DescriptionTen miles north of Hot Springs on US 385, Wind Cave National Park covers 33,928 acres in the Black Hills. Wind Cave was formed in one of the vast limestone layers underlying much of the area. Strong wind currents that blow alternately in and out of the cave suggested its name; they are caused by changes in atmospheric pressure. The cave, which has more than 140 miles of surveyed passageways, is said to be the sixth longest in the world.
The walk-in entrance to the cave leads to a long, winding passageway that opens into corridors and galleries decorated with unusual boxwork and frostwork formations that are illuminated by indirect light.
At the edge of the Great Plains, the park is a biome composed of a natural mixture of plant and animal species indigenous to several larger regions. The park is about 70 percent prairie grassland and 30 percent forest.
Large mammals such as bison, deer, elk and pronghorn antelope can be seen from the park roads. Prairie dogs and rabbits are a common sight, while coyotes, porcupines, eagles, owls and wild turkeys are spotted occasionally. Do not approach the wildlife; bison are wild and unpredictable. Hunting is prohibited.
General InformationThe visitor center museum has displays about the geology of the cave and the park's plant and animal life. Interpretive talks, walks and demonstrations are held daily during the summer; check at the visitor center for schedules. A park highlight is the view from Rankin Ridge.
A self-guiding nature trail to the 5,013-foot summit of Rankin Ridge offers excellent vistas of the Black Hills. The 111-mile Centennial Trail is a hiking trail that winds through the Black Hills to Custer State Park and Bear Butte State Park. Inquire about travel restrictions.
Cave tours are offered year-round; all tours depart from the visitor center. Visitors should plan to arrive at least 30 minutes before tour time to purchase tickets and prepare for the tour. Five different guided tours are conducted in summer. The Natural Entrance Cave Tour lasts 75 minutes; the Garden of Eden Cave Tour, a less strenuous cave trip, lasts 1 hour; and the moderately strenuous Fairgrounds Tour lasts 90 minutes and travels through two levels of the cave. The 2-hour Candlelight Cave Tour, on which all visitors must carry candle buckets, is more strenuous. The Wild Cave Tour is very strenuous and lasts 4 hours.
The tours are less crowded in the morning. Dress warmly, as the cave temperature is 54 degrees Fahrenheit. Wear comfortable walking shoes. The park is open daily 24 hours. Visitor center open daily 8-4:30; schedule varies, so phone ahead to confirm hours. Cave and visitor center closed Jan. 1, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The Natural Entrance tour departs daily approximately every hour 8:40-6, early June to mid-Aug.; approximately every hour 9-5, Memorial Day-early June and mid-Aug. through Labor Day; approximately every hour 9-4, in spring and fall. The Garden of Eden tour departs two to three times daily 10:30-3:40, in summer; at 10, 1 and 3, mid-Oct. to early Apr. The Fairgrounds tour departs daily every 40 to 80 minutes 9:40-4:20, in summer. The more strenuous Candlelight Cave Tour departs daily at 10:30 and 1:30, in summer. The Wild Cave trip leaves daily at 1, in summer. Phone ahead to confirm tour times.
Natural Entrance and Fairgrounds tours $12; $6 (ages 6-16 and Federal Lands Senior or Access Pass holders). Garden of Eden tour $10; $5 (ages 6-16 and Federal Lands Senior or Access Pass holders); free (ages 0-5; a ticket is required). Candlelight tour $12; $6 (ages 8-16 and Federal Lands Senior or Access Pass holders); ages 0-7 are not permitted. Wild Cave trip $30; $15 (Golden Age Passport holders); ages 0-15 are not permitted. Ticket reservations are strongly recommended for the more strenuous Candlelight or Wild Cave tours; phone the park for reservations. Camping early May-late Sept. $18; $9 in winter when water is off. Phone to verify rates.
The campground is open year-round, though facilities are limited October through April.
ADMISSIONADMISSION to the park is free. Fees are charged for cave tours and camping.
PETSPETS must be on a leash at all times. They are not permitted inside the cave, in the visitor center or in the back country.
ADDRESSADDRESS inquiries to the Superintendent, Wind Cave National Park, 26611 US 385, Hot Springs, SD 57747; phone (605) 745-4600.
GEM DescriptionSee the Black Hills: Get a spectacular overview by climbing Rankin Ridge or a dazzling underview by descending into the cave.