An expansive underground cave network and spectacular grassland vistas
Regarded as sacred by American Indians, exploration of the area known as Wind Cave did not begin until 1881, when the entrance was noticed by two brothers, Jesse and Tom Bingham. They heard a loud whistling noise, which led them to a small hole in the ground, the cave’s only natural opening.
Wind Cave National Park was established in 1903, becoming the country’s eighth National Park. Located in the southwestern corner of South Dakota, it is known for it’s vast, underground Wind Cave, with chambers like the Post Office and the Elks Room. Many of the cave’s walls are rich in honeycomb-shaped calcite formations known as boxwork. There are regular Ranger-led tours, with different options available for people of different abilities. Only a relatively small part of the cave system are explored on the Ranger walks. For the more experienced cavers, there is much, much more that can be accessed.
Beyond the cave system are expansive prairie lands and pine forests that are home to bison, elk and pronghorn antelopes. To explore this wonderful parkland there are a plethora of trails that include Rankin Ridge, with spectacular views of the Black Hills.
If you are travelling in South Dakota in the region of the Black Hills you need to set some time aside to explore this amazing National Park.
|Location:||26611 US Highway 385, Hot Springs, SD 57747|
The park is open all day, every day.
The Visitor Center’s hours of operation are 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM with extended hours in the spring, summer, and fall
|Admission:||There is no fee to enter the park but it costs $10 to $12 for an adult to visit the caves|
From Rapid City direct:
Follow Route 79 south approximately 50 miles to U.S. Route 385. Turn right onto U.S. Route 385 North, then continue through Hot Springs. Follow U.S. Hwy 385 another 6 miles north and into Wind Cave National Park.
From Rapid City via the Black Hills:
Follow U.S. Hwy. 16 south and west to U.S. Hwy. 385. Turn left on US Hwy. 385 south to Hill City and continue south through Custer City. The park is about 20 miles south of Custer, SD off U.S. Hwy 385.
From western Nebraska:
Follow U.S. Hwy 385 north through Hot Springs, SD to the park.
From Custer State Park:
Follow State Road 87 south into Wind Cave National Park.
Things to do
1. Wind Cave
Over many years of exploration and mapping, Wind Cave has grown to be one of the world’s largest known caves. Currently, over 150 miles of passages have been mapped making it the third-longest cave in the U.S. and the sixth-longest cave in the world. Wind Cave has few stalactites and stalagmites, but many unusual formations and a variety of minerals are found in the cave. The cave is well known for its outstanding display of boxwork, an unusual cave formation composed of thin calcite fins resembling honeycombs.
There are regular tours of Wind Cave run by the National Park Service. NOTE AT THE TIME OF WRITING THE CAVE IS CLOSED DUE TO THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
2. Explore the park’s prairie lands and abundant wildlife
Most visits to Wind Cave National Park take you on US Highway 385 or South Dakota Highway 87, the two main paved roads in the park. Both offer scenic views as well as many pullouts with wayside exhibits and parking for enjoying the scenery or watching wildlife.
Along the way you will see several very large ‘prairie dog towns’ – these are always a big draw for visitors. You could spend hours just watching these busy little creatures going about their day.
There are quite a few trails that run throughout the Park. If you don’t have much time then I suggest looking at the Rankin Ridge Nature Trail which is 1-mile moderate loop trail that takes you up to the highest point in Wind Cave National Park, with some spectacular views along the trail their are several markers of special interest.
- Custer State Park – 10 miles
- Mount Rushmore National Monument – 30 miles
- Crazy Horse Memorial – 22 miles
- Hot Springs Mammoth Site – 7 miles
- Devils Tower National Monument, WY – 125 miles
- Rapid City – 43 miles