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Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota
Fast Facts
ACTIVITIES
Natural Wonder
Interpretive Programs
Wildlife
Walking
 
 
Points of Interest Nearby
 
Family Travel Tips
 

Boxwork at Wind Cave

 

Photo by Alfredo De Simone

Wind Cave, named for the revolving air exchange between the cave system and atmosphere, is noted for its boxwork, popcorn and frostwork formations as well as its many miles of maze-like passageways. Not only is this 132-mile (213 km) cave the third longest cave in the U.S. and fourth longest in the world it boasts 95% of the world's thin calcite fins called boxwork. Yet what makes Wind Cave National Park a true gem is the geology of the maze-cave system and the environment above. Limestone, gypsum (calcium sulfate), acid-rich water and lots of time - 300 million years give or take a few - have all contributed to the formation of this complex and unusual cave. Up top the cave sits a whole 'nother world. Wind Cave National Park is one of the few remaining mixed-grass prairies in the United States. The natural entrance of the cave, once referred to as the hole that blew air, is a sacred site of the Lakota Indians. What's more, the park is home to native wildlife such as bison, elk, pronghorn, mule deer, coyotes and prairie dogs.
Getting There
 
Wind Cave National Park is situated in the southern Black Hills of South Dakota. The Visitor Center is located 6 miles (101 km) north of Hot Springs, SD and roughly 20 miles (32 km) south of Custer, SD. The most direct route to the park is via Route 79 or Route 385. State roads 36 and 87 offer a slow, scenic drive.
Getting Around
 
At Wind Cave National Park the pathways are both above and underground. Of the 30 miles of maintained hiking trails three tracks are of particular note to families. Ranking Ridge Trail in the park's northeast corner and Elk Mountain Trail, near Elk Mountain Campground, offer a chance to spot wildlife. Both are easy 1-mile self-guided loop trails. The easy 1.8-mile Wind Cave Canyon Trail is the best birding route at Wind Cave National Park. All entrance into Wind Cave is ranger guided. The Garden of Eden Cave Tour is the least strenuous excursion at Wind Cave. This 1-hour tour covers roughly ¼ mile and involves negotiating 150 steps. The moderately strenuous Natural Entrance Cave Tour covers ½ mile in 1 ¼ hours. Most of the 300 stairs walked on this tour are down. Fairgrounds Cave Tour, a 1 ½-hour excursion featuring boxwork, popcorn and frostwork, is the most strenuous walking tour at Wind Cave National Park. This visit enters and exits the cave via an elevator but entails walking 450 steps of which 89 are up. The Candlelight Cave Tour offers an opportunity to explore Wind Cave in the same way as early explorers. While access to the cave is via elevator this 1-mile walk on rugged trail is a strenuous 2-hour excursion. Children must be at least 8 years of age to participate on Candlelight Cave Tours. The extremely strenuous Wild Cave Tour is ideal for families with older teens (minimum age is 16) eager to experience a real caving adventure. This 4-hour exploration requires all cavers scramble, chimney, belly-crawl and climb. Participants must be in good physical condition. Ranger-guided hikes and evening programs are also offered at this U.S. National Park. Biking is permitted on all park roads. Off-road biking prohibited.
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.
Health & Safety
 
Wildlife encounters and uneven, slippery surfaces are the main health risks at Wind Cave National Park. Maintain a safe distance from all wildlife. Watch for wildlife on all park roads. Wear low-heeled, closed-toe, rubber-soled shoes on all cave tours.
Hours & Seasons
 
Wind Cave National Park is open daily throughout the year. Closed Thanksgiving, December 25 and January 1. The Visitor Center is open 8:00 - 19:00 mid-June to mid-August, 8:00 - 18:00 mid-April to mid-June and mid-August to late September, 8:00 - 17:00 late September to mid-October, and 8:00 - 16:30 the remainder of the year. The Garden of Eden Cave Tour is offered year-round all other ranger-led tours, hikes, and programs are offered seasonally. Severe weather can impact tour schedules and other ranger-led programs.
Admission & Fees
 
Entrance to the park is free of charge. A fee is charged for all ranger-guided cave tours. A reduced rate is available for children (and seniors) where applicable. Cave tour tickets are available at the visitor center on a first-come, first-served basis except for Candlelight and Wild Cave tours, which can be reserved by phone up to 30 days in advance.
Contact Details
 
For ticket prices, tour reservations and other inquiries dial +1 605 745 4600 during visitor center hours. Have your credit card handy if making a reservation.
Things to Keep in Mind
 
The cave temperature is 53°F (11°C) year-round. Wear a light jacket or sweater and maybe even long pants. Wild tour participants should wear sturdy, lace up, non-slip shoes, long pants, long sleeved shirts, gloves and old clothes. Food, drinks, gum, tobacco and pets are prohibited on all cave visits.
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Travel Trivia
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