About Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave is amongst the oldest, largest, and longest cave systems in the entire world. While only about five percent of the cave has actually been explored, it is thought to have the highest concentration of the rare box work formations for which it is famed.
These calcite formations look similar to honeycombs and are only found a few other places on earth. The cave is also unique in that it is known to inhale and exhale during storms when the barometric pressure fluctuates.
If that wasnt enough to impress, the cave is also home to six underground lakes, and some experts believe that Wind Cave and the nearby Jewel Cave must intersect at various points.
There are a variety of tours available at the park that allow visitors to explore the caves, but theres so much more to Wind Cave than, well, the cave.
The park boasts nearly 30,000 acres above ground as well, and the stunning swaths of ponderosa pine forest, rolling hills, and mix-grassed prairies are home to some unique flora and fauna that are easy to spot thanks to the wide open topography.
The park is best explored via the 30 miles of trails, or by driving along one of the scenic roads that wind through the area. The park is open year-round, and no matter which season you decide to visit, youre sure to have an experience that you wont soon forget.
Wind Cave National Park Trails
Distance: 1.2 miles, one way
Terrain: Easy trail, the short loop winds around the Elk Mountain Campground. Leashed pets are permitted on this trail.
Cold Brook Canyon
Distance: 1.4 miles, one way
Terrain: Moderate trail with an initial descent that drops into the canyon. Hike features a prairie dog town and falcon and other raptors nesting along the cliffs.
Distance: 3.6 miles, one way
Terrain: Difficult trail, follows rolling prairie and crosses a large prairie dog town. Trail ends where it meets the Highland Creek Trail, which is the longest and most diverse trail in the park.
Distance: 8.6 miles, one way
Terrain: The longest and most diverse trail in the park, the hike encompasses both prairies and forests in addition to riparian habitats along Highland and Beaver Creeks and the Wind Cave Canyon.
Distance: 2.6 miles, one way
Terrain: This strenuous trail offers panoramic views of the Black Hills to the west and the Great Plains to the east. Elk are also often seen along the trail.
Distance: 1 mile, one way
Terrain: The highest point in the park, this nature trail offers spectacular views. Its an easy hike and great option for families or those with a limited time to explore the park.
Wind Cave Canyon
Distance: 1.8 miles, one way
Terrain: A former road, this trail follows Wind Cave Canyon to the park boundary, and the limestone cliffs provide nesting areas for birds.
East Bison Flats
Why Visit Wind Cave National Park In An Rv
Wind Cave is an excellent destination for RVers who enjoy hidden gems underground and the rolling hills and ranchland above. The park has one campground with plenty of space for motorhomes and travel trailers.
After hiking over scenic trails, then cooling off in the cave, RVers quickly realize that Wind Cave National Park has even more going for it.
The park lies amid many other nationally recognized attractions. In fact, its northern border is next to the popular Custer State Park. Crazy Horse Memorial and Mount Rushmore National Memorial are also nearby.
Using Wind Cave as a base camp offers great accessibility and a quieter, more relaxing camping experience away from the crowds of these other venues.
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Elk Mountain Interpretive Trail
Elk Mountain Interpretive Trail is a 2.5 mile lightly trafficked out and back trail located near Custer, South Dakota that offers the chance to see wildlife and is good for all skill levels. The trail is primarily used for hiking and walking and is best used from April until October.
This short loop circles a butte that provides hikers with a view of Wind Cave National Parks west side prairies, Wood Mountain, the towns of Hot Springs and Hermosa, South Dakotas the Black Hills, and even Mount Rushmore .
Length: 2.5 mi
Kid friendly, Hiking, Walking, Wildlife, No dogs
Wind Cave National Park Things To Do In A Half Day + Wind Cave Tours South Dakota Travel Blog
As you can imagine, THE thing to do at Wind Cave National Park is to go underground and inside Wind Cave!
Its also one of the caves in South Dakota that is managed by the National Park Service.
It can be reasonable for people to visit Wind Cave as a day trip from some many of the best places to visit in South Dakota, like from Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and Rapid City SD.
Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park directly connect.
And although it gets a little further away, you could even make it a day trip from Badlands National Park.
If you are driving from the Badlands to Yellowstone National Park, you can make a detour to spend a few days in the Black Hills of South Dakota. And during that time, you can also go to Wind Cave.
Wind Cave is on the southern side of the Black Hills.
Can you go inside Wind Cave without a tour?
So one of the most important things to know about Wind Cave is that you cannot go inside Wind Cave without a guided tour.
You cannot go inside Wind Cave on your own.
So in order to see inside Wind Cave, you must sign up for a cave tour! Your tour guide will be a national park ranger.
In order to make a trip to Wind Cave really worth it, you need to do a cave tour. Yes, it is a cool experience to walk inside Wind Cave!
And then the other important thing to know is that Wind Cave tours do sell out.
So planning is required!
This can give you an idea of how to plan your day.
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Wind Cave National Park Free Boondocking 2 Miles: Rifle Pit
This campsite is located within the Black Hills National Forests Hell Canyon Ranger District.
This site is not closed! The left side of the road, not the right, is open. Follow the road sign marked Rifle Pit. The right side is closed due to sapling growth. A good place to sleep for the night, but thats about it. Pulled into the first gravel pullout from the paved road, but it looked to be a few more if you drove further in. The history of rifle pit was interesting as well. The historical marker sign is right before Rifle Pit Rd off of the paved road.
Wind Cave National Park Boondocking Locations 18 Miles: Sheps Canyon
Management: State Park
The road in is Gravel and 10 miles from a paved road. Sheps Canyon is open All year. There are 1-5 campsites at this location.
The free camping on the west side is a grassy area next to the lake with fire rings. The free campsites do not take reservations. The nearest store is Hot Springs. There is a pit toilet. Boat ramp nearby. Fishing for walleye. Take Highway 71 south of Hot Springs for about 5 miles. Turn left on Sheps canyon road for about 4 miles. Turn RIGHT just past the trailer court. Continue about three miles. Usually empty during the week.
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Drive Wind Cave Geology Tour
Far from the florescently-lit classroom sounding name, the Geology Tour is a 20 mile gravel road that winds through the heart of the park.
Along the way youll see interpretive signs and various rock formations that tell the history of the park. Of course youll also be treated to beautiful views of the surrounding area and ample opportunities to see wildlife including bison.
The drive takes anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour and is a great way to get off the beaten path and drink in the scenery of this unique area without having to embark on an arduous hike.
Driving the Wind Cave Geology Tour
- Distance: 20 miles
- Time: 30 minutes 1 hour
- Road: Gravel suitable to all cars
Wind Cave Has What You’d Expect
- There is no entrance fee to Wind Cave National Park.
- A variety of underground tours help visitors explore the caves passages. Tours range from $10 to $30.
- Campsites at Elk Mountain Campground are $18/night, depending on the season.
Wind Cave National Park, set among the rolling prairie and Ponderosa Pine forests of the Black Hills, is a haven for wildlife everything from bison and pronghorn to hawks and black-footed ferrets but its the Wind Cave that brings the Park its name and fame. This large cave holds 95% of the worlds calcite boxwork formations and is reputed to have the densest concentration of passages of any other cave.
Above the cave, the 30,000 acres of open prairie lands of the Black Hills are a popular place for hiking, camping, scenic driving and wildlife viewing.
Wind Cave National Park has a variety of guided tours, all of which are at least moderately strenuous and vary in length from one to four hours. While the shorter tours stay to the outer fringes of the cave and the lit walkways and stairs, the longer tours are done by headlamp or candlelight and give adventurous souls a chance to crawl through tight passages and explore the rooms and speleothems that are hidden further in the depths of the cave.
- Reservations are recommended and can be made in person or by calling 605-745-4600.
- Fees range from $10 to $30 for adults, depending on the tour.
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When To Visit Wind Cave National Park
The park is accessible year-round, with its visitor center closed only on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. If you enjoy the varied wildlife here, remember that most animals are more active in cool temperatures. Cave tours continue all year but have a limited schedule during the winter months.
Camp Out Under The Stars
To truly immerse yourself in the park we always recommend camping out. There are two options for camping in Wind Cave National Park, Elk Mountain Campground and backcountry camping.
Elk Mountain Campground
- Amenities: Bathrooms, trash, year-round firewood sales, and seasonal potable water
For those not looking to schlep all their gear into the backountry we recommend getting a site at Elk Mountain Campground. This 62-site campground offers sites on a first-come-first-served basis, which is great because all the sites wont already be booked months in advance.
Make sure to get there early to snag a site and remember that youll need cash to pay for your site .
The campground is open year round and is seasonally discounted to $12.
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Wind Cave National Park Elk Mountain Overview
Wind Cave National Park Elk Mountain campground is located next to a pretty prairie and has 61 campsites for tents, trailers and RVs. The campground is first come, first-serve and usually open mid-May through September.
Elk Mountain campground has drinking water and flush toilets during the warmer months. There are no hookups, showers or dump station. The closest dump stations are in Custer and Hot Springs. Each campsite also has a table, fire ring and grill. Backcountry camping is also available.
Wind Cave National Park Elk Mountain Area Recreation
Wind Cave National Park features on of the worlds longest caves hidden beneath the prairie of the southern Black Hills. The Park offers great wildlife viewing including bison, elk, prairie dogs and a variety of birds. Wind Cave is named for barometric winds at its entrance and includes a complex labyrinth of passages.
Indoor recreation includes cave exploration and theres also a variety of outdoor recreation. Visitors can enjoy hiking, backpacking, biking, horseback riding, picnicking and wildlife viewing.
Custer State Park is also just 25 miles away and has 303 campsites. Other campgrounds in the area also include Bismarck Lake and Horsethief Lake.
- Visitor Center
Wind Cave National Park Boondocking 25 Miles: Buffalo Gap National Grasslands
Address708 Main St / PO Box 425 Wall, SD 57790Oelrichs, South DakotaElevation: 3412
Management: National Forest Service
The road in is Dirt. There are 30 or more campsites at this location and the maximum RV length is unlimited.
These National Grasslands are amazing! Theres practically an infinite number of boondocking sites available with vast miles and miles of rolling grass hills and meadows. Its managed by the National Forest Service, and its all open to the public . The full 369-degree views are absolutely stunning, and for me this is as close to a perfect boondocking location that Ive ever experienced.
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Wind Cave National Park Boondocking Locations 4 Miles: Fsr 324 1d
Management: National Forest Service
The road in is Dirt. There are 1-5 campsites at this location and the maximum RV length is 25 feet. You may stay 14 days at FR343.1a.
Rugged site but its free and works! There is also cell signal in this area!! Once you leave the main road and come through the livestock gate, the road becomes fairly rocky leading down a small hill. There arent obvious sites where people have camped before but there are a few spots where you can pull a car or small camper off the road a bit into some grass. We came through with a teardrop camper and were able to find a small patch of level ground. We didnt need to use four wheel drive when we came through but the road was fairly dry. If conditions are wet during your trip four-wheel drive may be needed to navigate the road.
Centennial Trail: Highway 87 To Highland Creek Trailhead
Centennial Trail: Highway 87 to Highland Creek Trailhead is a 5.8 mile lightly trafficked point-to-point trail located near Custer, South Dakota that offers the chance to see wildlife and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from April until October.
The Centennial Trail starts at the Lookout point parking area on highway 87 north, 9 miles from park headquarters or 3 miles south of Mammoth on Highway 240. The moderate hike features a 300-ft elevation gain through open forest, tall grasses, and scattered tree groves, which hikers can complete in about an hour .
Length: 5.8 miRoute type: Point to point
Backpacking, Camping, Hiking, Mountain biking, Nature trips, Bird watching, Views, Wildlife, No dogs
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About Wind Cave National Park Camping
With views of the Black Hills, open prairies, and pine forests, some of the best camping spots are in Wind Cave National Park. Near Hot Springs, SD, campers can stock up on camping supplies before pitching their tents. Campgrounds around the South Dakota park accommodate RV drivers, and also offer cabins and yurts as additional sleeping options. Backpack through the park watching birds perch calmly on the backs of bison. Elk and pronghorn antelopes also roam the prairies and forests. Campsites by the cave are a prime opportunity to discover the underground marvels that include the famous Wind Cave, and the subterranean chambers known as the Post Office and Elks Room.
Wind Cave National Park Weather And Seasons
Although Wind Cave National Park is open year-round, severe weather and big crowds mean that some seasons are less desirable for visiting the park
Spring is a shoulder season at Wind Cave National Park, and its amazing that more people dont choose to visit during this month. The weather is pleasant, and there is a large variety of cave tours offered as well.
If youre hoping to avoid the busiest months without sacrificing the experience, Spring might be the best time to visit. Keep in mind that this is the wettest season of the year, and rainy days are common during these months.
Summer is the most popular month to visit Wind Cave National Park. The warmer months also see soaring temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns.
Afternoon thunderstorms are not uncommon in June and July, and sometimes large hail accompanies them. So, keep an eye on the forecast if you choose to visit in the summer.
Youll also want to arrive at the park plenty early to secure a cave tour, as these sell out quickly during this popular season.
Like the spring, Autumn at Wind Cave National Park means a decrease in temperatures and crowds. This is one of the best seasons to visit the park, as the fall foliage in the Black Hills is seriously spectacular.
Some tours are offered less frequently during the autumn, but if you arrive early enough you should have no problem securing a spot.
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See The Place Where Wind Cave Was Discovered
Another one to add to your list of things to do in Wind Cave National Park is seeing the opening where the cave was first discovered. The story the rangers tell about this opening is that the Bingham brothers happened upon this hole one day after hearing a strange whistling noise emitting from it.
When the brothers approached the hole one of their hats was blown off by the air coming out of it.
The Lakota attribute this opening as the site where their people first emerged and their origins story is documented by the National Park Service at the opening.
Cost To Visit Wind Cave National Park
In 2021, the cost to enter Wind Cave National Park was free, but there are fees for the cave tours.
You can see the Wind Cave natural entrance for free since you can go to that on your own.
You can also do the hiking trails in Wind Cave National Park for free.
If you have an annual national park pass, it wont do you any good at Wind Cave National Park, as it gives you no discount on the cave tours and since there is free entry to the park itself.
How much do the Wind Cave tours cost?
The cost of a Wind Cave tour will depend on which tour you decide on. The cost of tickets for the regular Wind Cave tours is around $15 per person, with kids being half that.
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