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The Ultimate Guide to Wind Cave National Park — Best Things To Do, See & Enjoy!

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The Ultimate Guide to Wind Cave National Park — Best Things To Do, See & Enjoy!

Table of Contents

How to get to wind cave national park, getting around wind cave national park, what to see and do in wind cave national park, best times to visit wind cave national park, where to stay in wind cave national park, where to eat in wind cave national park, wind cave national park facts, final thoughts.

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Wind Cave is one of the world’s oldest caves, creating a mazelike underground chamber system. Each year, over a million visitors come to explore Wind Cave National Park. It is teeming with wildlife, has many miles of scenic roads, and of course, a historic cave just waiting to be explored. This park has a rich cultural and geologic history and plenty of sights and activities for visitors to enjoy.

Where Is Wind Cave National Park?

Wind Cave National Park is located in South Dakota, not far from Mount Rushmore . This national park is nestled in the southeastern shoulder of the Black Hills. This national park stretches over 33,000 acres of prairie and forest, with a mesmerizing cave system lying under its surface. 

Nearest Airports to Wind Cave National Park

The closest airport to Wind Cave National Park is Rapid City Regional Airport (RAP). This airport is only 48 miles from the park. 

Rapid City Regional Airport offers nonstop flights to 8 different destinations in the US. This airport services many major airlines, including Allegiant, American, Delta, Sun Country, and United. 

Flying into RAP is the most convenient way to arrive in the Black Hills area. With its proximity to Wind Cave National Park, utilizing this airport is a sure way to maximize your travel time. 

Driving to Wind Cave National Park

There are several different routes for arriving at Wind Cave National Park, depending on which area you are coming from. US Highway 285 is the major highway that leads to the park. For those coming directly from Rapid City, Route 79 will lead to Highway 385. For visitors coming from Rapid City by the Black Hills, Highway 16 will lead to Highway 385. This highway leads right to the park entrance and visitor center. 

Taking a Bus to Wind Cave National Park

Taking a Greyhound bus is a great way to enjoy a vacation without the stress and worry of driving. The nearest Greyhound station to Wind Cave National Park is in Rapid City, South Dakota , just 42 miles from the park’s entrance . Once arriving in Rapid City, you are just a short drive from the park. 

There are several ways to get around Wind Cave National Park, including horseback riding and cycling, but the best option for getting around is by personal vehicle. There are miles and miles of highways, paved roads, and gravel roads winding through the park, making a vehicle the best option for exploring. The National Park Service offers an interactive map to help you plan your park excursions. 

Wind Cave National Park has so much for visitors to see and do. From cave exploration to wildlife watching and from hiking to horseback riding, there is something for everyone. Take a look at the activities available in Wind Cave National Park and see which ones you would like to add to your vacation itinerary. 

Biking Wind Cave National Park

Biking through Wind Cave National Park is an incredible way to explore the park. This activity is perfect for visitors to enjoy during the spring, summer, or fall months. Bikes are only permitted on established roads throughout the park. Biking is a spectacular way to sightsee at a leisurely pace and take in the natural beauty of the park. 

Birdwatching

Birdwatchers are in for a treat when visiting Wind Cave National Park. Since there is a mixture of ecosystems, there are many birds that can be found in this park. Some of the best places to see the birds of this park include the Elk Mountain Campground and the visitor center.

Over 100 types of birds live in Wind Cave National Park permanently, and dozens of other species pass through during migration seasons. Some of the types of birds frequently spotted in Wind Cave National Park include woodpeckers, great horned owls, yellow warblers, magpies, and turkey vultures.

Birdwatching is a great activity no matter what time of year you visit Wind Cave National Park.

Cave tours are what bring most visitors to Wind Cave National Park. This park offers amazing tours of the cave throughout the spring, summer, and fall. If you hope to participate in a cave tour, it is essential that you purchase tickets in advance.

Some cave tours include the Garden of Eden Tour, the Natural Entrance Tour, and the Candlelight Tour. All tours are guided by a park ranger who teaches about how the caves were formed and the history of Wind Cave. 

Driving Tours

The Wind Cave Geology Driving Tour is an amazing way to see and learn about the geology of the park. The driving tour lasts between 60 and 90 minutes and is a self-guided tour that is offered year-round. The tour is 20 miles long, showcases the historic rock record, and teaches about the geologic history of the Black Hills. The Wind Cave Geology Tour gives visitors a way to explore a fascinating part of the park at their own pace. 

Hiking Wind Cave National Park

Hiking is an activity that can be enjoyed year-round at Wind Cave National Park. There are nearly 30 miles of hiking trails varying in difficulty and length. From easy walks to strenuous journeys, there is a hike available for every visitor, no matter your age or ability level. Some popular hikes include Rankin Ridge Nature Trail, Elk Mountain Nature Trail, Wind Cave Canyon Trail, Lookout Point, and Centennial Trail Loop. 

Horseback Riding

Horseback riding is one of the best ways to explore the ponderosa woodlands and prairies throughout Wind Cave National Park. There are thousands of acres just waiting for riders to enjoy. The park doesn’t have facilities that provide horses, so you must bring your own or use a facility nearby. If you plan to ride in Wind Cave National Park, it is imperative that you obtain a free day permit ahead of time. 

Wildlife Viewing

Wildlife is plentiful at Wind Cave National Park. Wildlife viewing is one of the top activities available year-round at this national park. Some of the iconic animals that make their home in Wind Cave National Park include bison, elk, and prairie dogs. Wind Cave National Park is actively working to conserve the American bison. There is an entire herd that can be followed through this national park.

Visiting during the fall months will allow visitors a sight of the male elk searching and bugling to attract mates. Prairie dog towns are a must-see when wildlife watching. There are tons of these adorable mammals sprinkled throughout the backcountry hiking trails.

Seeing the animals that make their home in Wind Cave National Park is an incredible opportunity that will create memories to last a lifetime. 

Wind Cave National Park is an exciting park with lots to see and do no matter what time of year you visit. If there are particular sights and activities you want to participate in, there may be better times to visit than others.

Best Time To Visit Wind Cave National Park for Ideal Weather

For ideal weather, plan a trip to Wind Cave National Park in September. The weather is comfortable for hiking and exploring through the park, and there typically isn’t a problem with too much rain during September. Another great part of visiting Wind Cave National Park in September is that the crowds have dissipated since school is returning to session. A September trip is the best time of year to visit if you are seeking ideal weather. 

Best Time To Visit Wind Cave National Park To Avoid the Crowds

A national park experience without a crowd is a dream come true for most visitors. If you want to visit Wind Cave National Park without the crowds, plan for a trip in early June. This is right before the summer crowds come in so that you can enjoy the park at your own pace with peace and quiet.

Best Time To Visit Wind Cave National Park for Wildlife

Wind Cave National Park for Wildlife

If you love viewing wildlife, you should plan a visit to Wind Cave National Park in April. An April visit guarantees exceptional sights of the wildlife that makes their home in the park. The temperatures are also comfortable, with a high of 59 degrees during the day. Dawn and dusk are opportune times to catch a glimpse of the animals in the park. 

Cheapest Time To Visit Wind Cave National Park

Traveling and saving money don’t usually go hand in hand, but that’s not the case with this national park vacation. The cheapest time to visit Wind Cave National Park is from mid to late September. This is when it is cheapest to fly, and the lodging rates are typically lower during this time of year. A September trip is a great way to be able to enjoy a national park vacation while going easy on your budget. 

Annual Events in Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave National Park offers programs on a regular schedule throughout the entire year. There are also some events that take place in and near the park on an annual basis. Take a look at some of the exciting events offered in and near this national park to see if you’d like to plan your visit around them so that you can participate. 

Fall River Hot Air Balloon Festival

The Fall River Hot Air Balloon Festival takes place near Wind Cave National Park in Hot Springs, South Dakota. This event is a great way to see the park and the rest of the city from a bird’s eye view. This 3-day event has balloon launches from the nearby airport, local vendors, an art walk and chalk art showcase, as well as live music, sidewalk sales, and a Kid Zone for young visitors.

The Fall River Hot Air Balloon Festival is a great way to experience the culture and beauty of the city surrounding and encompassing Wind Cave National Park. 

Main Street Arts and Crafts Festival

The Main Street Arts and Crafts Festival takes place each year near Wind Cave National Park. This 3-day event occurs on the last full weekend of June each year. This is a lovely event where local artists and tradesmen can showcase their products, and guests can shop for a wide variety of art, jewelry, pottery, and more.

The Main Street Arts and Crafts Festival has food vendors and live entertainment. Visiting Wind Cave National Park during the weekend of the Main Street Arts and Crafts Festival is a great way to enjoy both park activities and the local culture. 

National Park Week

National Park Week takes place each year in April. This is an excellent week to plan a visit to Wind Cave National Park. There are no entry fees for any national park in the U.S. during this week, and there are additional programs, workshops, and activities to teach visitors about the culture and history of the park. Visiting Wind Cave National Park during National Park Week will allow visitors a unique experience that isn’t available throughout the rest of the year. 

There are several options for staying in and near Wind Cave National Park. The park has a couple of camping options, and there are some towns nearby with more traditional options.

Inside the Park

The only option for lodging is to set up camp under the stars in the backcountry or in the park’s only campground. Camping is an excellent way to experience Wind Cave National Park. Check out the camping options at this park to see if either would work for your park vacation. 

Backcountry Camping

Backcountry Camping at Wind Cave

Backcountry camping is available in the northwestern area of the park. If you choose to camp in the backcountry, you are able to choose from many different habitats, including riparian, prairie, and forest areas.

This type of camping is a primitive experience and a great way to soak in the majestic ambiance of Wind Cave National Park. Backcountry camping requires a free permit that can be obtained at the visitor center. The National Park Service offers a wealth of information about backcountry camping on its website, including maps, regulations, and safety tips.

Elk Mountain Campground

Elk Mountain Campground is comprised of ponderosa pine forest and open prairie. This campground is open year-round and has 62 campsites that are open to tent camping and RVs. These sites can be reserved in advance and are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Amenities at Elk Mountain Campground include picnic tables, fire rings, and an amphitheater where many programs are held. From May to September, drinking water and flush toilets are available. If you plan to camp when water is unavailable, the camping fees are half-price.

Sleeping under the stars is an incredible way to experience the beauty and wonder of the southern Black Hills.

Towns Near Wind Cave National Park

There are a couple of towns near Wind Cave National Park that are excellent places to set up a home away from home during your park stay. These towns each have plenty to offer for lodging, dining, and recreation. Let’s take a look at the 2 closest towns to Wind Cave National Park to see if either would work for your vacation. 

Custer, South Dakota

Black Hills of South Dakota

Custer is a town just 20 minutes from Wind Cave National Park. This town is the oldest in the Black Hills and is a former mining town that is now the ideal place to set up a base camp for your national park vacation.  There is a variety of accommodations available; from budget-friendly motels to charming inns, there’s plenty to choose from when lodging in this town. 

The culinary scene is a paradise for foodies, with several restaurants serving local fare with unbeatable hospitality. There are fine dining restaurants, classic diners, and delis in this town, ready to treat your tastebuds to an unforgettable meal.

This town is in a convenient location for many major attractions. Guests are only a short drive from Mount Rushmore , the Crazy Horse Memorial , Custer State Park , and other exciting places to explore. Shopping enthusiasts love perusing the downtown gift shops, galleries, and boutiques. Adventure awaits in Custer as there are various opportunities for outdoor fun, like hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, and horseback riding. 

Custer is just a hop, skip, and jump from Wind Cave National Park. This convenient town has so much to offer that visitors find themselves wanting to return again and again. 

Hot Springs, South Dakota

The closest town to Wind Cave National Park is Hot Springs. This town is a mere 7 miles from the park and has lots to offer to visitors wanting to make this their home base during their vacation. Guests can find a variety of places for lodging, dining, and recreation in this area. 

There is a long list of lodging options for guests to choose from. Whether you prefer staying in historic log cabins, a campground with amenities galore, a resort, or a traditional hotel, you can find exactly what you need in Hot Springs.

Food enthusiasts are in for a treat — there are breakfast diners, pizza parlors, steakhouses, bakeries, and ice cream shops around the town. No matter what you find yourself craving, you can rest assured that you will find something to hit the spot.

The town is in an incredible location for exploring the Black Hills of South Dakota. There are amazing activities year-round like canoeing, fishing, swimming, fishing, and cross-country skiing. Just a short ride from this town are amazing places to check out, like wild horse sanctuaries, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Mount Rushmore, and Jewel Cave National Monument .

With its close proximity to Wind Cave National Park and countless opportunities for restoration and entertainment, Hot Springs makes a great place to stay during your vacation.

There are no restaurants in Wind Cave National Park, so if you want to eat in the park, you will need to bring all the fixings for a picnic. If picnicking isn’t your style, you can find plenty of restaurants near the park in the surrounding towns. Let’s take a look at some of the top-ranked restaurants near Wind Cave National Park. 

Big Time Pizza

Big Time Pizza is less than 10 miles from Wind Cave National Park in the city of Hot Springs. This restaurant is loved by locals and tourists alike and serves lunch and dinner. 

This family-owned restaurant uses the best ingredients to make its made-to-order pizzas and subs. The menu features an extensive list of specialty and custom-order pizzas and chicken wings, as well as an impressive beer and wine selection. Customers rave over the Buffalo Stampede, the Ultimate Supreme, and the All Meat Pizza.

Not only does Big Time Pizza have the best pizza around, but they also frequently have live music for your entertainment. For a great meal and a good time, make your way down to Big Time Pizza during your Wind Cave National Park vacation. 

Buffalo Dreamer

Buffalo Dreamer

Buffalo Dreamer is a fine dining establishment that serves unique culinary creations for lunch and dinner. Guests are able to take a break from their park adventures and enjoy an amazing meal in the most relaxing environment. 

The menu features gluten-free, organic, and locally-sourced ingredients and specialties so that every diner has options, no matter what their nutrition needs are. Customers can’t say enough about the chef’s creations and rate the meals as some of the top meals they’ve ever had. Popular dishes at Buffalo Dreamer include Georgia O’Keefe’s Lamp Chops, Faroe Island Salmon, and the Bahn Mi Tacos. 

Buffalo Dreamer is less than 10 minutes from Wind Cave National Park in Hot Springs, making this a wonderful place to dine before, during, or after your park excursions. You may like it so well that you come back again and again during your park vacation. 

The Hitch Rail Bar and Restaurant

The Hitch Rail Bar and Restaurant is a top-rated restaurant in Pringle, South Dakota. Open for lunch and dinner daily, this restaurant is ready to serve its signature dishes that will leave you wanting seconds. 

The lunch and dinner menu features American classics like burgers, sloppy joes, and steaks, as well as cultural dishes like Indian tacos, chicken enchiladas, and lasagna. Some favorite meals of customers include prime rib, barbecue pork ribs, and chicken fried steak. 

The combination of convenience, affordable pricing, amazing service, and delicious dishes makes The Hitch Rail Bar and Restaurant an obvious choice for visitors of Wind Cave National Park. Be sure to check out this fantastic restaurant during your visit. 

The 1891 Steakhouse and Bistro

The 1891 Steakhouse and Bistro is in Hot Springs, just 10 minutes from Wind Cave National Park. This restaurant is located in the historic Red Rock River Resort and serves American fare with a French flair. 

The menu at The 1891 Steakhouse and Bistro features signature burgers, sandwiches, starters, incredible entrees, and an extensive wine and drink list. Popular dishes include surf and turf, New York strip steak, chicken Oscar, and scallops.

If you are in the mood to try something more formal for dinner while on your Wind Cave National Park vacation, give The 1891 Steakhouse and Bistro a try. Your tastebuds will be in paradise.

Wind Cave National Park

1. A New National Park

Wind Cave National Park was established on January 9, 1903, by President Theodore Roosevelt.

2. Noteworthy Numbers

Wind Cave National Park was the eighth national park in the US. It became a national park in 1903, but the National Park Service wasn’t established until 13 years later. 

3. First Park for a Cave

Wind Cave National Park was the first park created to protect a cave. 

4. First Explorer

Charlie Crary from Custer, South Dakota, squeezed his way through the Natural Entrance. He became Wind Cave’s first known explorer. He used candles to light his way and a string to mark his path. 

5. First True Explorer

While Charlie Crary was the first to go in and take a look at Wind Cave, the first true explorer was Alvin McDonald. He researched and studied the cave, recorded information about it, named the rooms and routes, and created maps. 

6. Cave Tours

The first cave tours began taking place in 1890. Alvin McDonald partnered with a man named John Stabler in 1892, and his children helped lead tours through the cave. 

7. Diverse Ecosystems

Wind Cave National Park has 2 diverse ecosystems present throughout its boundaries. The open prairie and the ponderosa pine woodland. Because of this diversity, there are many different types of animals that can be seen here. 

8. Record Numbers

Wind Cave is a complex maze type of cave, which means there are many interconnected passages running through it. Because of these passages, it is very difficult to map entirely. A total of 140 miles of passages have been mapped for Wind Cave, which makes this cave the sixth-longest mapped cave in the world. 

9. An Abundance of Animals

Wind Cave National Park is home to many animals, but some of the animals that steal the show when visitors come include the elk, bison, prairie dogs, and the black-footed ferret. Prairie dogs can be found in prairie dog towns in the backcountry. The black-footed ferret was reintroduced to the park in 2007. They love to eat prairie dogs, so visiting the prairie dog towns may reward you with sights of both of these unique animals. 

10. Fossils Galore

Due to the landscape and geology of Wind Cave National Park, many fossils have been uncovered and studied. Some of the fossils that have been found here include seashells, sea creatures, and large animal fossils like jaw bones, turtle shells, and more. 

Wind Cave National Park is a spectacular park with a vast array of sights and activities to enjoy. From wildlife viewing to cave exploration and from horseback riding to hiking, this amazing park has no shortage of adventure. Book your trip to Wind Cave National Park and discover what brings over a million visitors from around the world to this phenomenal park. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How much do the entry fees cost at wind cave national park.

There is no fee for entering Wind Cave National Park. There are fees if you choose to do a cave tour.

How many days should I spend at Wind Cave National Park?

It is recommended to visit Wind Cave National Park for 5 to 7 days. There is so much to explore at this national park, both above ground and below, so a 5- to 7-day trip will allow you to explore at a relaxed pace and check off all the things on your must-experience list.

Is there Wi-Fi available at Wind Cave National Park?

Wi-Fi is available at the visitor center at Wind Cave National Park. Cellular service and connection are not reliable elsewhere.

What is the weather like in Wind Cave National Park?

The weather varies throughout the year at Wind Cave National Park. Summer temperatures are warm and comfortable with clear conditions, while winter is frigid with snow and clouds. The low temperatures typically average 15 degrees, and the highs reach into the 70s.

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About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.

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Wind Cave National Park: The Complete Guide

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Best hikes and trails, where to camp, where to stay nearby, how to get there, accessibility, tips for your visit, wind cave national park.

Designated as a national park in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt, Wind Cave National Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota is the world’s largest and foremost example of a box work cave containing honeycomb-like calcite formations in the cave. Wind Cave has 95 percent of the world’s discovered boxwork formations. More than 150 miles of cave passages have been mapped in Wind Cave National Park, although it is assumed to be even larger. It is currently the sixth-longest-mapped cave in the world and the third-longest in the U.S.

The cave, sacred to the Lakota tribe of Native Americans, is called Wind Cave because of the wind that naturally blows out of the natural entrance to the cave, which occurs when the barometric pressure inside the cave exceeds the air pressure outside. In Lakota, it’s called Maka Oniye, meaning “breathing earth.” Lakota’s oral tradition tells the story of humankind first emerging from the natural entrance to Wind Cave after living below the earth to live on the surface. You can discover the entire Emergence Story here .

To enter the cave, you must be on a ranger-led tour, reserved in person at the Visitor’s Center on the day of the tour.

Above the cave is more than 28,000 acres of prairie and pine forest with more than 30 miles of hiking trails. There are also several driving routes. You can spot various wildlife species inside the park, including bison, elk, cougars, pronghorn antelopes, ferrets, prairie dogs, bobcats, and rattlesnakes.

Touring the cave and exploring the surrounding prairie and forest are the main draws to Wind Cave National Park, which is open throughout the year. In warmer weather, hiking is very popular on the trails, which range in length and difficulty, as is getting on a ranger-led cave tour. However, there are often long waits during the spring, summer, and fall seasons, so arrive as early as possible. There are still cave tours in the winter, although there are fewer tours per day. The cave is a constant 54 degrees Fahrenheit, so it can be a great place to warm up. Visitors can also go snow-shoeing on the trails and see plenty of wildlife in winter.

Getty Images/Mark Newman

Wildlife watching for bison herds and seeing prairie dogs in their prairie dog towns is also popular. In September and October, you can listen to bugling elk when male elk try to attract a mate by emitting a haunting bugle sound.

Back-country camping without reservations is allowed at Wind Cave, and there are numerous picnic tables and grassy areas to gather. Visitors can also drive the self-guided 20-mile geology route with an audio tour, which shares the geologic history of Wind Cave National Park. Road biking on established paths and horseback riding are also allowed inside the park but note that there are no facilities to rent equipment or horses.

Wind Cave National Park has more than 30 miles of hiking trails  with varying difficulty levels. Most of the trails are easy or moderate and can be completed by adults and kids, although you should expect some steep climbs on specific trails. Wind Cave is also an open hike park, and visitors are welcome to hike off marked trails. If you decide to hike away from established trails, bring plenty of water and a map, and be aware of your surroundings at all times. Wherever you hike, wear sturdy shoes, apply sunscreen, carry water, and wear long sleeves and long pants to avoid ticks and poison ivy when hiking.

Pets are allowed on two trails near the Visitor’s Center (Prairie Vista Trail and Elk Mountain Campground Trail), each about a mile long.

  • Elk Mountain: An easy loop trail that measures 1.2 miles and winds around the Elk Mountain Campground and the surrounding prairie grasslands. The trailhead starts at the Visitor’s Center.
  • Cold Brook Canyon: A 1.4-mile one-way moderate trail with an initial descent that drops into the canyon. Visitors will hike through a ponderosa forest, open prairie, and a prairie dog town where prairie dogs, falcons, and other raptors nesting along the cliffs can be seen. The trailhead is along Route 385, about 1 mile south of the Visitor’s Center.
  • Rankin Ridge: To find this trail, follow Highway 87 toward Custer State Park, and look for signage leading toward Rankin Ridge Nature Trail. It’s at the highest point in the park and affords spectacular views, yet it’s an easy 1-mile loop.
  • Wind Cave Canyon: Wind Cave Canyon trail is a former road that follows Wind Cave Canyon to the park boundary for 1.8 miles. The limestone cliffs provide nesting areas for cliff swallows, canyon wrens, and great horned owls.
  • Sanctuary: The 3.6-mile Sanctuary trail is rated difficult. It follows a rolling prairie and crosses a large prairie dog town. The trail ends where it meets the Highland Creek Trail, the longest trail in the park.
  • Highland Creek: To reach Highland Creek, hike 1 mile down the Wind Cave Canyon trail or start from the northern trailhead on NPS 5. The trail is 8.6 miles one way and is the most diverse trail in Wind Cave. The hike traverses prairies, ponderosa forests, and riparian habitats along Highland and Beaver Creeks and the Wind Cave Canyon.
  • Boland Ridge: Boland Ridge is a strenuous 2.6-mile hike with panoramic views of the Black Hills to the west and the Great Plains to the east. Look out for elk in the morning and evening.
  • Lookout Point: A moderate 2.2-mile hike, Lookout Point follows the rolling hills of the prairie and descends to Beaver Creek. Views of the American Elk Prescribed Fire can be seen on a side trip up to Lookout Point. Turn this hike into a 4.5-mile loop by combining it with part of the Highland Creek and Centennial trails.

Wind Cave National Park has one campground and allows backcountry camping in a specific area.

  • Elk Mountain Campground : This is a year-round 62-site campground that operates on a first-come, first-serve basis. Two sites are handicap-accessible. Flush toilets and drinking water are available from late spring through early fall, and vault toilets are available year-round. Firewood is for sale year-round. During summer, ranger programs are offered nightly in the amphitheater.
  • Backcountry camping : Backcountry camping is allowed in the northwest area of the park with a free permit. Free permits are issued at the Visitor’s Center and come with instructions about backcountry camping in the park. The permit area includes the part of the park that is north of Beaver Creek, east of Hwy 87, south of NPS 5, and west of Highland Creek Trail.
  • Custer State Park : There are numerous campgrounds in nearby Custer State Park , which borders Wind Cave National Park to the north.

Aside from camping, there is no lodging inside the park (and no gasoline, grocery, or restaurant services). The nearby towns of Hot Springs (15 minutes south) and Custer (25 minutes north) offer accommodation options from cabins to Airbnb to hotels. Here are some of the best local hotels and places to stay:

  • Black Hills Bungalows : If you want to stay in nature, these one-, two-, three-, and four-bedroom cabins in Custer, just outside the park, are surrounded by it. Wildlife viewings are common, and there is a pond behind the cabins for fishing. All cabins have living areas, kitchens, a deck, and a sleeper sofa for extra guests.
  • State Game Lodge : Located inside nearby Custer State Park, this historic stone and wood lodge was built in 1920 and served as President Calvin Coolidge’s “summer White House” in 1927. There are various accommodation options, including historic rooms in the main lodge, a wing of hotel rooms attached to the main lodge that were renovated in 2016, modern hotel rooms at  Creekside Lodge , and cabins in the valley. There’s also a full-service restaurant and general store. Keep your eyes peeled for buffalo during your stay.
  • Historic Log Cabins : If you’re looking for an authentic log cabin experience, these classic cabins dating back to the 1920s in Hot Springs are just the ticket. Choose from 12 individually designed rustic cabins, some with kitchenettes and gas grills on the deck. There is also free WiFi, continental breakfast (during the summer season), and access to a playground, fire pit, and picnic tables.
  • Rocket Motel : This retro motel dating back to 1950 is in downtown Custer. Rooms range from single beds in multiple sizes to family rooms with a Queen and two twins in an adjoining room with a shared bathroom.
  • Dakota Dream Bed & Breakfast and Horse Hotel : Nestled on 10 acres of pine forest in Custer, this charming bed & breakfast has two guest rooms and a cabin, plus room in the barn if you bring your horses. Handcrafted pine and cedar log beds with cozy quilts provide the perfect woodsy atmosphere, and a homemade country breakfast greets guests each morning.
  • Hills Inn : A Hot Springs 35-room family-owned hotel with complimentary continental breakfast and free WiFi. There’s also an outdoor heated pool and mini golf course.
  • Bavarian Inn : This 64-room inn brings a bit of Europe to the Black Hills and includes indoor and outdoor heated pools, a hot tub, a tennis court, and a European fitness trail. Guests can enjoy a daily complimentary pancake bar and cookie happy hour.

The entrance to Wind Cave National Park is on U.S. Hwy 385, 11 miles north of Hot Springs and 22 miles south of Custer. Once inside the park, follow signs to the Visitor’s Center, where all cave tours begin. Parking is available at the Visitor’s Center. There is no public transit to the park.

Accessible cave tours and special arrangements are available for those with limited mobility, vision, and hearing. Otherwise, all cave tours include walking, standing, bending, stooping, and climbing stairs.

However, limited cave areas are accessible to wheelchairs and those with limited mobility. The park offers special half-hour accessibility where visitors can get an introduction to the cave and box work, the cave’s signature feature. This tour includes riding the elevator into and out of the cave, and accessible parking is available at the elevator building. To arrange an accessible tour, call the visitor center at (605) 745-4600, or ask at the information desk for an Accessible Tour.

Cave trails are dimly lit, often narrow, with many stairs, and may be wet and slippery in certain areas. Persons with vision impairments should be cautious when entering the cave; bringing an extra flashlight may help. For those with hearing impairments, sign-language programming can be arranged in advance if the park is contacted at least two weeks ahead of time to arrange accommodations.

Visitors in wheelchairs can view the cave's natural entrance, accessible via a ramp and sidewalk from the Visitor’s Center or a flat trail that starts at the picnic area.

The Visitor’s Center is accessible to wheelchairs and those with limited mobility, and an elevator is available between floors.

There are two wheelchair-accessible campsites, B2 and D3, at the Elk Mountain Campground.

  • Entrance to the park is free, but tours of the cave range in admission from $10 to $12 for adults and $5 to $6 for children and seniors.
  • Cave access is by a ranger-guided tour from the Visitor’s Center only. Tickets are first-come, first-serve on the day of the tour, so during spring, summer, and fall, it’s best to get in line by 6:30 a.m. to secure tickets. Tours often sell out by mid-day.
  • There are three tours offered: the Garden of Eden Tour (1 hour), the Natural Entrance Tour (1 hour 15 minutes), and the Fairgrounds Tour (1 hour 30 minutes), which has the most stairs and is the most strenuous.
  • All cave tours (except special accessibility tours) involve walking up and down stairs and occasional low ceilings. Cave tours are not recommended for anyone with claustrophobia, heart or respiratory conditions, recent surgeries or illnesses, knee or back problems, or other physical limitations. 
  • The cave is a constant 54 degrees Fahrenheit, so wear long sleeves and bring a jacket.
  • It’s essential to be aware of the large wildlife that roam in the park above the caves, including bison and mountain lions. Visitors must stay at least 25 yards from all wildlife, although it is strongly recommended to stay farther away from bison, which may appear tame but are unpredictable and can charge without warning.

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which wind cave tour is best

The AFT Guide to Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave is one of the longest caves in the world, and only about 5% of it has been explored. Its first documented discovery was in 1881 when two brothers passing by noticed wind coming out of a hole in the rock. As the story goes, the wind was so strong it blew one of the brother’s hats off and led them to find the cave’s only natural entrance.

Wind Cave was one of the U.S.’s first national parks—#8, designated by Teddy Roosevelt—and the first dedicated to protecting a cave. Unlike other caves in the NPS system, Wind Cave has few stalactites and stalagmites because it’s quite dry. What it’s most known for is its calcite boxwork formations—Wind Cave contains 95% of the world’s known boxwork.

Aboveground, the park preserves a swath of grassland that is home to all sorts of prairie critters and scenic hiking trails.

Read about our first visit to Wind Cave National Park here .

which wind cave tour is best

Where Wind Cave National Park is located: 

Wind Cave National Park is located about 60 miles south of Rapid City, in the Black Hills region of South Dakota.

which wind cave tour is best

Getting to Wind Cave National Park: 

There is no public transportation to the park; you’ll definitely want a car for this one. The park service recommends against using a GPS to get to the visitor center. Find their directions here .

which wind cave tour is best

Where to stay in Wind Cave National Park:

Wind Cave has one campground, Elk Mountain. The 62 sites are first-come, first-served and open year-round. Water and flush toilets are available during the high season, from late spring to early fall. RV’s are allowed, but there are no hookups and not all sites will accommodate long vehicles.

You can camp in the backcountry if you’ve obtained a free permit.

There’s no lodging inside the park, but there are lots of motel options in the towns of Hot Springs, 15 minutes south of the park, and Custer, 30 minutes north.

Custer State Park, which borders Wind Cave, also has nine campgrounds , plus five lodges and cabin rentals . Some of Custer’s campgrounds are more developed than Elk Mountain, with hookups and showers.

which wind cave tour is best

How long to stay in Wind Cave National Park: 

You can see Wind Cave in two days, with one each dedicated to underground and aboveground sights. Combined with more sites in the Black Hills region, your trip could easily occupy a full week.

which wind cave tour is best

When to go to Wind Cave National Park: 

The weather in this area can be extreme, with sudden storms, hot summers and cold winters. Summer is the busiest season; arrive early in the day to book your cave tour. Spring and fall are less crowded, with pleasant weather. The fall foliage in the Black Hills is stunning.

which wind cave tour is best

Custer State Park , which borders on Wind Cave, is a beautiful grassland with hiking trails, lakes for paddling, beaches, fishing, wildlife, camping, rock climbing—we highly recommend adding it to your Wind Cave visit.

The Black Hills region is full of other gems. Continue caving at Jewel Cave National Monument , visit Mt. Rushmore National Memorial , take a beautiful drive through Spearfish Canyon or the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway. Check out the Crazy Horse Memorial and learn about this area’s native peoples, as well as the troubling history of Mt. Rushmore.

Some parts of the Black Hills are very Pigeon Forge-y, with everything from water parks to ropes courses to Wild West shows. If you’re into that, Keystone is a good base of operations.

which wind cave tour is best

Activities:

Cave tours:.

A ranger-guided tour is the only way to enter Wind Cave. Tours are ticketed, with limited group sizes, and are sold on a first-come first-served basis. The park recommends visiting early in the day or on weekends for the most ticket availability; Tuesdays and Wednesdays are its busiest days for tours.

More frequent tours and more types of tours are offered in summer. Between Labor Day and Memorial Day, your choices will be limited.

There are three main tours offered:

Garden of Eden Tour: 1/3 mile; 1 hour; least strenuous

The Garden of Eden Tour sticks mainly to the upper part of the cave, where there are small areas of the formations the cave is known for.

Natural Entrance Tour: 2/3 mile; 1 hour 15 minutes; moderate

The Natural Entrance Tour enters through a man-made entrance and descends to the middle level of the cave, then ascends via elevator. The tour focuses on the history of Wind Cave, including its discovery and early tourism. You’ll see lots of boxwork. We think this is a good option for families!

which wind cave tour is best

Fairgrounds Tour: 2/3 mile; 1 hour 30 minutes; strenuous

The Fairgrounds Tour is listed by the park as strenuous because it requires the most stairs—450, with 89 ascending at one point. For someone in reasonable hiking shape, it shouldn’t be too difficult. But because footing in caves is usually slippery, ducking and squeezing is required, and there’s no way to back out once you’re in the middle of it, the park is careful about its warnings. Don’t let the “strenuous” label scare you off too much, just be aware of cave conditions.

This tour takes you through both the upper and middle levels of the cave, so you get to see the widest range of formations.

which wind cave tour is best

Specialty Tours:

During the summer months, you can join a specialty tour:

Candlelight Tour: 2/3 mile; 2 hours; strenuous

On the Candlelight Tour, you can check out a less developed section of cave the way its early explorers would have seen it—by candlelight.The tour takes place is an unlit section of cave, and participants carry candles in buckets for light. It’s only for ages 8 and up, and there is no photography allowed. Reservations required; see here for details.

Wild Cave Tour: 1/2 mile; 4 hours; very strenuous

Learn basic caving techniques on this tour, in which participants don helmets and kneepads and crawl through tight passageways to explore the way cavers do today. Reservations are required and you can make them up to one month in advance, by telephone only (see here for details.) Participants must be 16 or older and no photography is allowed. Claustrophobes need not apply!

which wind cave tour is best

Wind Cave has about 30 miles of hiking trails. You are also allowed to hike off-trail throughout the park.

Here are a few options:

Rankin Ridge Nature Trail

A popular 1-mile loop that leads to the park’s highest point. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Badlands! It’s a moderate climb, with a steady uphill slope for the first half.

Elk Mountain Nature Trail

An easy 1-mile loop that takes in the area where the ponderosa forest borders the prairie. This is a good interpretive trail to learn more about the park’s fauna.

Wind Cave Canyon

An easy 3.5-mile out-and-back trail. There’s little shade, so bring water and a hat!

Lookout Point and Centennial Loop

A scenic 5.2-mile loop that combines portions of several longer trails. Find a map and more details here .

which wind cave tour is best

Wildlife Viewing:

Wind Cave is a great prairie habitat and is home to a lot of class American wildlife! You can see bison, pronghorn, deer, elk, coyote, badger, porcupine, prairie dogs, and loads of birds.

family hiking with kids on dune succession trail in indiana dunes national park

The AFT Guide to Indiana Dunes National Park

Check out bison along US Hwy 385, or explore NPS roads 5 and 6. Both are less-trafficked gravel roads and will take you past prairie dog towns and wide stretches of grassland where you may spot bison or pronghorn.

which wind cave tour is best

Bringing Kids:

Yes, with a few caveats. Kids must be at least 8 years old for the specialty Candlelight Tour and at least 16 for the Wild Cave Tour. The three main tours—Garden of Eden, Natural Entrance and Fairgrounds—are open for all ages.

Soft carriers (Ergo, Baby Bjorn) are allowed for carrying babies, but not structured hiking backpacks or strollers. All but the specialty Accessible Tour require that you go up and down stairs, which are sometimes slippery. Make sure kids use the bathroom before the tour, and watch them closely so they don’t touch anything!

When hiking aboveground, be aware that many trails have little shade and you’ll want to bring a lot of water and wear sun protection. Instruct kids on maintaining proper distances from wildlife, especially bison (they’re very unpredictable!)

The park has a great jr. ranger program. You can also request an activity booklet specifically about caving so kids can earn a caving badge.

which wind cave tour is best

FAQ’s:

What is there to do aboveground.

Hiking, wildlife spotting and scenic drives are some of Wind Cave’s primary aboveground activities. If you want to add a little lakeside recreation to your visit, add Custer State Park to your itinerary!

Are the caves kid-friendly?

Yes, with a few caveats. See the “Bringing Kids” section above!

How do you take good photos in the caves?

Bring a flash! Tripods and monopods are not allowed in the cave. If you have a camera that is extremely light sensitive, you can get okay handheld photos without a flash.

Honestly, don’t try too hard. You’ll be in tight quarters with the other visitors and most of the things that are cool about the cave don’t photograph all that well (see: boxwork.) It’s hard to really capture a cave environment well without additional equipment. So just take what pictures you can get just for fun, and don’t worry too much about getting a jaw-dropper.

What are some ideas for mobility-challenged visitors?

The park offers an Accessible Tour for anyone with limited mobility. It’s a half-hour-long tour that uses the elevator to get in and out of the cave. Though the tour is offered regularly, it’s a good idea to call the park ahead of time to make sure you’ll be able to get in on the tour! Find the number and more info on accessibility, including for those with vision or hearing impairment, here .

which wind cave tour is best

Tips from our Readers:

“The cave is cool, but don’t skip all of the aboveground parts of the park. Great wildlife!”

“Check ahead of time about the elevator. It’s frequently not running, and then you can’t get into the cave.”

“Don’t leave without a cave tour!”

“Still totally worth the time, even if you have cave-phobia.”

“We didn’t get to do a cave tour, only hiked and drove through the park, but it’s great!”

which wind cave tour is best

Final tips:

Plan ahead and show up early in the day to make sure you don’t miss out on a cave tour. Be sure to spend some time taking in the prairie environment aboveground, too! And enjoy the wider Black Hills area—this is a gorgeous part of the United States, and full of fascinating history, too.

which wind cave tour is best

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  • SOUTH DAKOTA

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!

Best things to do in Wind Cave National Park: Wind Cave tours. south dakota travel blog

Wind Cave National Park is one of the official national parks in South Dakota .

Things to do in Wind Cave National Park: driving through wind cave national park. south dakota travel blog

It’s 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.

Things to do in Wind Cave National Park: driving through wind cave national park. south dakota travel blog

Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park directly connect. (Stay at a camping cabin in Custer State Park and make a day trip to Wind Cave!)

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 Wind 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!

In summer 2021, the only way to buy the Wind Cave tour tickets was to show up at the Wind Cave visitor center.

But this can always change, so it’s important to check for updated Wind Cave ticket info from the National Park Service website .

You may also try calling the Wind Cave visitor center to speak with a park ranger to ask about the likelihood of Wind Cave tours filling up.

This can give you an idea of how to plan your day.

The listed phone number for the Wind Cave visitor center is 605-745-4600.

More below about making a trip to Wind Cave!

  • Hot air balloon over the Black Hills
  • Black Hills day trip (with Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park)
  • This served as the "summer White House" for a US president! (President Coolidge in 1927)
  • Sylvan Lake is the most popular lake in the park
  • Standard hotel: Holiday Inn Express
  • Cheaper standard hotel: Best Western Buffalo Ridge Inn  
  • Cute and unique accommodation on a budget: Chalet Motel

2 of the best things to do in Wind Cave National Park

You can do these things with a few hours or half day in Wind Cave National Park… or less!

1. Walk inside Wind Cave

Best things to do in Wind Cave National Park: Wind Cave tours. south dakota travel blog

The specific cave tours that are offered at Wind Cave when you are there will depend on cave access at that time.

When I went to Wind Cave in August 2021, there was a broken elevator and this meant that not all cave tours were offered. (It was a similar situation at Jewel Cave !)

But there was one cave tour that was offered, so I did that one. It was the Natural Entrance cave tour.

Best things to do in Wind Cave National Park: Wind Cave tours. south dakota travel blog

Out of the 3 Wind Cave tours that were listed in summer 2021 when I went, my preferred cave tour would have been the Fairgrounds cave tour .

For 2022, another cave tour seems like it might be offered. The Candlelight cave tour also looks like one I might have chosen if I had the chance!

If you find yourself with time before the start of your Wind Cave tour, you can also have a walk through the visitor center to learn more about Wind Cave!

Things to do in Wind Cave National Park: wind cave visitor center museum. south dakota travel blog

2. Walk from the Wind Cave Visitor Center to see the Wind Cave natural entrance

Things to do in Wind Cave National Park: wind cave natural entrance. south dakota travel blog

It is called the “natural entrance” of Wind Cave as this is the “natural” cave opening from the outside, as opposed to other man-made cave opening for some cave tours.

You can see the Wind Cave natural entrance on your own without a tour.

You will not see much, but it is considered significant as one of the few natural entrances of Wind Cave.

It’s also said to be a largest natural entrance to Wind Cave… but it is not that large! The National Park Service says it’s 10 inches wide!

If you get up close to this Wind Cave entrance, you can feel the breeze (the WIND!) coming from the hole!

This Wind Cave natural entrance is located near the Wind Cave Visitor Center. You’ll want through the visitor center and exit through another door down the stairs to get to it. When you’re at the visitor center, you can ask the park ranger about it for more specific directions . You can get to it by going around the visitor center too.

If you will be doing the natural entrance cave tour, then you will see the natural entrance. The cave tour will make a stop at the natural entrance.

And then also if you want to make even more time…

Wind Cave National Park above ground: Hiking in Wind Cave National Park

Hike in Wind Cave National Park for a chance to see wildlife!

Hiking to see buffalo in Wind Cave National Park

There are buffalo in Wind Cave National Park.

Whether or not you can see buffalo when you are in Wind Cave National Park may have a little to do with luck since buffalo are free to do what they want!

Things to do in Wind Cave National Park: Hiking in Wind Cave National Park. Where to see buffalo in Wind Cave National Park. south dakota travel blog

But I saw buffalo while hiking the Cold Brook Canyon Trail, the Centennial Trail, and the East Bison Flats Trail. 

Hiking to a prairie dog town in Wind Cave National Park

You have a better guarantee of seeing prairie dogs in prairie dog towns since these “towns” in a specific area are their home!

You will know you have reached the prairie dog town because you will see lots of mounds of dirt.

Things to do in Wind Cave National Park: Hiking in Wind Cave National Park. Where to see prairie dog town in Wind Cave National Park. south dakota travel blog

There was a prairie dog town along the Cold Brook Canyon Trail, and I saw several prairie dogs there.

Camping in Wind Cave National Park

Things to do in Wind Cave National Park: camping in wind cave national park campground. elk mountain campground. south dakota travel blog

If you are making it a camping trip in South Dakota , then you can go camping in Wind Cave National Park!

It’s called the Elk Mountain Campground.

As of 2021, the Wind Cave campground is a first-come first-serve campground, and it was not possible to make reservations.

When I went camping at Wind Cave in August 2021, the campground was quite empty. I stayed for 2 nights.

According to a Wind Cave park ranger, it hadn’t been filling up all summer.

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 won’t 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.

The Wind Cave Garden of Eden Tour is $14 per person.

The Wind Cave Natural Entrance Tour  is $16 per person.

The Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour  is $16 per person.

The Wind Cave Candlelight Tour  is $16 per person.

There is also a Wild Caving Tour at Wind Cave that costs $45 per person.

See current fees.

And that’s a little bit about a trip to Wind Cave!

If you are interested in Wind Cave National Park, you may also be interested in these activities in South Dakota and beyond:

  • Things to do in Jewel Cave National Monument
  • Things to do in Badlands National Park for VIEWS!
  • Things to do in Custer State Park for views
  • Things to do in Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota)
  • Can you see Crazy Horse Memorial from the road?
  • Things to do for views in Mount Rushmore National Memorial
  • Things to do in Black Hills National Forest
  • Things to do in Devils Tower National Monument for views (Wyoming)
  • Things to do in the Black Hills for VIEWS
  • The Mammoth Site National Natural Landmark
  • Best hikes in Custer State Park
  • National parks in Wyoming
  • Best places to visit in South Dakota

HAPPY WALKING AROUND WIND CAVE INSIDE AND ABOVE GROUND!

  • For women: Merrell hiking shoes (one of the best outdoor shoe brands, perfect for hiking)
  • For men: Merrell hiking shoes
  • Rain poncho in case it rains and it won't stop you from doing things outside!
  • For women: Teva walking sandals (one of the best sandal brands for the outdoors)
  • For men: Teva sandals
  • Moisture-wicking tech t-shirt for women perfect for hiking and hot days when you'll be outside a lot sweating
  • tech-t-shirt for men
  • For more ideas, do a search for hiking clothes !

which wind cave tour is best

11 Essential Things to Do in Wind Cave National Park

By: Author Bram Reusen

Posted on Last updated: June 4, 2023

Established in 1903 by the conservationist President Theodore Roosevelt, Wind Cave National Park is one of the oldest national parks in America . It is also the very first national park in the world that was created to protect a subterranean landscape.

With more than 150 miles, and counting, of explored passageways, Wind Cave is one of the longest known caves on Earth.

It is home to intricate cave formations, such as delicate frostwork, cave “popcorn” and, its main claim to fame, huge collections of boxwork—95% of boxwork in the world is found in Wind Cave.

Besides its exceptional length and rare boxwork, Wind Cave is also notable for its namesake feature. Due to barometric pressure changes in the cave, it “breathes.” As the air pressure changes, gusts of wind blow in and out of the cave.

The Lakota consider this to be a sacred place , Wind Cave being the site where they first emerged from the underworld.

As fascinating as the underground world of Wind Cave National Park is, the aboveground landscapes are quite remarkable as well. Located in the Black Hills of South Dakota , it sits at the meeting point of the mixed-grass prairie of the Great Plains and the ponderosa pine forests of the West.

Bison on NPS 6, Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

Wildlife thrives here, including prairie dogs, pronghorn, elk, mule deer, coyotes, rattlesnakes, burrowing owls, American bison and rare black-footed ferrets.

Although many people limit their visit to Wind Cave to a cave tour, there are many other amazing things to do in Wind Cave National Park. While cave tours are definitely a must-do activity, you shouldn’t skip the woods and prairie above this massive cave.

You could easily spend two or three days exploring the park inside and out on the following Wind Cave National Park activities.

1. Go on a Cave Tour

2. visit the natural entrance, 3. enjoy iconic great plains scenery on the prairie vista trail, 4. walk the elk mountain trail, 5. hike the rankin ridge trail, 6. see america’s national mammal at bison flats, 7. drive the scenic nps 5 and 6 backcountry roads, 8. spot some of wind cave national park’s 100+ bird species, 9. listen to the bugling of bull elk, 10. observe prairie dogs in their “towns”, 11. camp at the elk mountain campground, do i have to pay a fee to enter wind cave national park, how much time do i need to experience wind cave national park, what is the best time to visit wind cave national park, what can i do with my dog in wind cave national park, where can i stay near wind cave national park, which animals can i see in wind cave national park, popular activities and attractions near wind cave national park, things to do in other national parks in the great plains and rocky mountains.

This blog post about the best things to do in Wind Cave National Park contains affiliate links. You can read more about our  Terms of Use / Disclosure here .

Boxwork at Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

Arguably the number one thing to do in Wind Cave National Park, at least when looking solely at the percentage of visitors who do this, is going on a guided cave tour. And yes, Wind Cave tours are unquestionably one of this national park’s star attractions.

Descend into the third longest cave in America—after Mammoth Cave, Kentucky , and Jewel Cave, which is also in the Black Hills—and discover a unique world of boxwork, frostwork, cave “popcorn” and subterranean lakes, among other underground features.

There are five different tours on offer, three of which are suitable for the entire family. The other two have age restrictions and may not be convenient or safe for some visitors.

Most Popular Wind Cave Tours

  • Garden of Eden Tour – 1 hour, 1/3 mile, moderate, all ages
  • Natural Entrance Tour – 1 hour 15 minutes, 2/3 mile, moderate, all ages
  • Fairgrounds Tour – 1 hour 30 minutes, 2/3 mile, strenuous, all ages

Alternative Wind Cave Tours

  • Candlelight Tour – 2 hours, 2/3 mile, moderate (by candlelight), minimum 8 years old
  • Wild Cave Tour – 4 hours, very strenuous (spelunking, basic training required before tour), minimum 16 years old

Garden of Eden Tour in Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

All tours of Wind Cave start at the Visitor Center.

Although half of the tickets are available on a first-come first-served basis on the day of the tour, it is highly recommend to reserve tickets in advance on Recreation.gov , especially in the high season.

You can find more information about guided tours in Wind Cave National Park, as well as times and dates, prices and safety information here on the park’s official website .

Natural Entrance to Wind Cave, South Dakota

If you don’t take the Natural Entrance Tour, you can still see one of the cave’s natural entrances.

As long as Wind Cave is, it “has very few natural entrances,” the National Park Service says. “The largest and most well-known naturally formed entrance is only about ten inches wide. This is a very spiritual place to many different native people and is considered the birthplace of the Lakota nation .”

During business hours, when the Visitor Center is open, you can get there via a ramp and paved sidewalk from the Visitor Center. The walk between the Natural Entrance and Visitor Center is only approximately 225 yards one way.

Alternatively, there’s another short trail to the Natural Entrance, which is accessible all day long, including outside of Visitor Center hours. This 150-yard gravel trail starts at the picnic area.

FYI: Leashed pets are allowed on the short trail from the picnic area to the Natural Entrance. They are not allowed on the sidewalk between the Visitor Center and Natural Entrance, which requires entering the Visitor Center first.

If you’re lucky enough, you may feel the very gusts of wind that gave the cave its name. During times of large atmospheric pressure changes, it’s even possible to hear the winds of Wind Cave as they leave or enter the cave.

Prairie Vista Trail scenery in Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

It’s neither the longest nor the hardest hike in Wind Cave National Park, but the Prairie Vista Trail is certainly one of the nicest.

Starting at the Visitor Center or picnic area, this 1-mile trail loops through the park’s iconic mixed-grass prairie. It provides sweeping views of the prairie, as well as opportunities to see wildlife. Boards along the way offer information about the park.

This is a great little hike to do if you’re short on time when visiting Wind Cave National Park. The loop takes only about 30 minutes and is excellent for kids and pets.

FYI: The Prairie Vista Trail is one of the two trails in Wind Cave National Park where leashed pets are allowed.

Elk Mountain Trail in Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

Another short but very enjoyable trail at Wind Cave is the Elk Mountain Trail. This fascinating trail loops around the Elk Mountain Campground, at the meeting point of prairie and forest.

The trail is only 1 mile long and doesn’t take longer than 30 minutes, but it’s a wonderful introduction to the diversity of Wind Cave National Park.

Additionally, as its name implies, this is a great area to listen to the bugling of bull elk in fall. Try to hike the Elk Mountain Trail at dawn or dusk for the best opportunities to hear the mating calls of these majestic mammals.

FYI: In addition to the Prairie Vista Trail, the Elk Mountain Trail is the second Wind Cave trail where pets are allowed , provided they’re on a leash no longer than 6 feet.

For a best-bang-for-your-buck hiking experience in Wind Cave National Park, arguably no trail is better than the Rankin Ridge Trail.

Although only about 1 mile long, this loop trail climbs to a high ridge that offers commanding views of the prairie and Black Hills. Rankin Ridge is the highest point in the national park and, on a clear day, it’s possible to see as far as the Badlands in the east.

Often, you can see various birds of prey here, including golden eagles, hawks and turkey vultures.

Located in the northwestern corner of the national park, the trailhead to Rankin Ridge is at the end of a spur road off of Highway 87 toward Custer State Park.

More recommended hikes in Wind Cave National Park:

  • Cold Brook Canyon Trail (2.8 miles, out and back)
  • Wind Cave Canyon Trail (3.6 miles, out and back)
  • Lookout Point – Centennial Trail Loop (4.5 miles, loop)
  • Boland Ridge Trail (5.2 miles, out and back)
  • East Bison Flats Trail (7.4 miles, out and back)

You can find more information about hiking in Wind Cave National Park on the park’s website here .

Bison on the prairie of Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota

The road through Bison Flats is one of the most scenic drives in Wind Cave National Park.

Situated roughly between Gobbler Ridge and the Visitor Center area, this relatively level expanse of mixed-grass prairie is often frequented by Wind Cave National Park’s famous bison herds.

The iconic American bison came perilously close to extinction in the late-1800s—there were fewer than a thousand left in North America in 1900—but a devoted group of conservationists managed to save a few hundred animals.

After Wind Cave National Park was established in 1903, the American Bison Society transported fourteen animals—seven bulls and seven cows—from the New York Zoological Gardens, which is now the Bronx Zoo, to the national park in 1913.

In 1916, six additional bison were sent to Wind Cave from the large Yellowstone National Park herd. Those twenty original bison are the ancestors of the Wind Cave National Park bison herd today. That herd now consists of hundreds of individual animals.

Except for the rugged and remote backcountry areas, Bison Flats is the easiest place at Wind Cave to see bison , the official national mammal of the United States and one of the true symbols of the American West.

Read about the other U.S. national parks where you can see bison in the wild here .

NPS 6 at sunset in Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota

Slicing through the wild backcountry of eastern Wind Cave National Park, the NPS 5 and 6 gravel roads offer drivers a unique experience away from the crowds.

NPS 5 turns away from paved Highway 87 near the northwestern border of the park, while NPS 6 enters the park from Custer State Park in the northeast. Both roads converge in the scenic Red Valley, the remotest part of Wind Cave National Park accessible by vehicle.

Because this area is so far away from bustling traffic and the busy Visitor Center, it’s a superb place for wildlife watching.

Along NPS 6, herds of elk are often seen on the hills, particularly at Boland Ridge. NPS 5, on the other hand, is known for its bison sightings and prairie dog towns.

Note: These backcountry roads are narrower than regular paved roads. Gravel pullouts are available to park and enjoy the scenery, or to let other vehicles pass. Usually pretty well-maintained, they’re suitable for most passenger vehicles , but remember that there is no gas and poor cell service. Driving them after storms or in winter is not recommended.

The permanent home of more than a hundred species of birds , Wind Cave National Park is a birder’s paradise. On top of those resident birds, numerous others migrate through the park in spring and fall.

Cave tours and hiking may be the two most popular things to do in Wind Cave National Park, but bird watching is definitely one of the most underrated.

Set at the meeting point of Great Plains prairie and the Black Hills forests, the park is a refuge for an incredible diversity of birds.

From burrowing owls, cliff swallows, red-headed woodpeckers and Western meadowlarks to birds of prey like turkey vultures, great horned owls, red-tailed hawks and golden eagles, the checklist of birds at Wind Cave is exceptionally long.

Some of the best places in Wind Cave National Park for bird watching are the Elk Mountain Campground, the Prairie Vista Trail and general Visitor Center area, Rankin Ridge and, especially, the limestone walls of Wind Cave Canyon.

Elk herd on Boland Ridge at sunset, Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

In fall, from mid-September through October, the somewhat-eerie sound of bull elk bugles can be heard at twilight in certain areas in Wind Cave National Park.

Bugling occurs during the elk rut, the mating season of these large members of the deer family. This is when bulls compete for cows, fighting each other with their massive antlers and expressing themselves through loud bugles.

“This bugle heralds fall in the western United States and can be heard from dusk to dawn in the park each year,” the National Park Service says .

The elk are most active just before sunrise and just after sunset, which are the best times to listen for bugling bull elk at Wind Cave.

There are a couple of locations where opportunities to hear this iconic wilderness sound are best.

The easiest is at the appropriately named Elk Mountain Campground and the surrounding Elk Mountain Trail.

Although elk usually don’t venture into the campground itself, they do roam the nearby slopes to the west and the south, and can often be heard in the distance.

The second excellent place to see elk and listen to the bulls’ bugling is Boland Ridge in the far eastern part of the park. Located on the NPS 6 backcountry road, this remote area is home to herds of both elk and bison.

Additionally, you may also be able to hear elk bugling from roadside parking areas on Highway 87 or Highway 385. Stop at spots like the Beaver Creek pullout, Wind Cave Canyon Trailhead, Cold Brook Canyon and/or Bison Flats to listen.

Prairie dog town in Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

The counterpart of the massive bison that roam the prairie, prairie dogs are small rodents that are part of the squirrel family. Both animals are true icons of the Great Plains.

And they may be rather small, but black-tailed prairie dogs are among the most visible animals in Wind Cave National Park.

You can find them in their so-called “towns” or colonies, sprawling collections of interconnected burrows, sleeping quarters and even toilets. Some prairie dog towns are so large, up to several hundred acres, that they consist of different “neighborhoods,” also known as “coteries.”

These popular park inhabitants are a lot of fun to watch for a while, as they pop in and out of their burrows, run across the meadows, and talk to each other through various calls.

Numerous prairie dog towns dot the prairie of Wind Cave National Park, some of which can be seen along backcountry hiking trails and the western part of NPS 5.

Watching the iconic prairie dogs go about their daily business is without a doubt one of the top things to do in Wind Cave National Park.

Other animals in Wind Cave National Park are also attracted to prairie dog towns, whether it’s for easy housing opportunities or a meal. Watch for black-footed ferrets, coyotes, burrowing owls, hawks and rattlesnakes.

Fun fact: Early French explorers called these industrious rodents “petit chien”, or “little dog” in English. They got their name because of their call, which resembles a canine bark, not because of their physical resemblance to dogs.

Elk Mountain Campground in Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

There are very few facilities and services within Wind Cave National Park. No gas, no restaurants, no groceries and no lodging. There is, however, a fun campground where you can spend the night.

The Elk Mountain Campground , located just northwest of the Visitor Center, is open year-round.

Its 62 campsites can be reserved in advance on Recreation.gov . Sites that aren’t reserved are assigned on a first-come first-served basis on the day of camping. According to the National Park Service, the Elk Mountain Campground usually doesn’t fill up.

Flush toilets and drinking water are available from late-spring through early-fall. In the down season, there are vault toilets, but no water. Campsites have a designated fire ring and picnic table.

Situated at the edge of a ponderosa pine forest and the open prairie, the Elk Mountain Campground is a great place to immerse yourself in the park’s diverse flora. Fauna is also often seen—or heard—here, including the bugling of bull elk in the fall.

The Elk Mountain Trail, which starts at the amphitheater, is a wonderful place to enjoy the scenery and see a variety of native birds.

Visiting Wind Cave National Park FAQs

No, Wind Cave National Park does not charge an entrance fee to drive through the park, visit viewpoints and hike the trails.

The only fees are for ranger-guided cave tours (ranging from $14 to $45 per person) and to camp at the Elk Mountain Campground ($24 per site per night in the high season, $12 per site per night in the low season).

Frostwork in Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota

You could easily get a glimpse and taste of the diversity of Wind Cave National Park in a day. Go on a cave tour, do a short hike, drive Highways 87 and 385, and that’s a pretty great day.

However, to fully experience everything the park has to offer, you should dedicate at least two days to Wind Cave National Park .

Camp at the Elk Mountain Campground, get a cabin in neighboring Custer State Park, or book a room in nearby Custer or Hot Springs.

In two days, you’ll have the amazing opportunity to enjoy Wind Cave in the evening and/or morning. These are the best times to watch the park’s wildlife, while the “golden hour” is a truly magical time on the prairie.

It would also allow you to enjoy some more hiking and drive the scenic NPS 5 and 6 backcountry roads.

To do all the things in Wind Cave National Park mentioned above in a comfortable and unrushed way, you’d need to spend two days and one night in the area.

Bison on NPS 6 road in Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota

Wind Cave National Park is open throughout the year, but for the most enjoyable experience, the fall season is probably the best time for a visit . Although each season has something going for it, fall typically has the nicest weather and best wildlife viewing opportunities.

Winter in the southern Black Hills is slightly warmer than in the northern Black Hills, sheltered somewhat from the frigid air blowing south from Canada.

Snowfall is possible from December through March, while the daily high temperatures range between the high-30s and low-40s.

Spring brings rising temperatures, but also more rain. May, June and July are the wettest months in Wind Cave National Park.

A typical spring day is unpredictable and can come with a variety of weather, from sunny spells to sudden rain showers and gusts of wind.

Summer is by far the warmest season at Wind Cave. From June through August, the daily high temperatures are well in the 80s, a very comfortable time of year for scenic drives and short hikes.

That said, though, severe thunderstorms are also possible in June and July. These storms are capable of producing severe lightning in the Black Hills, as well as large hailstones. Flash floods are possible throughout the summer.

This brings us to fall, which starts in September and runs through mid-November. Fall is the driest season in Wind Cave National Park, with only about 1 inch of precipitation in October. Temperatures are most enjoyable in September and October, ranging from the mid-70s to mid-60s.

Fall offers comfy daytime temperatures, crisp nights and beautiful fall foliage in the forests. Additionally, this is also when the elk rut takes place, complete with the iconic bugling of the bull elk.

Sunset over the prairie on NPS 6 in Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

Wind Cave National Park is one of the few national parks where you can hike with your dog . However, dogs are only allowed on two trails: the Prairie Vista Trail and Elk Mountain Trail .

You can also explore the Elk Mountain Campground and the grassy areas around the Visitor Center with your four-legged friends. Additionally, dogs are allowed on established roads and in parking areas , both paved and unpaved.

Dogs must be on a leash that’s no longer than 6 feet at all times. You may not leave your dog in your car. Dogs are not allowed in public buildings, on ranger programs, on cave tours or in the backcountry.

You can find more information about pets in Wind Cave National Park here .

Mini Australian Shepherd and owner walking on NPS 6 gravel road, Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota

Besides the Elk Mountain Campground, there are no lodging options within Wind Cave National Park. You’ll find the widest range of options in three nearby areas:

  • Town of Hot Springs (15 minutes south)
  • Town of Custer (20 minutes northwest)
  • Custer State Park (35 minutes north)

The nearest major city to Wind Cave National Park and the main gateway to the area’s numerous parks is Rapid City , about an hour to the north.

A wide range of wildlife calls Wind Cave National Park home. Situated where the prairie meets the forest, the park’s diverse habitats harbor an abundance of animals.

You’re almost certain to see prairie dogs during your visit, while other iconic prairie mammals like bison, pronghorn and mule deer are common sights as well. You’ll find these large animals in open grasslands like Bison Flats, on ridges and along backcountry roads.

With some more patience, you might see or hear elk and coyotes , especially at dawn and dusk.

Also present in the park, although less frequently seen, are black-footed ferrets , which live in or near prairie dog towns.

Remember that all animals in Wind Cave National Park are wild and should never be approached. This goes for the smallest mammals like prairie dogs, which can carry diseases like the plague (yes, really!), to the largest, such as elk and bison, which may charge when provoked or irritated.

Learn about elk safety here . Learn about bison safety here .

Park rules say that you should stay at least 25 yards away from wildlife. If animals are close to the road, stay in your vehicle.

Pronghorn antelope, Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

As far as birds go, there are more than a hundred species in the park, along with many others that pass through seasonally. Look for the fascinating burrowing owls in prairie dog towns, while elsewhere on the prairie, you might see wild turkeys, western meadowlarks, grouse and bluebirds .

Up in the sky, watch for golden eagles, hawks, magpies and turkey vultures . In the forest, keep your eyes peeled for great horned owls, woodpeckers, western tanagers and cedar waxwings .

Although a couple of turtle species have been seen in the park, the lack of water makes them uncommon. Almost all reptiles in Wind Cave National Park are snakes, which thrive on the sun-soaked prairie.

Snakes are particularly visible in summer when the higher temperatures make them most active. Garter snakes, milk snakes and bullsnakes are common around the Visitor Center.

The only venomous snake in Wind Cave National Park is the prairie rattlesnake . They are quite common in this region, most often seen in and around prairie dog towns and in rocky places. Generally speaking, unless they’re feeling trapped, prairie rattlesnakes are not aggressive and will avoid encounters.

Learn what to do when you encounter a rattlesnake here .

Located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Wind Cave National Park is close to a plethora of other amazing destinations and attractions.

Other popular parks and sites in the Black Hills are:

  • Custer State Park
  • Jewel Cave National Monument
  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial
  • Crazy Horse Memorial
  • Mammoth Site

Elsewhere in southwestern South Dakota, there are two other awesome National Park Service sites, approximately two hours to the northeast from Wind Cave:

  • Badlands National Park
  • Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

Across the border in Wyoming, you’ll find the very first national monument ever designated by a U.S. President, a popular day trip destination from the Black Hills area:

  • Devils Tower National Monument

Have You Visited Wind Cave Before? What Are Your Favorite Things to Do in Wind Cave National Park? Share Your National Parks Experience Below!

  • Badlands National Park Highlights
  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park Highlights
  • Yellowstone National Park Highlights
  • Grand Teton National Park Highlights
  • Glacier National Park Highlights (Going-to-the-Sun Road)

Privacy Overview

Wind Cave National Park Tours

Wind Cave National Park

Guided tours are the only way to experience Wind Cave. Advanced tickets may be purchased through this website. Additional tours and times are available for same-day ticket sales at the park visitor center. Visit the Guided Tours page of the park website for a current schedule. Tours often sell out prior to tour times. See Seasons & Booking for details.

Wind Cave National Park is home to the world’s seventh longest cave and one of the world’s most complex maze-cave systems. Most cave rooms are small, connected by narrow passages with low ceilings. Boxwork, a rare and delicate cave formation, emerges from the cave walls and ceilings throughout. The park’s surface is one of the last remaining islands of mixed-grass prairie in North America. Rare wildlife including bison, elk, pronghorn antelope, and prairie dogs roam over 30,000 acres. Several roads and 30 miles of trails are available to explore the rolling prairie and ponderosa pine forests. There is no fee to enter the park or hike the surface trails.

Notifications and Alerts

Due to a complete replacement and modernization of our elevator system, tours of Wind Cave will be closed beginning May 6, 2024, and continuing through September. There will still be plenty of things to do at the park including viewing new exhibits. Installation of our new exhibits is on-going and will be finished by June. These new exhibits tell a more inclusive story of this land using interpretive panels, video clips, and hands-on exhibits that are all fully accessible. Using LIDAR technology, rangers will be offering virtual cave tours in the visitor center auditorium throughout the summer. 

Need to Know

Tickets must be picked up 30 minutes prior to tour time. No refunds for late arrivals or missed tours. All tours begin at the Visitor Center. Allow extra travel time to the park for road work, reduced speeds, wildlife on roads, and parking. Please see the Directions tab for tips to avoid travel delays.

Check at the visitor center for current Covid-related safety precautions. Face coverings may be required during periods of high infection rates.

The cave is at roughly 4,000’ elevation (1219 m). All tours* include steep, dimly-lit stairs that may be uneven, wet, or slippery. Passages are narrow and low ceilings require frequent ducking. Wind Cave is 54°F (12°C) year-round. Sturdy shoes with non-slip soles and a light jacket are recommended. *Accessibility Tours are the only tours with no stairs. These tours are intended for those with limited mobility unable to negotiate stairs or stand for long periods of time. Please do not reserve this tour if you are physically capable of completing another tour.

Cave tours are moderately strenuous and not recommended for those with heart problems, breathing difficulty, knee, neck, or back pain, or claustrophobia. Even downward flights of stairs may be difficult for those with bad joints or limited stamina.

Please don’t bring any of these items into the cave: • Food, candy, or gum • Water or other drinks • Tobacco products • Firearms or weapons of any kind • Bags, purses, strollers, backpacks – including baby backpack carriers (front carriers allowed) • Walking sticks, tripods, monopods, or selfie sticks • Pets or comfort animals

Wind Cave National Park is located in the Mountain Time Zone of western South Dakota and observes Daylight Saving Time.

Flash photography is allowed in the cave for most tours.* Photographers must keep up with the group. No tripods, monopods, or selfie sticks.

Sturdy shoes or hiking boots and a light jacket or sweater are recommended. Sandals and flip-flops are NOT recommended.

White-nose syndrome, a fungal disease deadly to bats, has been detected at Wind Cave. All cave tour participants must walk across a decontamination mat when exiting the cave.

During April, May, and June the park experiences high visitation from schools. Large groups of students may be present on tours, especially during these months.

Booking Windows

Guided tours are the only way to experience Wind Cave.  

Advanced Reservations: Wind Cave tours are offered daily and are available up to 120 days in advance beginning at 8:00 a.m. Mountain Time on a rolling daily window (e.g., On March 3, Natural Entrance Tour tickets become available for July 1). Ticket sales close at midnight Mountain Time three days before the date of the tour (e.g., Wednesday is the last day to buy tickets for a tour that Saturday).

Ticket Availability: Tickets for approximately half the Garden of Eden, Natural Entrance, Fairgrounds, and Accessibility tours are available through advanced reservations. The remaining tours are set aside for first-come, first-served sales the day of the tour at the visitor center. (Example: If four Garden of Eden tours are offered per day, tickets for two of the tours can be reserved in advance, while tickets for the other two tours are first-come, first-served at the visitor center.) 

Some tours may only be available during specific times of year. 

Tours are not offered on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s days.

Changes and Cancellations

Refunds: Tours can be canceled for a full refund (less the $1 non-refundable reservation fee) up to three days prior to the tour time. Cancellations after that time will forfeit the tour fee. No refunds for late arrivals or no-shows.  (Example: Wednesday is the last day to cancel a reservation for a tour on Saturday.)

America the Beautiful Annual & Lifetime Passes: Annual and lifetime passes do not cover ticket fees.

Contact Information

Mailing address.

26611 US Highway 385 Hot Springs SD 57747

Phone Number

605-745-4600

Available Tours and Tickets

  • Garden of Eden Tour
  • Natural Entrance Tour
  • Fairgrounds Tour
  • Accessibility Tour
  • Natural Entrance Tour (Fee Free Days)
  • Garden of Eden Tour (Fee Free Days)
  • Fairgrounds Tour (Fee Free Days)

Photo Gallery

A caver looks at flowstone inside the cave.

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Come for the Cave Tour, Stay for the Trails: 5 Best Hikes in Wind Cave National Park

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View from the Boland Ridge Trail

While most visitors drive through Wind Cave National Park to visit the cave, hiking one of the many designated trails can be just as awe-inspiring and enjoyable as the traditional cave tour. Here are five hikes to do next time you visit this beautiful park.

Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota was the seventh designated National Park in the United States and the first cave designated as a National Park in the world. The cave is known for its extensive boxwork calcite cave formations, but the land above is impressive too.

There are over 30 miles of trails, and the open hike policy means you can hike anywhere! Not only can you hike off-trail, but several of the hiking trails connect, so you can make the hike as long or as short as you would like.

Visitors should expect to enjoy the bison (from a distance!), prairie dogs, pronghorn, bull elk, black-footed ferret, mule deer, and coyote. This park is perfect for bird watching too, especially in the canyons.

Bison in the prairie

There are northern flicker woodpeckers, western meadowlarks, wild turkeys, sharp-tailed grouse, red-tailed hawks, owls, and more. There are also a variety of snakes like the Garter snake, milk snake, yellow-bellied racer, and bullsnake. Be aware of the venomous prairie rattlesnake, which has a triangular head, as opposed to the oval-headed bullsnake.

The prairie provides an ideal home for all sorts of wildlife, and you will most likely see or hear some along with your hikes. The land is wide open, so wear a hat and sunscreen and bring a map and plenty of water!

5 Hikes to Do in Wind Cave National Park

1. rankin ridge trail.

View from Rankin Ridge Trail

This trail is perfect for someone looking for a loop hike on the shorter side. Wind Cave National Park isn’t known for its high elevation, but hiking Rankin Ridge brings you to the highest elevation point in the park where you get a beautiful view of the prairie from above.

Begin by walking uphill through a forest, and then up some stone stairs until you reach a historic fire tower, which is no longer open to the public. Enjoy the view and then continue on the loop back downhill toward the parking lot.

  • Trailhead: Rankin Ridge Nature Trail road, off Highway 87
  • Total hiking distance: 1 mi./1.6 km loop
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Elevation gain: 239 ft., 73 m
  • Highlights: Viewing the prairie from above and a historic fire tower

2. Cold Brook Canyon Trail

View of Cold Brook Canyon Walls

This trail begins by steeply dropping down a hill and then evens out for the remainder of the hike. The high canyon walls will be on your left-hand side and the lower canyon walls on the far right.

The trail leads you through tall grasses and plenty of prairie dog towns. The trail ends at a gate on the western border of the park, so return the way you came. A bison sighting is quite frequent here, too.

  • Trailhead: A small parking lot south of the visitor center along Highway 385
  • Total Hiking Distance: 2.8 mi./4.5 km out and back
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation gain: 200 ft., 61 m
  • Highlights: Hiking by high canyon walls and prairie dog towns

3. East Bison Flats Trail

View from East Bison Flats Trail

If you want to experience the rolling hills of the prairie with more wildlife than people, this hiking trail will be perfect.

There is a path to follow, but follow the wooden posts in the tall grasses to help you stay on track. You can also stray off the trail if you need to reroute due to bison on the path or if you want to see more. The prairie is wide open, so make sure you bring sun protection and enough water for the whole hike.

  • Trailhead: A pull-off on Highway 385 near the southern border of this park. You can also access it from the Wind Cave Canyon Trailhead.
  • Total hiking distance: 7.4 mi./12 km out and back
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Elevation gain: 1,463 ft., 446 m
  • Highlights: Rolling hills and a high chance of seeing bison

4. Centennial Trail – Lookout Point Loop

A bison under a tree on the Centennial Trail-Lookout Point Trail

This trail in the park is a part of the 111-mile long-distance hiking trail, all in South Dakota. It goes through Custer State Park, Black Elk Wilderness, and the Black Hills National Forest and ends in Bear Butte State Park.

These 6 miles in Wind Cave are the most southern part of the long trail. Connect this trail with Lookout Point Trail to make it a 4.5-mile, 7.2km loop hike. It also connects with the Highline Creek Trail and Sanctuary Trail for an additional loop.

Image of two prairie dogs

There are plenty of prairie dog towns along the hiking trail, and prairie dogs communicate with their community by squeaking, so you’ll probably hear them before you see them!

  • Trailhead: There will be a pull-off on Highway 87 and NPS road 5; it’s also the Lookout Point Trailhead
  • Total hiking distance: 12 mi./9.7 km out and back
  • Elevation gain: 685 ft., 209 m
  • Highlights: Hiking a section of a long trail and enjoying all of the prairie dog towns

5. Boland Ridge Trail

Image of a pronghorn on the way to Boland Ridge Trail

If you want some solitude, this is the hike to do. The trail begins in the far eastern part of the park, and you’ll need to drive an unpaved road to reach the trailhead.

It’s another great hike to enjoy the prairie and spot wildlife without anyone else around. The trail ends abruptly at a sign saying “End of Trail” so it’s really about enjoying the experience of hiking up and down through the prairie.

  • Trailhead: A small parking area off NPS road 6
  • Total hiking distance: 5.2 mi./8.4 km out and back
  • Elevation gain: 816 ft., 249 m
  • Highlights: Hiking the most secluded trail in the park and a high chance of wildlife sightings

Wind Cave National Park: More to Offer

If you are planning a visit to Wind Cave National Park, definitely go enjoy the traditional guided cave tour. But if you also love hiking, grab a park map at the visitor center and enjoy the many trails, too! These are just a few of our favorites.

This park has much more to offer than people realize, and there is plenty to see if you give it more time. Learn more about the park at NPS.gov. 

which wind cave tour is best

The 10 Best Hikes in Yosemite National Park

Visit Yosemite National Park for outstanding hiking through alpine meadows, next to waterfalls, and up glacier-carved granite domes. Read more…

xiaoling keller contributing writer

Xiaoling Keller calls a lot of places home. Most recently it was the Appalachian Trail, which has been a dream of her’s since childhood. (She successfully completed the AT in 2023.) Keller has also lived outside for months at a time, like whilst visiting 48 of the 63 U.S. National Parks. Her personal interests include: backpacking, camping, hiking, photography, van life without a van, and eating plant-based meals.

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which wind cave tour is best

Exiting nps.gov

Alerts in effect, discover two parks in one.

Wind Cave National Park protects two very different worlds - one deep within the earth, the other a sunlit world of many resources. Bison, elk, and other wildlife roam the rolling prairie grasslands and forested hillsides of one of America's oldest national parks. Below the remnant island of intact prairie sits Wind Cave, one of the longest and most complex caves in the world.

Answers to frequently asked questions about viewing the cave.

Wind Cave has a vast surface to explore either with hiking trails, wildlife viewing, or driving loops.

During the winter, kids can join rangers to learn about nature through a variety of fun activities.

Fascinating stories of the geology, wildlife, and history of Wind Cave.

The 62-site Elk Mountain Campground is open year round. Payment is by credit or debit card only.

Learn about the park's most iconic animal, the American Bison.

Last updated: March 18, 2024

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26611 US Highway 385 Hot Springs, SD 57747

605 745-4600

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IMAGES

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COMMENTS

  1. Which is the best tour for Wind Cave?

    Keep in mind that low-light tours are not conducive to seeing formations well. They are also rugged and require walking on uneven surfaces in poor light. I have done the Fairgrounds and Natural Entrance Tours. Both are excellent. I'd give a very slight edge to the Fairgrounds tour because it's slightly longer.

  2. Guided Tours

    The Candlelight and Wild Cave Tours (offered summer only) must be reserved by phone at 605-745-4600 up to one month in advance. Roughly half of all tour tickets are held in reserve for same-day sales. These tickets are first-come, first-served at the visitor center the day of the tour. Same-day tickets often sell out an hour or more before tour ...

  3. Things to Do in Wind Cave National Park (Plus One Day Wind Cave

    Which Wind Cave Tour is best? There are currently three tours of the Wind Cave available: The Garden of Eden Tour: This is the easiest Wind Cave tour, covering a third of a mile with only 150 stairs (you enter and exit the cave via elevator) and lasts about an hour, ...

  4. Wind Cave tours + tickets What's the best Wind Cave National Park

    The cost of tickets for the Wind Cave tours is around $15 to $17 per person. The adult prices are listed below, and there is a discounted rate for kids and seniors. Number of reviews are at the time I created this list, also indicating the most popular tours. Here are the best Wind Cave tours based on popularity:

  5. Things to Do at Wind Cave National Park

    Lookout Point is one of the best overlooks in Wind Cave offering some of the nicest views of the park. From this lookout you'll see rolling ridges and grassy meadows mixed with pine forests. ... Take a cave tour! Wind Cave offers a variety of cave tours for all skill levels, from easy walking tours to more strenuous wild cave tours. Tours ...

  6. The Ultimate Guide to Wind Cave National Park [2024]

    Driving Tours. The Wind Cave Geology Driving Tour is an amazing way to see and learn about the geology of the park. The driving tour lasts between 60 and 90 minutes and is a self-guided tour that is offered year-round. The tour is 20 miles long, showcases the historic rock record, and teaches about the geologic history of the Black Hills. The ...

  7. Plan Your Visit

    Plan ahead to get the most out of your visit! All cave access is by ranger guided tours only and tickets can sell out fast, especially in the busy summer months. Tickets can be reserved ahead of time at Recreation.gov. Exploring the timeless depths of the cave… watching the wind carve through the prairie grass... seeing a newborn bison take its first wobbly steps; Wind Cave National Park ...

  8. Wind Cave National Park: The Complete Guide

    Wind Cave National Park. Address. South Dakota, USA. Phone +1 605-745-4600. Web Visit website. Designated as a national park in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt, Wind Cave National Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota is the world's largest and foremost example of a box work cave containing honeycomb-like calcite formations in the cave.

  9. The AFT Guide to Wind Cave National Park

    Natural Entrance Tour: 2/3 mile; 1 hour 15 minutes; moderate. The Natural Entrance Tour enters through a man-made entrance and descends to the middle level of the cave, then ascends via elevator. The tour focuses on the history of Wind Cave, including its discovery and early tourism. You'll see lots of boxwork.

  10. THE BEST Wind Cave National Park Tours & Excursions

    THE BEST Wind Cave National Park Tours & Excursions. 1. Self-Guided Audio Driving Tour in Black Hills and Mt Rushmore. Don't miss a thing as GuideAlong's Audio Driving Tour takes you on three incredible self-guided routes through the Black….

  11. Wind Cave National Park things to do in a half day + Wind Cave tours

    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. The Wind Cave Garden of Eden Tour is $14 per person. The Wind Cave Natural Entrance Tour is $16 per person. The Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour is $16 per person. The Wind Cave ...

  12. 11 Essential Things to Do in Wind Cave National Park

    Wind Cave Canyon Trail (3.6 miles, out and back) Lookout Point - Centennial Trail Loop (4.5 miles, loop) Boland Ridge Trail (5.2 miles, out and back) East Bison Flats Trail (7.4 miles, out and back) You can find more information about hiking in Wind Cave National Park on the park's website here. 6.

  13. Wind Cave National Park

    Due to high visitation, cave tours often sell out 2-3 hours in advance and may sell out for the entire day by mid-day. Tickets may be purchased in advance via Recreation.gov. Also, effective June 15, 2022, on-site payments for cave tours, campground fees, as well as Interagency Passes at Wind Cave National Park, are by credit and debit card only.

  14. 5 Things You Can't Miss On Your First Visit to Wind Cave

    Getting Here. Cave tours begin at the Wind Cave Visitor Center. 2. Rankin Ridge Trail. From up here on the Rankin Ridge Trail, you can certainly see why this area is called the Black Hills! Enjoy the views of the dark, tree-covered hills and the golden prairie grasses from the highest point in the park.

  15. Wind Cave National Park Tours

    Wind Cave National Park is home to the world's seventh longest cave and one of the world's most complex maze-cave systems. Most cave rooms are small, connected by narrow passages with low ceilings. Boxwork, a rare and delicate cave formation, emerges from the cave walls and ceilings throughout. The park's surface is one of the last ...

  16. Come for the Cave Tour, Stay for the Trails: 5 Best Hikes in Wind Cave

    1. Rankin Ridge Trail. This trail is perfect for someone looking for a loop hike on the shorter side. Wind Cave National Park isn't known for its high elevation, but hiking Rankin Ridge brings ...

  17. The Best Things to Do at Wind Cave National Park

    Cave tours run year-round at Wind Cave, so you can visit during the winter and tour the cave. This cave stays a constant 54 degrees, so it will actually feel warm in the cave compared to outside! ... The best way to experience Wind Cave in a wheelchair is to request an accessible cave tour. These cave tours utilize the elevator to cut out the ...

  18. Wind Cave National Park

    Top ways to experience Wind Cave National Park and nearby attractions. Private Badlands National Park Day Tour. 27. Recommended. Historical Tours. from. $370.00. per adult (price varies by group size) Badlands National Park Adventure, Wall Drug and Baja.

  19. The Best Time to Visit Wind Cave National Park

    September is a magical time at Wind Cave National Park. The temperature and crowd levels drop a bit from the summer highs, and the days are still sunny and enjoyable. A September visit means that cave tours are running, hiking trails and roads are usually open, and wildlife encounters are commonplace.

  20. Fees & Passes

    Reservations are recommended as tours often sell out March through October and on holiday weekends throughout winter. Tickets can be purchased from 3-120 days before the tour. Approximately half of all cave tour tickets remain available for purchase on a first-come, first-served basis at the visitor center the day of the tour.

  21. Would this trip to Wind Cave be worth it? : r/NationalPark

    Cave tour is worth it if you have the time. If you want just scenic driving and wildlife, an alternative would be take the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park and drive into Wind Cave (SD87/US385). Custer SP has an entrance fee ($20) while Wind Cave does not ($14/person for Garden of Eden tour though). Add in Iron Mt Rd and Needles Hwy and you ...

  22. Wind Cave National Park (U.S. National Park Service)

    Wind Cave National Park protects two very different worlds - one deep within the earth, the other a sunlit world of many resources. Bison, elk, and other wildlife roam the rolling prairie grasslands and forested hillsides of one of America's oldest national parks. Below the remnant island of intact prairie sits Wind Cave, one of the longest and most complex caves in the world.