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Jewel Cave National Monument, South Dakota
Fast Facts
ACTIVITIES
Natural Wonder
Interpretive Programs
 
 
Points of Interest Nearby
 
Family Travel Tips
ON THE ROAD WITH KIDS
 

Ranger at Jewel Cave National Monument

 

Photo by Alfredo De Simone

The primary attraction at Jewel Cave National Monument is calcite crystals. These sparkling jewel-like formations enticed Frank and Albert Michaud, the cave's founders, to stake a mining clam in 1900 and convinced the U.S. government to declare Jewel Cave a national monument 8 years later. While no riches were found by the Michaud brothers more than 146 miles (235 km) of maze-like passageways have been discovered by volunteer explorers. Jewel Cave National Monument is the second longest cave the world after Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. In addition to glittering calcite crystals, Jewel Cave boasts helictites, scintillites and frostwork formations as well as both stalactites and stalagmites. And it is home to 9 different kinds of bats.
Getting There
 
Jewel Cave National Monument is situated in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The Visitor Center and main cave entrance are located 13 miles (21 km) west of Custer, SD and 23 miles (39 km) east of Newcastle, WY and are accessible from HWY 16.
Getting Around
 
All entrance into Jewel Cave is ranger guided. The Jewel Cave Discovery Talk is an easy 20-minute cave visit and it is the only cave tour that is wheelchair accessible. Participants view one large room and access the cave via an elevator. The moderately strenuous Scenic Tour is the most popular program at Jewel National Park. This 1 hour 20-minute visit enters and exits the cave via an elevator but entails walking up and down 723 steps (roughly 40 flights of stairs) along a ½-mile loop. The Lantern Tour is a 1930s style adventure; the lantern each visitor carries provides the only light on this excursion. This strenuous ½-mile walk involves steep wooden steps as well as bending and stooping and is roughly 1 ¾ hours in length. Children must be at least 6 years of age to participate on Lantern Tours. The extremely strenuous Spelunking Tour is ideal for families with older teens (minimum age is 16) eager to experience a real caving adventure. This 2/3-mile circuit is 3-4 hours in length and requires all cavers scramble, chimney, belly-crawl and climb. Proof of age may be requested. Participants must be in good physical condition.
When to Travel
 
While there are is no right or wrong time of year to visit the Black Hills there are a few things to consider when traveling with kids. July is the warmest month (75°F or 24°C); January is the coldest (25°F or -4°C). Summer storms can be severe but tornados are a rarity. A katabatic wind called the Chinook can move the mercury 40°F in just 2 minutes. The western plains are semi-arid but the forests are not. The hills are the coolest spot in summer. The northern Black Hills receives more snow than elsewhere.
Hours & Seasons
 
Jewel Cave National Monument is open daily throughout the year. Closed Thanksgiving; December 25 and January 1. The visitor center is open 8:30 - 19:00 mid-June to mid-August, 8:30 - 17:30 late May to mid-June and mid-August to mid-September, and 8:30 - 16:30 the remainder of the year. The Jewel Cave Discovery Program and Scenic Tour are offered year-round. The Lantern Tour and Spelunking Tour are offered from mid-June to mid-September only. Severe weather can impact opening hours and tour schedules.
Admission & Fees
 
Cave tour tickets are available at the visitor center and can be reserved by phone up to 7 days in advance. A fee is charged for all ranger-guided cave tours. A reduced rate is available for children (and seniors) where applicable.
Contact Details
 
For ticket prices, tour reservations and other inquiries dial +1 605 673 8300 between 8:00 - 16:00 Mountain Time. Have your credit card handy if making a reservation.
Things to Keep in Mind
 
The cave temperature is 49°F (9°C) year-round and all cave routes are uneven and slippery. Wear a light jacket or sweater as well as low-heeled, closed-toe, rubber-soled shoes on all cave tours. Food, gum, candy, drinks, tripods, walking sticks, pets and backpack baby carriers are not allowed on cave visits.
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