Wind Cave National Park is found close to the town of Hot Springs, South Dakota. It was established in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt. It was the first cave to be designated as a national park in the national park system, and still, attracts thousands of visitors to this day. The cave is the 6th longest in the world with about 140 miles of passages that have been explored. Every year approximately four new miles of passageways are discovered and explored below the earth. The cave is known for its specific displays of different types of formations. The cave is most famous for its extensive boxwork formations that look like a honeycomb. In fact, the cave contains over 90 percent of the world’s known boxwork cave formations. You can find the cave on a beautiful and peaceful rolling prairie.
Why is Wind Cave National Park Called Wind Cave?
Caves have air that is always moving in and out, changing the pressure of the cave. Depending on how high or low the pressure is inside is what triggers the air to go in or out. Brothers Tom and Jesse Bingham were among the first to discover the cave in 1881. They hear wind or air movement from a hole in the ground, and when Tom bent over to look closer, the air knocked his hat off. The “wind” coming out of the cave is what sparked the name “Wind Cave national park.”
Tours of the Massive Cave
While you’re in the park, you have to take a cave tour! There are several offered, and they vary depending on the time of year. Summer is the busiest, and the tours fill quickly so be sure to claim your spot.
Garden of Eden Tour
The Garden of Eden tour is one of the easiest and quickest tours to do at the Wind Cave National Park. It is approximately one hour long and is classified as the “least strenuous” tour offered. We recommend you to bring Shoes with non-slip soles with you. The tour starts by entering an elevator that will take you down into the cave. Along the way, visitors can see unique formations like box work, flowstone, and cave popcorn. It is about a third of a mile long, and there are over 100 stairs along the route inside the cave. The Garden of Eden tour is an easy and quick tour for those who have small children or have a time limit.
Natural Entrance Tour
This tour is called the Natural Entrance tour because visitors are taken to the place where the cave was discovered and got its name through the hole that the Bingham brothers heard “wind” coming out of. On this, your visitors will enter the cave through a human-made entrance as the wind to the middle areas of the cave tunnels. This tour is somewhat strenuous and is considered a “moderately strenuous” trail. It lasts a little over an hour and is less than a mile in length. There are approximately 300 stairs on the path, but most of them head down, not upwards. This trail provides an excellent opportunity to see the great boxwork patterns in the cave that looks like hundreds of honeycombs laced together.
The most strenuous tour in the cave is the Fairgrounds Walking tour. For an hour and a half, visitors will explore the middle and uppers areas of the massive Wind Cave. The trail winds through areas that have boxwork formations as well as into larger, more open rooms. There are over 400 stairs on this walk, and the route is less than one mile in length. You can see other formations can along the way, and good hiking shoes or boots are a must.
There are two specialty tours available during specific times of the year, and one of these is called the Candlelight tour. This tour is considered difficult, and children under the age of 8 are not allowed. Only ten people are allowed on this tour at a time, and each will be given a candle in a small bucket to carry. This tour is usually only offered in the summer, and it journeys into the darker more remote parts of the cave. For approximately 2 hours, visitors will wind down into Wind Cave and cover less than a mile.
Wild Cave Tour
Only during the summer months is this tour called the Wild Cave tour available. The Wild Cave tour travels away from the designated trails into tunnels and extreme caving adventures. The tour lasts about 4 hours, and kids under the age of 16 are not allowed. To attend this tour, you need to make reservations in advance, and only ten people are allowed at a time.
Participants are asked to wear gloves, old clothes, and good shoes or boots, as there is a lot of crawling through tunnels and tight areas that will take place. Long-sleeved shirts and long pants are required. Hard hats, lights, and kneepads are given to tour participants to use for the duration of the tour. Photography is not allowed on this tour. There is not very much light in the cave, and there is a lot of navigation to do through the tunnels and slippery rocks in the belly of Wind Cave National Park.
Above Ground, There is More!
The cave is the main attraction may flock to see, but there is much more to see above ground too! Bison roams the grasslands above the cave, attracting visitors and their cameras. There is approximately 400 Bison in the Wind Cave National Park. The best places to spot them are on roads U.S. 385 and S.D. 87. The visitor center and campgrounds have fences that keep the Bison out. Please use caution around them and don’t get too close. Enjoy one of the three nature trails for a nice hike throughout the park, and stop at the visitor center for maps, exhibits, information, guided walks and talks, and cave tours.
The visitor center is known for its fantastic display rooms to explore. The upper room has displays on the Native Americans that lived and thrived in the grasslands of South Dakota, as well as how they used the Bison. There is a great cave room that will show the different types of formations and how they are created. Watch the short but interesting park movie in the auditorium. Ask the staff where to go and what to see for the best recommendations for you and your friends or family during your visit to Wind Cave National Park.