy at all and that’s why there aren’t many facilities. If you are able to travel during off-season, I’m sure the park isn’t nearly as hectic.
We started up the Tower Trail (a little over a mile loop that goes around the base of the tower) and the trail was packed. I was thinking to myself this was a colossal mistake. However after we got past the trail junction (where the loop meets) the people just vanished. And from then the number of people was much more manageable (until we got back to the visitor’s center). Tower Trail was not a hard trail (some small hills but just about anyone is going to be fine, my 80-year-old grandfather walked it); however it was a very narrow trail. We had opted to put the babies in backpack carriers instead of the stroller because of the crowds at the visitor’s center. Even though the crowds are thinner on the trail, it is still not a very stroller friendly trail. So while you could in theory push a stroller on this trail I would not recommend it.
The trail gave some nice views of the tower which looks a little different from each side. There was also nice over views of the surrounding countryside. We saw several mule deer along the trail including a fawn. Also remember this is a sacred place to local Native American groups, please be respectful of prayer bundles and stay on the path.
At the base of the tower you can climb on the boulder field. The older kids and some of the adults in our group had a great time scrambling amongst the boulders. They made to the top of the boulder field and came back. It was not a difficult climb but use caution and watch your footing. Climbing any higher than the boulder field requires a permit and from watching the climbers on the tower (there were 3 or 4 groups) some real skill in climbing.
We return to the visitor’s center and the throngs of tourist (had kinda forgotten they were all there while we were on the trail) and turned in our JR Ranger booklets. There is a small gift shop on site as well but it was very busy. We then went back down the road to the picnic camping area for lunch. Devil’s Tower is pretty much out in the middle of nowhere. Just outside of the park there are two small gift shops that offer food but neither are very large. So plan your trip accordingly.
The picnic area was nearly deserted just us and one other family. There were plenty of tables and lots of shade. So we had a nice lunch with a great view of the tower. Also at the picnic area is a small monument to bring awareness to the importance of the tower to native people. If you stand behind the statue the tower will be framed inside the smoke circle. It was a really neat way to view the tower. Also all around the picnic area is a large colony of prairie dogs. The kids had a lot of fun watching them play.
Overall impression: Despite my initial reservations, I really enjoyed the park. I would highly suggest taking the trail and getting away from the crowds to fully enjoy the tower. Plan on spending one to two hours at the park if you plan to take the trail. There are other trails so you could spend more time if you wanted.
Side note: Because the visitor’s center and gift shop were so crowded we decided to stop at one of the two gift shops just outside of the park. We were able to find a penny smashing machine here and they had larger bathrooms.