Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- Wind Cave National Park
- How Much Does it Cost to Visit Wind Cave?
- Why Is Wind Cave Famous?
- Why is it Called Wind Cave?
- Is Wind Cave Worth It?
- Where’s Wind Cave National Park
- Jewel Cave National Monument
- Cave Tours at Jewel Cave National Monument
- Where’s Jewel Cave National Monument
- Kids at Wind Cave and Jewel Cave
After you’ve explored the famous sights in South Dakota’s Black Hills like Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park, it’s time to head underground. There are two cave systems worth exploring – Wind Cave National Park and the lesser known Jewel Cave National Monument. Read on to find out if a cave tour is the right adventure for your family.
Caves and kids? Yes, my school-age boys love caves. It’s an underground place to discover with otherworldly looking formations, like deep sea or even deep space. Even more interesting for kids, is that most caves aren’t fully mapped. So cave exploration is ongoing as scientists head deeper into the cave.
In addition to Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota offers another cave, 31 miles away, Jewel Cave National Monument. Though cave tours aren’t for everyone. Your kids need to be comfortable with tight spaces and dimly-lit passageways. Another thing to consider, caves rarely offer restrooms.
Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave National Park is more than a park with a cave. With nature trails, camping and a herd of bison, Wind Cave National Park can be a hub for exploring South Dakota’s Black Hills.
With over 100 miles of passageways, portions of Wind Cave still remain uncharted. Kids are fascinated to hear only five-percent has been mapped. Wind Cave’s boxwork is famous since it offers 95-percent of the world’s boxwork formations. It’s rock formation almost looks like honeycomb made of rock. Also see popcorn and frostwork during guided tours of the cave system.
Cave Tours at Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave National Park offers three basic tours: Fairgrounds Tour, Natural Entrance Tour, and the Garden of Eden Tour. I’ve taken the Fairgrounds Tour and Natural Entrance Tour.
The Fairgrounds Tour is the most strenuous tour. It lasts an hour and a half and includes 450 steps. This tour uses the elevator to enter and leave the cave. My kids, 13, 12 and 8, loved the tour; all ages are welcome as long as they can walk the entire .6-mile route.
The Natural Entrance Tour is less strenuous but still includes 300 steps, mostly down, and lasts an hour and a quarter and covers a .6-mile route. I entered the cave through a man-made entrance next to the original cave entrance and rode the elevator out. I enjoyed walking down into the cave as the first explorers did. It added to the feeling of adventure.
The Garden of Eden Tour is the least strenuous and recommended for younger children and visitors with health or mobility concerns. This tour uses the elevator to enter and leave the cave. It includes 150 steps and covers a .3-mile route during the one-hour long tour.
Scenic Drives in Wind Cave
Above ground begs to be explored with a vibrant ecosystem with herds of bison, pronghorns and prairie dog towns. The park captivated my kids during our drive. Take Highway 87 as an alternative route to-or-from Custer, South Dakota, for a scenic drive.
How Much Does it Cost to Visit Wind Cave?
All cave tours are sold first-come, first-serve the day of the tour. Admission for adults 17 and older is $16, kids 6 to 16 is $8 and kids 5 and under are free. The Garden of Eden Tour admission for adults 17 and older is $14, kids 6 to 16 is $7 and kids 5 and under are free.
A Candlelight Tour and a Wild Cave Tour are available at Wind Cave National Park. Certain age restrictions apply.
Why Is Wind Cave Famous?
President Theodore Roosevelt, who many claim as one of the forefathers of the NPS, declared Wind Cave a national park in 1903. At the time, it was the seventh national park created and the first cave to be designated a national park.
The Lakota people, the Cheyenne people and other Native American tribes consider the cave sacred. More than 20 different tribes are consulted on projects at Wind Cave National Park.
Why is it Called Wind Cave?
Brothers Tom and Jesse Bingham found an opening in 1881 that hissed. When they leaned in closer, the wind from the cave blew off their hats.
Due to the vastness of Wind Cave, it has its own air pressure system that’s always trying to equal the air pressure on the surface.
Is Wind Cave Worth It?
Absolutely, even after touring a couple of times, I explored different parts of Wind Cave. Cave tours aren’t weather dependent so it makes a great rainy day activity. Though if you have young or fearful kids, then I’d might hold off cave tours for a few years.
Where’s Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave National Park is located 58 miles south of Rapid City, South Dakota, that has a regional airport with commercial flights. The park is 10 miles north of Hot Springs, South Dakota, along U.S. Highway 385 N.
Wind Cave Visitor Center is open every day except Thanksgiving Day, December 25 and January 1 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the summer season. It’s free to enter and contains restrooms and a gift shop.
Jewel Cave National Monument
Local prospectors discovered Jewel Cave in 1900 after blasting dynamite to enlarge the entrance and discovered a cavern covered with calcite crystals. Proclaimed a national monument in 1908, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) developed the area in the 1930s.
Cave Tours at Jewel Cave National Monument
NOTE: Cave Tours aren’t available during Winter 2021-22 since the elevator is undergoing maintenance.
Jewel Cave National Monument offers two basic tours, the Scenic Tour and the Discovery Tour. We didn’t make to the Jewel Cave Visitor Center in time to get tickets for the Scenic Tour and took the Discovery Tour instead. I arrived on a summer weekday at noon so plan on visiting the caves in the morning.
The Scenic Tour is the most popular and it’s described as strenuous since visitors will have to navigate 732 steps up and down on metal scaffolding and it lasts an hour and a quarter. Kids must navigate the stairs on their own. Kids cannot be carried during the Scenic Tour. It is $12 for those 16 and older and $8 for 6 to 15. Kids under 6 aren’t advised.
The Discovery Tour is an introduction to Jewel Cave where visitors will have to climb 15 steps. The park ranger explains the types of calcite that give Jewel Cave its name and how the cave was formed. This tour lasts about 20 minutes and uses the elevator to enter and leave the cave. It is $4 for those 16 and older and free for kids 15 and under.
A Historic Lantern Tour and a Wild Cave Tour are available at Jewel Cave National Monument. Advance reservations are required for both tours.
Where’s Jewel Cave National Monument
Jewel Cave National Monument is located 53 miles southwest of Rapid City, South Dakota, that has a regional airport with commercial flights. The park is 13 miles west of Custer, South Dakota along South Dakota Highway 16.
Jewel Cave Visitor Center is open every day from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., mid-March to the end of November and closed on Thanksgiving Day. It’s free to enter and contains restrooms and a gift shop. From December to March, Jewel Cave National Monument runs limited operations and tours.
All cave tours depart from the Jewel Cave Visitor Center. Purchase tour tickets, grab maps, pick up Junior Ranger booklets and use the restrooms since none are located in the cave.
Kids at Wind Cave and Jewel Cave
Junior Ranger Badge booklets are available at Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument. It’s not required to take a cave tour to earn a Junior Ranger Badge but kids have to attend a ranger program.
Other Activities at the Caves
Wind Cave National Park has numerous hiking trails through the prairie and the ponderosa pine forest.
Horseback riding is permitted and permits can be picked up at the visitor center.
Wind Cave National Park picnic tables are located .25-miles from the visitor center.
Camping is available at Wind Cave National Park in the Elk Mountain Campground ($24/night). It features 75 sites with fire grills, water and restrooms with evening campfire programs during the summer.
Jewel Cave National Monument has two self-guided hiking trails. Picnic tables are located near the parking lot.
Wildlife Viewing in Wind Cave National Park
Explore the grass prairie and maybe spot some wildlife within the park. Dawn and dusk are the best wildlife viewing times. The Park Rangers can also point out areas that offer the best chance at seeing wildlife.
- Prairie dogs
- Black footed ferret
The Black Hills of South Dakota offers several National Park Service sites, like Badlands National Park and Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
Tips from a SheBuysTravel:
- Don’t try to visit both caves on the same day in the summer. Tickets sell out for the day’s tours in the morning.
- Take a jacket for the cave tours; the average temperature in both caves is around 50F.
- Backpacks, strollers and purses are prohibited on cave tours; leave them in your car.
- The Fairgrounds Tour at Wind Cave has 450 steps.
- Walkways are dimly-lit and can be slippery; wear appropriate shoes.
- Help prevent White-Nose Syndrome from spreading – don’t wear clothes or shoes from other cave visits, even if washed.