Midwest Road Trips

9 Top Things to do at Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota, Badlands for kids
Wind Cave National Park offers more than a cave, along the scenic drive. Credit: South Dakota Department of Tourism

Don’t miss the opportunity to head under the Black Hills. South Dakota features two caves within 31 miles of each other. Both National Park Service sites offer cave tours and are great for escaping the summertime heat. The Black Hills of South Dakota is a top destination for outdoor adventure and includes several national parks to discover. From Badlands National Park to Mount Rushmore National Memorial to Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, there’s a lot to see in the Black Hills. Here are the top things to do at Wind Cave National Park with kids.

Top Things to Do at Wind Cave National Park 

  • Take a Cave Tour
  • Go on the Scenic Drive
  • See Wildlife
  • Attend a Ranger Program

Wind Cave National Park At a Glance 

Year Established: 1903
Located: South Dakota
Size: over 10,500 acres
Top Features: Wind Cave box work, bison herd, native prairie 


Why Visit Wind Cave

The South Dakota Badland offers a week of fun from national parks to outdoor adventure. Sometimes I like to add a cave tour (or in this case, two cave tours ) to my itinerary. Cave tours get you underground and explore its unique landscape that’s hidden under the surface.

Wind Cave National Park is named after the barometric winds at the cave’s entrance, which can predict the weather. With hiking, camping and a herd of bison, Wind Cave National Park is more than a cave tour.

Visitors can enjoy the scenic drive into the park and see some of its wildlife. Underground, Wind Cave’s boxwork, popcorn and frostwork are cave formations to find during your visit.

Caves with Kids? 

Cave tours are ideal for school-age kids who can explore without much assistance. However, cave tours do not allow babies to ride in carriers or strollers. Both are for safety reasons, like bumping heads and steep trails in the cave.

Younger kids might have issues with the dark. However, some really like that discoveries still happen as cave explorers go deeper into the caves and map each one.

Mount Rushmore Planning Guide
Jewel Cave National Monument, South Dakota, Badlands for kids,
Caves fascinate my son, and he can’t wait to take a wild cave tour when he’s old enough. Credit: Catherine Parker

How to See the Wind Cave

With over 100 miles of passageways, portions of Wind Cave remain uncharted and only five percent have been discovered. The boxwork, popcorn and frostwork cave formations in Wind Cave are exceptional for all visitors, especially cave enthusiasts. 

Wind Cave National Park offers three basic tours: the Natural Entrance Tour, the Fairgrounds Tour and the Garden of Eden Tour. I’ve taken the Fairgrounds Tour and Natural Entrance Tour.

Note for Summer 2024

The elevators that serve the cave are being replaced in 2024, so cave tours are on hold from May until September 2024.

Cave Tours

The Garden of Eden Tour

This is the least strenuous tour and is recommended for younger children and visitors with health or mobility concerns. This tour uses the elevator to enter and leave the tour. It includes 150 steps and covers .3 miles during the one-hour-long tour.

However, tourgoers will need to navigate trails that can be slick and poorly lit. If that sounds too strenuous, there is space in the Visitor Center to wait like others take the tour.

You can book this tour in advance. I recommend this for mixed groups.

The Natural Entrance Tour

This tour includes 300 steps, mostly down, lasts an hour and 15 minutes and covers a .6-mile route. I entered the cave through a man-made entrance next to the original and rode the elevator out. I enjoyed walking down into the cave as the first explorers did, it added to the feeling of adventure.

You can book this tour in advance. I recommend this tour for families.

The Fairgrounds Tour

This is the most strenuous tour, lasting an hour and a half and including 450 steps. For this tour, we rode the elevator down and back up afterward. My kids, 13, 12 and 8, loved the tour. All ages are welcome as long as they can walk the entire .6-mile route.

You can book this tour in advance.

The Candlelight Tour

Explore a cave like explorers, by candlelight. This tour includes 424 steps and covers .6 miles along the Blue Grotto Route. This section doesn’t offer lights and lasts 2 hours.

Tourgoers will need to make reservations for this summer-only tour. It requires participants to wear long pants and lace-up shoes.

This tour is a small group and everyone must be 10 years or older.

Wild Cave Tour

This is a four-hour introduction to cave exploring, including crawling and climbing off the trail. Tourgoers will spend much of their time exploring the cave on their hands and knees. This portion of the cave doesn’t offer lighting.

This tour is a small group and participants must be 16.

Accessibility Tour

For those with mobility concerns, Wind Cave National Park offers an Accessible Tour. It is a 30-minute tour with no steps. It uses the elevator and there is parking near the elevator building. Participants will see the famed boxwork on this tour.

Reservations must be made in advance as this tour isn’t scheduled daily. Call the visitor center at (605) 745-4600 to arrange.

Tickets can be reserved online in advance.  Admission for Natural Entrance and Fairground tours: adults 16 and older is $17, kids 6 to 16 are $9 and kids under 5 are $1. The Garden of Eden admission for adults 16 and older is $15, kids 6 to 15 are $8 and kids under 5 are $1. The Candlelight Tour is $17 for 16 and older. The Wild Cave Tour is $46 per person.

Some tickets are available for the day of tours, though most sell out within a few hours in the morning.

What to do at Oregon Caves National Monument
Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota, Badlands for kids,
Wind Cave’s original entrance looks like an animal’s home instead of one of the world’s longest caves. Credit: Catherine Parker

Scenic Drives in Wind Cave 

Explore the native grassland prairies at Wind Cave National Park. It’s the largest protected area in the U.S. With herds of bison, pronghorn and prairie dog towns, my kids love driving through the park. Take Highway 87 as an alternative route to or from Custer, South Dakota, for a scenic drive.

Wind Cave Geology Driving Tour—A 20-mile (32 km) scenic drive with pullouts to learn about the area’s geology. 

Hiking in Wind Cave 

Find 30 miles of hiking through Wind Cave National Park. 

Prairie Vista Trail—A 1.0-mile (1.6 km) pet-friendly round-trip loop trail. 

Elk Mountain Campground Trail—A 1.0-mile (1.6 km) pet-friendly round-trip loop trail. 

Rankin Ridge—A 1.0-mile (1.6 km) round-trip hike loop trail.

Wind Cave Canyon—A 1.8-mile ( 2.9 km) is a former gravel road. 

Best Things to Do Custer State Park 

Wildlife Viewing in Wind Cave National Park

You can find lots of animals within the park, though dawn and dusk are the best wildlife viewing times. The Park Rangers can also point out areas that offer the best chance to see wildlife.

  • Bison
  • Elk
  • Pronghorn
  • Prairie dogs
  • Black-footed ferret

Horseback riding is permitted in Wind Cave National Park. Permits can be picked up at the visitor center.

Ranger Programs

As a popular destination in South Dakota, seasonal ranger programs are offered during the summer season. Centered around the Elk Mountain Amphitheater, the selection changes, though. There is a Junor Ranger program along with evening Ranger programs.

Picnicking at Wind Cave

Find a Picnic Area close to the visitor center with seven tables along with a couple of charcoal grills. 

What to do at Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming
Wind Cave National Park,
Box Work in Wind Cave. Credit: Catherine Parker

Camping at Wind Cave National Park

Elk Mountain Campground 
  • Year-round
  • First-come, first-served 
  • 62 sites, RVs at 48 sites
  • Potable water (Summer only)  with flush toilets (summer only) and vault toilets rest of the year.

History of Wind Cave 

The Bingham Brothers discovered it in 1881 when the wind blew off their hats. Due to its vastness, Wind Cave has its own air pressure system that tries to equal the air pressure on the surface.

In 1903, Theodore Roosevelt signed legislation creating Wind Cave National Park, the seventh national park in the National Park System and the first cave protected as a national park. In 1913, bison from the New York Zoological Gardens were sent to Wind Cave to reestablish bison in the region. 

Civilian Conservation Corps

A group of young men arrived at Wind Cave National Park in 1934. The Civilian Conservation Corps, part of President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Program, worked on conservation projects across the U.S. 

During their tenure, the men of the CCC dug the 208-foot elevator shaft, constructed concrete stairs, and built a fence to contain the animals. They also added lighting to the cave and replaced the stairs at the natural entrance. 

Where’s Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave National Park is located 58 miles south of Rapid City, South Dakota, and has a regional airport with commercial flights. The park is 10 miles north of Hot Springs, South Dakota, along U.S. Highway 385 N. It’s free to enter though cave tours require tickets. The park is open every day, all day. 

Family Guide to the Black Hills of South Dakota 
Jewel Cave National Monument, South Dakota,
Inside of Jewel Cave National Monument, visitors climb up and down 732 steps along metal scaffolding. Credit: Catherine Parker

Jewel Cave National Monument

Jewel Cave At a Glance 

Year Established: 1908
Located: South Dakota
Size: over 1,200 acres
Top Features: The sparkling calcite


What to Do at Jewel Cave

As the third longest cave in the world, it features 210 miles of mapped passages. Local prospectors discovered Jewel Cave in 1900 after blasting dynamite to enlarge the entrance and discovered a cavern covered with calcite crystals. It is a calcite-covered cave so it sparkles.

  • Head to the visitor center
  • Take a cave tour. 
  • Hike above ground at Jewel Cave. 
  • Become a Junior Ranger
  • See Wildlife

Jewel Cave Visitor Center

All cave tours depart from the Jewel Cave Visitor Center, where you can purchase tour tickets, grab maps, and pick up Junior Ranger booklets. You can also find an interpretive area.

Open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. late April to late September. Open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for the rest of the year. Restrooms are located in the visitor center and none are located in the cave itself. 

Cave Tours at Jewel Cave National Monument

Jewel Cave National Monument offers two basic tours, the Scenic Tour and the Discovery Tour. Tickets are available in advance for cave tours via Recreation.gov.

The Scenic Tour

The Scenic Tour is the most popular and strenuous since visitors will have to navigate 732 steps up and down metal scaffolding. Since kids must navigate the stairs, it’s advised that they be at least six years old. Kids can’t be carried during the Scenic Tour.

The Discovery Talk

Get an introduction to Jewel Cave without navigating 700+ steps. just 15 steps. A park ranger explains the types of calcite that give Jewel Cave its name and how the cave was formed. 

Historic Lantern Tour

Offered in the summer only, this tour uses lanterns and it’s similar to a cave tour of the 1930s. This tour includes 600 steps.

Wild Caving Tour

Offered in the summer only, this tour lasts 3 to 4 hours. Participants must to 16-years-old and navigate small spaces. 

We didn’t make it to the Jewel Cave Visitor Center in time to get tickets for the Scenic Tour and took the Discovery Tour instead. Book in advance for summer travel.

The Scenic Tour and Lantern Tour are $16 for adults ( 16+), kids 6 to 15 are $8, and kids under 5 are $1. The Discovery Tours are $6 for adults 16 and older, kids 6 to 15 are $3, and kids under 5 are $1. The Wild Cave Tour is $45 per person (16 and older only).

Hiking at Jewel Cave National Monument

Find three self-guided hiking trails. 

A Walk on the Roof Trail—A .25-mile (.4 km) round trip trail at the Visitor Center.

Canyons Trail—A 3.5-mile (5.6 km) loop trail from the Visitor Center through Lithograph Canyon and the Historic Area. 

Hell Canyon Trail—A 5.5-mile (8.8 km) trail traversing Hell Canyon.

Kids at Wind Cave and Jewel Cave

Earn a Junior Ranger Badge at both Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument. Cave tours aren’t required to earn a Junior Ranger Badge but kids need to attend a ranger program.

BARK program

Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument welcome pets as long as they practice the principles of the BARK program.

B–Bag waste and dispose of it in the trash

A–Always leash your dog for their safety and others

R–Respect wildlife

K–Know where you can go

Note: Pets aren’t allowed on Cave Tours.

Guide to Junior Ranger Badges You Can Earn at Home

Historic Area of Jewel Cave 

See a cabin built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1935. It was used as the first park headquarters. The Historic Entrance is down a stone-step path. 

Also, find picnic tables at the Historic Area. Open in the summer only. 

Wildflowers at Jewel Cave National Monument

Find any number of the 393 plant species. The Visitor Center, Historic Area and along the trails are the best places to see wildflowers from late Spring until Fall.

Animals of Jewel Cave

Explore the topside of Jewel Cave and look for animals. Dawn and dusk are the best times for animal viewing. 

    • Bats—Nine different species
    • Big horn sheep
    • Mule deer
    • Elk
    • Mountain lion
    • Coyote
    • Bobcat
    • Gray fox
    • Long-tailed weasel

Where to Eat at Jewel Cave

Jewel Cave National Monument doesn’t feature a lodge with dining and lodging. This monument is a day-use park only. Find two picnic areas at Jewel Cave—one near the visitor center and the other at the historic area. 

History of Jewel Cave 

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 cave is the third largest mapped cave in the world.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) arrived in 1935. They built a three-room cabin and trails with steps for the cave entrance. 

Where’s Jewel Cave National Monument

Jewel Cave National Monument is 53 miles southwest of Rapid City, South Dakota, and 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. from mid-March to the end of November and is closed on Thanksgiving Day, December 25. Admission is free to the park, and it is only charged for cave tours.

Jewel Cave National Monument is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Memorial Day until Labor Day with reduced hours during the rest of the year. It is a day-use-only NPS site. 

Guide to NPS Passes

Bats and White-Nose Syndrome

If you plan on visiting either cave in South Dakota, you can not wear any clothing, including shoes, that have been in another cave due to White-Nose Syndrome. A ranger will stop all cave visitors at both locations and ask.

White-nose syndrome kills hibernating bat colonies across the U.S. and Canada. This fungus thrives in low temperatures and high humidity and has killed 6 million bats since its discovery in 2006.

Know Before You Go

  • 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.
  • Tickets are sold first-come, first-serve.
  • Take a jacket for the cave tours, the average temperature in both caves is around 50F. 
  • Backpacks and purses are prohibited on cave tours, leave them in your car.
  • Strollers are prohibited in Wind Cave and Jewel Cave. 
  • Walkways are dimly lit and can be slippery; wear appropriate shoes. 

Consideration for brands mentioned.

Add Wind Cave or Jewel Cave to your South Dakota itinerary when you visit the Black Hills. Got all the details for visiting, like cave tour descriptions, hiking, picnicking and camping. What to do at Wind Cave National Park | What to do to at Jewel Cave National Monument | Where to go in South Dakota #NationalParks #SouthDakota


Catherine Parker has a passion for travel and seen all 50 U.S. States. As a former flight attendant with one of the largest airlines, there isn't a North American airport that she hasn't landed in at least once. Since clipping her professional wings after 9/11, she combines her love of the open road with visiting architectural and cultural icons. She is based out of Central Texas dividing her time between writing and restoring a pair of 100-year-old houses. She shares her life with her three kids and her husband.

Comments are closed.