The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.Joseph Campbell
About the Park
Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota is one of the world’s longest and most complex cave systems and was the first cave to be designated a national park. The cave is known for a display called boxwork, which is thin calcite fins that resemble honeycombs. The prairie lands above are equally interesting, with bison, pronghorn, and prairie dogs along the park’s scenic drive, which makes this an enjoyable drive.
Check out the view from inside the cave!
Live it up!
Best Things to do in the Park
- Go for the Scenic Drive through the park. We saw bison and lots of prairie dogs and the views throughout the drive were wonderful
- Take a tour of the cave, and the Natural Entrance Tour is the most recommended.
- Go hiking on the Lookout Point Trail. It is a nice trail with great views and much wildlife.
- Visit some of the surrounding area, with Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park all in the general area.
We were surprised at how beautiful Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota was above ground in this park, with wildlife everywhere we turned. The fields were full of pronghorn and bison, but our favorite was pulling off the road just to watch the antics of the prairie dogs. Our little dog Annie can sit on her haunches, and we call her a “prairie dog,” so we laughed and laughed about the look on the little dogs faces we saw in the fields. Annie gives a great impersonation!
Size of Park
Wind Cave was the first cave to be designated a national park.
Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota is largely known for its Wind Cave, the seventh-longest cave in the world with multiple chambers. The cave is famous for its most extensive display of box work which resembles a honeycomb as it is made of thin calcite fins!
Located in South Dakota, the park is also home to native wildlife such as bison, prairie dogs, pronghorn, elk, mule deer, and coyotes. As a result, some consider this national park to be one of the best regarding wildlife viewing.
In 1903, Wind Cave National Park became the first national park dedicated to preserving a cave system. Later, the park was expanded to protect the pine forests and the mixed-grass prairie habitat. This grass prairie in the park is also considered one of the largest in the country.
Best hiking trails
Except for one or two trails, most of the trails in Wind Cave National Park are short and easy. Here are some of the trails in the park you should check out.
Wind Cave Canyon Trail
The trail is almost 2 miles long and follows Wind Cave Canyon to the park boundary. Limestone cliffs provide nesting areas for many fascinating birds, such as canyon wrens, cliff swallows, and great horned owls. Many hikers trek here, hoping to spot the Red-headed and Lewis’ woodpeckers on the forested hillsides.
East Bison Flats
Located north of the park’s southern boundary, East Bison Flats Trail is 3.7 miles long. To get to the trail, you must hike for half a mile on the Wind Cave Canyon Trail. Once you begin your trek on the East Bison Flats Trail, a short, steep climb leads to the rolling hills that provide a great panoramic view of the prairie, Black Hills, and Buffalo Gap.
Cold Brook Canyon Trail
This 2.8 miles trail is moderately strenuous, winds through Cold Brook Canyon, and takes you to the park boundary. The trail passes through the ponderosa forest and open prairie. Moreover, the track also crosses a prairie dog town where you can see prairie falcons and other raptors.
Lookout Point Trail
The Lookout Point Trail is 5.3 miles long and follows the rolling hills to Beaver Creek. It generally takes around 2 hours to complete the trail, where you can view the 2010 American Elk Prescribed Fire from the lookout point. Some hikers combine the trail with Centennial trails and Highland Creek to make the hike even more enjoyable.
Highland Creek Trail
This one-way trail is strenuous due to its length but makes up for it through its stunning scenic views. The Highland Creek Trail is 8.6 miles long and crosses ponderosa pine forests and mixed-grass prairies, so the hike is quite enjoyable.
Being the longest and most diverse trail in the park, Highland Creek Trail is the obvious choice for many experienced hikers. Watch out for wildlife in the area, as you may also spot bison if you are lucky. However, do not approach these creatures; admire them from a safe distance.
Camping in the Park
The park has only one campground, Elk Mountain Campground, which offers a very basic camping experience. Located at the edge of an open prairie and a ponderosa pine forest, campers have spectacular views of the Black Hills and its flora.
The campground is open year-round and has 62 first-come, first-serve sites. Among the campsites, there are two handicap-accessible sites along with two group sites.
The campsites are situated in both an open environment and a forested area so that you can book according to your preference. Drinking water and flush toilets are only available during summer. However, the sites are available at half-price when there is no water on the campground. In addition, there is a ranger-led talk given in the amphitheater each night in the summer.
If you are looking for a more comfortable camping experience near the park, then you will find quite a few options in Custer State Park which has campgrounds as well as motels, restaurants, and grocery services.
Custer’s Gulch RV Park
Surrounded by the Black Hills, the Custer’s Gulch RV Park is located 14 miles from the Wind Cave National Park and has 62 RV campsites. Moreover, you will also find a family cabin, basic and deluxe camping cabins, and tent spots.
The campsites offer free Wi-Fi, a dump station, flush toilets, and full hookups for RV sites. The campground location also allows hiking, fishing, ATV riding, and canoeing.
Broken Arrow Horse Camp
Located 14 miles from the Wind Cave National Park, Broken Arrow Horse Camp has 40 RV campsites. This is one of the more popular RV parks near the national park, as many families prefer to stay here.
The campground offers guests hot showers, on-site laundry facilities, a nearby camp store, and fire grills. Other amenities include a picnic pavilion, horse barns, fire circles, and a playground. The campground remains open from May to October, and due to its locations and amenities, the sites here can fill up quickly.
French Creek RV Park & Campground
With 18 RV campsites, the French Creek RV Park & Campground is located almost 18 miles from the park. The campground is small but friendly, as it hosts free Friday night potluck BBQs, free Wi-Fi, and full hookups.
Ranking Ridge Loop
If you want a wider view of the park’s landscape, Ranking Ridge Loop is the best place. This is the park’s highest point, which follows the prairie’s rolling hills before descending to Beaver Creek. Again, this is a family-friendly viewpoint as getting here is quite easy, and you won’t have to hike for hours.
A fire tower is also located on the ridge, and even though it is closed to the public, it makes for an interesting view. An interpretive sign is also installed here to explain the land features surrounding you.
Wind Cave is so huge that it has been divided into multiple sections that can be visited in the form of tours. One of the most popular tours is the Natural Entrance Tour where you can visit the largest natural entrance in the cave. The entrance is around 10 inches wide from where you can enter the cave via an artificially made tunnel. This is also the best place to witness the box work.
Getting to Fairgrounds is more challenging, but it is worth it. Here, you get to explore the upper and middle levels of the cave. Formations such as frostwork, box work, and popcorn are also visible here. There is also a long flight of 89 stairs.
Geology Tour is a gravel road that passes through the heart of the park. The road is 20 miles long and showcases some incredible landscapes in the area. Many tourists prefer this route because they can see all kinds of terrains, including its unique wildlife. Tourists can also examine the rock formations that provide insight into the complex geologic history of this region.
Click on the button to explore the state and travel guides for the area.
Getting to the Park
The Rapid City (RAP) Airport is the nearest airport to Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota, which is 37 miles away. The Rapid City, South Dakota area also makes a nice starting point for visiting this area due to its proximity to this park, the Black Hills and Badlands National Park.
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