The Way to Rainy Mountain is N. Scott Momaday's reflection on Native American culture, particularly that of his Kiowa tribe which came out of the mountains of Montana and, as Momaday puts it, "ruled the whole of the Southern Plains." At one point he recounts the life of his grandmother. She was, for Momaday, symbolic of the "golden age" of the Kiowa because she had been present at the "last Kiowa Sun Dance." Although his grandmother spent her entire life in Oklahoma "in the shadow Rainy Mountain," Momaday claims that within her "mind's eye" she had witnessed all of the places the Kiowa had traveled after they came down out of the mountains. She had told stories of the Crows, the Black Hills, and the legends of the Kiowa.
Momaday sets out on a "pilgrimage" to visit the places which were in his grandmother's "blood." He travels to Yellowstone to begin his journey where his ancestors had started and then travels south and east into the Plains where the Kiowa first met the Crows and Blackfeet and formed an alliance with those tribes. In the Black Hills, at Devil's Tower, Momaday tells of the legend of the eight children, one who became a great bear and the other seven, the stars of the Big Dipper. Like pilgrims before him, Momaday sought to witness the natural elements which shaped his culture and the destiny of his Kiowa ancestors. His pilgrimage ends at the site of his grandmother's grave at the foot of Rainy Mountain.