Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave is one of the world’s longest and most complex cave systems and is known for its concentration of boxwork, a unique honeycomb formation that is most abundantly found in Wind Cave.
Planning your visit
All the logistical details you need to begin planning your trip along with our recommendations on where to stay, what to eat, and things to do both in and out of the park.
Best time to visit
August – September for pleasantly warm, dry weather.
June & July may be optimal if you’re chasing thunderstorms, but if you plan to do any hiking, August & September will likely see drier weather.
Warm weather (70-90°F) and mostly dry conditions (1.5-2.5″ of rain per month). Thunderstorms are most likely in June, July, and August.
Wind Cave National Park is open year-round, but some areas of the park may be inaccessible due to snow or weather.
We found the best hiking to be in Custer State Park, rather than Wind Cave National Park itself. Please note that there is an entrance fee required for day-use.
Our favorite was the hike to Black Elk Peak via Harney Peak Trail (6.4 miles) which leads to the highest point east of the Rockies in the U.S. There’s a fire lookout tower, dam, and pumphouse to explore at the end of the trail.
We also enjoyed the Sunday Gulch Trail (3.9 miles) through the spires around Sylvan Lake.
Had we had a bit more time, we also would have done the Cathedral Spires Trail (1.6 miles).
RAP (Rapid City, SD) is the closest airport to Wind Cave National Park. The park is only about a 1-hour and 15-minute drive from the airport.
There may be other regional airport options, but RAP is certainly the most convenient.
Best sights and attractions
Cave tours (more information below), bison-jams, and prairie dog towns.
There are many attractions in the Black Hills of South Dakota. While you’re there, check out:
* basically inside of Wind Cave National Park
where to stay
The best place to stay location-wise is probably near either Mount Rushmore or one of the historical cabins or hotels near any of the memorial sites. However, there’s also a good chance those places will get quite pricey in the peak season. We found the lodging options in Rapid City lodging to be more budget-friendly.
We stayed here – note that it was a fairly standard Marriott stay, but it is adjacent to a water park resort. That’s probably either great or terrible news depending on your perspective!
Needles Highway (SD highway 87 N) – 14-mile scenic drive through tunnels and through dramatic needle-like rock formations.
Iron Mountain Road – 17-mile drive connecting Custer State Park and Mount Rushmore National Monument that is known for its “pigtail loop” bridges.
Wildlife Loop – 18-mile drive where you’re virtually guaranteed to see bison and prairie dogs.
* Each of these drives are technically part of Custer State Park, but are located practically within Wind Cave National Park.
Where to eat
Maybe we missed out on something great, but we didn’t find anything remarkable in North Dakota. We stuck with the local chains for this leg of the trip. Let us know if there’s something we missed!
Cave tours are the main attraction at Wind Cave National Park. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to complete any of them because the elevators were out of service. However, if you visit, you should absolutely check them out!
These tours can be strenuous, requiring the use of ropes or metal rungs or crawling through tight spaces. Research the tours before you go so you know what you are getting yourself into!
Here’s a map of Wind Cave National Park with markers representing the visitor centers and some of our favorite points of interest.
Inside the park
Outside the park
The curse of the closed elevators
Disclaimer: Unfortunately, we were unable to see a lot of what Wind Cave National Park has to offer because we were plagued with elevator closures throughout our trip. We didn’t see a single cave in or around Wind Cave. We tried to visit Jewel Cave as well, but the caves there were also closed due to elevator issues! What are the odds multiple elevator closures would have prevented us from seeing the main attraction in this park?!
I’m not mad that we weren’t able to see most of this park. Instead, it just means we will have to re-visit this park some day, but it does mean this is likely to be an underwhelming national park themed blog post. What I can offer you instead however, are some alternative things you can do in South Dakota should you want to extend your trip or… er… have the misfortune to face similar elevator dilemmas during your visit. 🙂
Were you able to tour any of the caves in or around Wind Cave National Park?
If so, please tell us about your favorite tour and share some photos with us until we are able to visit again ourselves.
Since we didn’t see any of the unique features that Wind Cave has to offer, check out the things we did instead in Custer State Park.
Our favorite moments from our time in Wind Cave National Park.
A couple of national park geeks trying to see the world.
📷 Photographer: Luke 👩💻 Editor/blogger: Kate
All photos are our own original work.