South Dakota – Wind Cave National Park
I love South Dakota’s Black Hills region for all of its natural beauty, and not only is there gorgeous scenery above ground; there’s even more to be discovered below ground. As with most national parks, the place to start is the visitor center.
One word of caution: the park’s website warns you not to trust your GPS to find the visitor center. The website has a map and directions. I am one of those people who tends to trust my GPS too much, and it has gotten me into trouble more than once, so I wanted to point that out. Not only is the visitor center the place to book your cave tour, it also has some exhibits and a short movie about the park. I have never regretted starting a national park visit by watching an orientation film. It gives you some background about the park before you set off exploring. This one tells you both about the cave and the prairie above the cave. In fact, it’s the prairie that distinguishes Wind Cave as a National Park whereas nearby Jewel Cave is a National Monument.
Wind Cave offers several choices of tours that range from one to four hours long. It’s been about four years since we visited, but I was impressed with how much my kids remembered about the tour. (More than I did.) One of the tour options is a Candlelight Cave Tour. With the current ages (and cave experiences) of my kids, that is probably the tour we would select now. Back then we picked the Natural Entrance Cave Tour. On this tour, you see the cave’s only known natural entrance.
Don’t worry–you don’t have to climb in through that tiny entrance. There is a walk-in entrance nearby. This tour is rated as moderately strenuous. There are 300 steps, but most of them go down. (You get to come back up by elevator.)
The tour goes through the middle level of the cave.
Wind Cave is known for an abundance of a rare formation called boxwork that looks like a lattice design. This picture is a little blurry, but gives you an idea of what it looks like.
The cave was dry and didn’t have features common of wet caves (stalactites, etc.), at least not in the parts that we saw.
As with any cave, it’s helpful to bring along a jacket to stay warm. My youngest daughter had to borrow both Dad’s and Mom’s jackets to stay warm.
After our cave tour was over, we took some time to explore the prairie above. Although there are 30 miles of hiking trails, we explored by minivan. Wind Cave is also known for its wildlife. The first animals we spotted were prairie dogs. We LOVE prairie dogs.
Then we came across a herd of bison.
For safety reasons, it is not recommended that you walk up to a bison, but since some of them came rather close to our car, we were able to get some good close-up pictures without leaving our vehicle.
The park is also known to have pronghorn and elk, but we didn’t see any of those. We were thrilled to spot prairie dogs and bison though. Wildlife sightings are one of our favorite parts about the national parks. And although my kids are getting too old for it now, on this trip they were very much into the Junior Ranger program.
Visiting Wind Cave was a memorable part of our trip to the Black Hills. I’ve enjoyed reliving the memories while writing this.
Ready to visit?
Hours vary by season; check website.
No fees to enter park or hike. Fees charged for tours.
Natural Entrance Cave Tour: $12 adults, $6 children (6-16), 5 & under free
This attraction appears in my e-book, How to Visit All 50 States in 12 Trips.
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