Wind Cave National Park is the first National Park in the world to protect a cave. Designated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, it’s one of America’s oldest National Parks. Experience a small portion of the 154.2 miles underground passageways and the 10,522 acres of mixed-grass prairie and ponderosa pine forest. There are many unique things to do in Wind Cave National Park.
Let’s take a look at the 20 different experiences Wind Cave National Park has to offer. We’ll start with cave tours, dip into hikes, and then cover everything else the park has to offer. Read until the end for an epic one day itinerary!
Wind Cave National Park’s 6 Cave Tours
You can’t visit Wind Cave National Park without touring the first cave to be named a National Park. There are a variety of cave tours available to explorers of all abilities! Be sure to plan accordingly so you can book the experience that best suits your needs. Tours are available on a first come, first-served basis.
Garden of Eden Tour
- 60 Minutes
- 150 Steps
This tour enters and leaves the cave by elevator. You’ll traverse 150 steps over .3 easy-paced miles as you explore frostwork, popcorn, and boxwork.
This is the easiest tour available making it perfect for families with small children and less mobile seniors. If you have more time and stamina, we recommend choosing a different tour.
Natural Entrance Tour
- 75 Minutes
- 300 Steps
The Natural Entrance Tour is one of the most sought out experiences in the park. It’s one of the most unique things to do in Wind Cave National Park because you enter the cave through a walk-in entrance as opposed to an elevator ride.
Experience an abundance of boxwork formations on this .6-mile tour. After traversing 300 steps, visitors will exit the cave via elevator.
- 90 Minutes
- 450 Steps
Explore the upper and middle levels of the cave with the Fairgrounds Tour. As one of the longers tours available to the general public, it’s a great opportunity to see a lot of the cave.
This is considered a more strenuous tour containing 450 steps with one flight boasting 89 steps in a row. We loved the Fairgrounds Tour and felt it really allowed us to experience the cave and get a true feel for its depth.
- 30 Minutes
- 0 Steps
Limited areas of the cave are accessible to individuals who utilize wheelchairs and/or have limited mobility. Guests will ride the elevator into and out of the cave.
This tour allows visitors to learn about the cave and experience its signature feature, box work!
- 2 Hours
- 424 Steps
Experience the cave as the first explorers did centuries ago. This is one of the most unique things to do in Wind Cave National Park and many park visitors don’t get a chance to do it.
Carry a candle bucket to a part of the cave void of lights and learn about the unique formations of the Blue Grotto route. This tour is limited to 10 people and includes many steps, narrow passages, and slick footing.
Wild Cave Tour
- 4 Hours
- Very Strenuous
The Wild Cave tour is the most unique way to experience Wind Cave National Park. You’re truly going caving, which includes continual bending, crawling, climbing, and exposure to drop-offs.
This tour is open to anyone 16 years and older who is willing to dirty clothing and get a sweat on. All participants must be able to fit through a 10 inch tall and three foot wide opening; helmets, lights, and passing are provided by the park service.
6 Best Hikes in Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave National Park is known for having one of the longest caves in the world. The 28,295 acres of prairie and pine forest are easily forgotten, but they’re home to a number of respectable hiking trails.
- 5.2 Miles Roundtrip
- 816 Feet Elevation
A trail for those serious about hiking, the Boland Ridge trail provides beautiful panoramic views of the prairie.
It is also highly likely that you’ll encounter Bison and other wildlife along the trail. Always keep your distance from wildlife as they are unpredictable!
- 111 Miles
- 3500 Feet Elevation
The trail starts at Bear Butte State Park and ends at Wind Cave National Park. The portion of the trail that lies within the park is 6 miles one way.
The trail crosses through prairies, ponderosa forests, and winds along Beaver Creek. If backcountry camping is your thing, this is a great trail to do it on. Free backcountry permits are available for overnights in the northern areas of the park.
- .8 Miles
- 91 Feet Elevation
The grassy prairie and forest come together to form a nice little loop around the Elk Mountain Campground.
It’s certainly not an incredibly exciting trail, but it’s perfect to stretch your legs or to take the whole family for a scenic stroll.
- 5.2 Miles
- 515 Feet Elevation
- Moderately Strenuous
Lookout Point is one of the most popular trails in Wind Cave National Park. Most hikers combine it with the Centennial Trail to create a loop.
A fairly easy prairie walk with a few rocky up and downs lead to stunning views and a prairie dog town. You’ll want to stay vigilant on this trail. You’ll see bison from afar but you might just stumble upon prairie rattlesnakes.
- 1 Mile
- 239 Feet Elevation
- Easy to Moderate
An easy loop that begins with meandering through the ponderosas will bring you to the highest point in the park. Although the Fire tower is closed, you can see the Badlands and Buffalo Gap on a clear day from its base!
It’s a simple hike with expansive views. Its gentle grade makes it a hike with elevated views that is absolutely adequate for families.
Wind Cave Canyon
- 3.8 Miles
- 213 Feet Elevation
The trail follows an old road through limestone cliffs. The hike itself is fairly simple but the cliffs provide nesting areas for cliff swallows, canyon wrens, and great horned owls.
This mild hike is good for families waiting for their cave tour as it shows visitors what the landscape looks like outside of the cave.
Things to Do in Wind Cave National Park
If you take cave tours and hiking out of the picture, there’s still a handful of epic ways to experience Wind Cave National Park.
Elk Mountain Campground
Spend the night in Wind Cave National Park. Elk Mountain Campground sits among ponderosa pines at the edge of an open prairie.
There are 62 open and forested sites available all year round! Drinking water and flush toilets are available through the summer months. The campground amphitheater offers two different programs, an evening program the focuses on Wind Cave’s cultural and natural history and another that is an Elk Bugling program.
Hangout with Prairie Dogs
All 5 ecosystems of Wind Cave National Park are home to Prairie Dogs. Prairie Dogs are adorable, social animals who are a joy to watch.
There are a few spots in Wind Cave National Park where you’re guaranteed to see Prairie Dogs. The Boland Ridge Trail and along Highway 385 have multiple Prairie Dog towns where you will see active Prairie Dogs and other wildlife.
Wind Cave National Park is home to between 250-400 Bison. It is one of two genetically pure bison herds that have not been blended with cattle.
You can find Bison throughout the park, Highway 385 is prone to Bison jams making it a great place to see these large, charismatic mammals. Remember to give all wildlife, but especially bison, adequate space.
The wildlife viewing at Wind Caves is great! In more remote areas of the park, you’re bound to see pronghorn antelope and mule deer in grassy areas.
Check Out the Cave Entrance
You have to check out the natural, and original, entrance into Wind Cave. It’s a 10-inch hole with constant air flow. The air flow is due to the barometric pressure between the cave and outside air.
This is a deeply spiritual place for many different native people as it is considered the bithplace of the Lakota Nation. At least 20 different native nations have ties to this place and many tribes still utilize the park for traditional ceremonies.
Cruise NPS 5
NPS 5 is a gravel road that travels through the East side of the park. The road is well-maintained and suitable for standard passenger vehicles. Road conditions may vary after heavy rain and storms.
This road brings you into the less-developed parts of the park. Travel slowly as you’re more likely too experience wildlife along this route. We recommend fueling up and having a map available before you cruise NPS 5 as there is no cell service in this remote area of the park.
Drive Wind Cave Geology Tour
Learn about the geology of Wind Cave National Park with a driving tour. One of the most unique things to do in Wind Cave National Park is to examen the rock record.
The 20-mile-long driving tour is presented to visitors in the order that is most convenient for driving. The tour begins at the natural entrance located at the visitor center. From here you’ll travel throughout the park learning about its geology. You can find the tour stops here.
Spend Time in the Visitor Center
It’s important that you visit the Park Center in Wind Cave National Park. It’s important to note that this is the place where visitors purchase cave tours so it can be very busy,
Aside from tour sales, the Visitor Center includes exhibits that display everything about the park from how the Plains Indians used the bison to how the park manages the prairie. There is also a cave exhibit that explains its development, formations, and colorful history. Tie all the lose ends together with a movie, Wind Cave, Two Worlds, shown in the auditorium.
Wind Cave National Park has a Class 1 sky. This means its lack of light and air pollution makes it an excellent dark sky site.
Sit back and peer into the endless unknown as owls soar overhead and coyotes howl in unison in the distance. No matter where you choose to view the night sky from, it’s a unique way to experience the park and we highly recommend it.
Wind Cave National Park FAQ
Wind Cave National Park is a unique beauty nestled into the amazing Black Hills of South Dakota. Before you visit, make sure you have the inside scoop.
What is the Best Wind Cave Tour?
The more adventurous visitors should try to book a Candlelight ranger-led tour to explore and learn about the cave. If you’re really extreme, look into a Wild Caving Tour for truly unique experience.
What is the Best Wind Cave Tour for Families?
Less mobile groups should look into the Garden of Eden or Natural Entrance tour. They are the shortest tours and require the least amount of steps.
How Big is Wind Cave?
Wind Cave is the third longest Cave in the United States and seventh longest cave system in the world. It holds 154.2 miles of explored passageways and is known as one of the longest and most complex cave systems in the world.
What Makes Wind Cave So Unique?
Wind Cave is known for its outstanding display of boxwork. This unusual cave formation is made from thin strips of calcite that protrude from the cave walls creating a honeycomb pattern. Wind Cave has the highest concentration of this rare rock formation.
How Much Does it Cost to go to Wind Cave National Park?
Entrance to Wind Cave National Park is free. A cave tour, however, is going to cost you between $14 and $16. There is one, more extreme cave tour that costs $45.
What Towns are closest to Wind Cave National Park?
There are a few towns you can stay in that are near Wind Cave National Park
- Custer is a 20 minute drive from Wind Cave
- Hot Springs is an 11 minute drive from Wind Cave
- Pringle is an 8 minutes drive from Wind Cave
- Rapid City is a 55 minutes drive from Wind Cave
How Many Days Do I Need At Wind Cave National Park?
There are so many unique things to do in Wind Cave National Park, however, one full day should be enough for you to see both areas of the park. Explore both the cave and the prairie in one carefully planned day.
When is the Best Time to Visit Wind Cave?
If you’re looking for clear skies, June through October is the best time to visit Wind Cave National Park. As for the cave, it remains the same temperature all year-round so time of year doesn’t matter much.
How Do I Spend One Day in Wind Cave National Park?
Start your day in Wind Cave early with a sunrise hike, followed by a trip to the visitor center for a cave tour. End the day with another hike or a scenic drive down NPS 5 before stargazing from Elk Mountain Campground.
- Sunrise hike Rankin’ Ridge
- Head to the Visitor Center to schedule your cave tour and learn about the cave
- Go on your cave tour!
- Take a scenic drive down NPS 5 or take a longer hike, like Lookout Point
- Spend the night at Elk Mountain Campground
- Don’t forget to stargaze! Take the Elk Mountain Trail to reach a high point.
South Dakota Road Trip Spots
Southwestern South Dakota has a variety of amazing locations you need to add to your adventure bucket list. Here’s a list of the 3 best places to visit South Dakota:
- Custer State Park
- Jewel Cave National Monument
- Mount Rushmore
Use our South Dakota road trip itinerary post to plan the best vacation! Our blog post includes a 7-day and a long weekend itinerary!