Wind Cave is in southwestern South Dakota and is home to one of the world’s oldest and largest mapped caves in the world at almost 150 miles mapped to date! Instead of the usual stalactite and stalagmite formations, Wind Cave is known for its boxwork, so the inside of the cave looked very different than other caves we have been to and toured. And a little fun fact we learned on our tour- 95% of the world’s boxwork is thought to be found in Wind Cave. Above ground is also quite impressive, with large prairies, rolling hills and plenty of wildlife. With over 30 miles of hiking trails, 3 cave tours, biking, and even horseback riding (if you are lucky enough to travel with your own horse) there is plenty to keep you busy at Wind Cave National Park!
Entrance Fee: FREE
Lodging: There is one campground on a first come, first-serve basis- Elk Mountain Campground. We actually stayed in Custer, South Dakota for this trip because we were also visiting Custer State Park and Badlands National Park and Custer was an easy drive to all three! Rapid City and Hot Springs are also near the park with plenty of accommodations.
Dining: There is no dining options available inside the park. Closest food options would be in Custer, SD about 20 minutes outside the park. There are vending machines in the visitor center.
Must Know Before You Go:
1. The most important advice I can give you about this park, is to arrive EARLY if you plan on doing a cave tour. The cave tour tickets are sold on a first-come, first-served basis. We arrived early, waited in a very lengthy line and still barely got a very late afternoon cave tour. We did visit in the summer but it wasn’t even the weekend! The tours, however, are definitely worth the early wake up call.
2. Review Wind Cave’s wildlife safety tips here.
3. Review Wind Cave’s cave tour safety tips here.
4. For the cave tours, we definitely needed sweatshirts on because no matter what the temperature is outside, the cave is always 54 degrees.
5. With very little shade on many of the trails, sunscreen and/or hats are perfect hiking accessories at this park.
Cell Service: No cell service available.
One Day Itinerary
Garden of Eden Tour- There are 3 cave tours, all lead by a ranger, but I was not sure how long my kiddos would last, and you cannot exit the tour once you start, so we chose the easiest and shortest of the 3. This tour is accessed through an elevator and has only about 150 stairs. You travel 0.3 miles in total and the entire tour will last around 1 hour. No matter which tour you choose, you will need to get to the park early-very early in the summer months and still be prepared to stand in line for cave tour tickets. They are purchased at the visitor center on a first-come, first-served basis. The cave is chilly, year-round so I would recommend an extra layer and hiking boots or tennis shoes. Also, backpacks, diaper bags, infant carriers, strollers, walking sticks and any other large items are not allowed in the cave so be prepared to leave those in the car. This cave system is very cool but has some tighter spaces that you are walking through in case anyone in your crew is claustrophobic.
Prairie Vista Trail- To get to this 1-mile loop trail you will need to park at the visitor center and then walk through the visitor center, down the main stairs and then out those back doors. Follow signs for the Natural Cave Entrance (you will be walking along a paved path) and then keep following the path past the cave entrance (the cave entrance is fairly small so do not miss it -I was looking for something much more dramatic). Once you hit a small parking lot, cross the lot and you will see a sign for the Prairie Vista Trail. This trail has some slight elevation changes but would still be easy for all age groups. For this trail, the path is very narrow, and you are walking between tall grasses so I would recommend wearing either bug spray or pants depending on weather. The trail is a loop so it will drop you back off at the visitor center. This is a gorgeous trail that will give you serious Sound of Music vibes as you wander up and down the rolling hills.
Scenic drive through Bison Flats- We saw plenty of animals on this beautiful scenic drive. Many bison, pronghorns, mule deer and prairie dogs were remarkably close to almost every pull off. This drive is definitely a must see!
Wind Cave Canyon Trail- This trail is 3.8 miles roundtrip and easy for all ages. It has minimal elevation changes on a wide path as you hike the rolling hills. It is also a great opportunity to see wildlife-just keep your distance from the bison😊 This trail also has minimal shade so I would have hats and sunscreen in the summer months.
Rankin Ridge Trail- This trail is on the very north end of the park but worth the drive. From the Wind Cave Canyon Trailhead, you will turn right onto 385 and then take another right onto 87. There will be a short access road on your right about 5 miles after your turn onto 87 that will take you to a small parking lot. This trail is a 1-mile loop and when you get to the trailhead, start to the left. This trail has 14 site stops along the way so make sure you grab a brochure so that you or your kiddos can follow along! There are a few narrow areas, a stone stairway and drop offs near the very top on the way up but still very manageable with kiddos and the road down is very wide and easy to navigate. There is a fire tower at the very top that my kids were very enamored with, and the views are spectacular. You will hike to the highest point in the park where you will be able to see Buffalo Gap and Badlands National Park even at 40 miles away!
Hope you have a wonderful adventure!