The Black Hills in western South Dakota are full of interesting and beautiful places to explore. Wind Cave National Park has a rich history and several unique features that make it a great place to visit. It’s these unique features, such as being one of the oldest caves in the entire world, that set it apart from other caves in the United States. There are lots of things to learn and see during your visit.
Lakota Emergence Story
Wind Cave National Park has a great deal of cultural and historic significance. It is a sacred site to the Lakota and Cheyenne, as well as many other Native American tribes that traveled in and around the Black Hills.
Click here to watch Sina Bear Eagle, a park interpreter and member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe, tell the emergence story. In Lakota culture, history is passed down through the spoken word. And Sina tells the story passed down to her from Wilmer Mesteth, a late tribal historian and spiritual leader.
Putting the “Wind” in Wind Cave National Park
European settlers’ first encounter with the cave was in 1881 when brothers Jesse and Tom Bingham heard a loud whooshing noise. As they went to investigate they found a small hole and the wind coming from it blew Jesse’s hat off. On my tour, our tour guide told us the next day when Jesse returned to show others the wind, he threw his hat toward the hole thinking it would blow away again, only to be sucked into it.
The “wind” in Wind Cave is created by a difference in atmospheric pressure in the cave and outside air. You can also see how it is a great place for an emergence story.
Geology of Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave is one of the oldest caves in the entire world. Its most prominent feature, the boxwork, makes it a unique place to tour. Boxwork is a honeycomb pattern of calcite that projects from the ceilings and walls. These fins remained after weathering removed the limestone and dolomite bedrock, leaving the more resistant calcite behind. Wind Cave has more boxwork than any other cave in the world.
Many cave features form by water dripping into the passageways. However, Wind Cave has few stalactites and stalagmites. The cave does have many other interesting formations, like the boxwork and minerals, making it a great cave to visit.
The cave is large and complex. It resides under only 1.25 square miles of land and has 149 miles of known cave. Barometric wind studies estimate that only five percent of the cave has been discovered.
Exploring Wind Cave National Park
There are many ways to explore under the ground at Wind Cave National Park. Wind Cave National Park offers three group tours at various times throughout the day. However, it is a popular park and tour tickets fill up quickly.
The park does not sell tickets days in advance so you have to purchase your tour ticket on the day of your tour. They often sell out by mid-afternoon. When I visited the park, I was on a bit of a time crunch. I wanted the first time slot, which was 8:40 a.m. I got to the visitor center by 7 a.m. to stand in line. The line had already formed, but I was able to get two tickets for the 8:40 Natural Entrance Tour.
Natural Entrance Tour
The Natural Entrance Tour is about 2/3 mile long and takes about an hour and 15 minutes. It’s rated moderate and has 300 stairs. You can view the boxwork and cave popcorn on this tour.
Garden of Eden Tour
The Garden of Eden Tour is about 1/3 mile long and takes about an hour. It is rated moderate and has 150 stairs. On this tour, you can see boxwork, frostwork, and cave popcorn.
The Fairground Tour is about 2/3 mile long and takes about an hour and 30 minutes. It is rated strenuous and has 450 stairs. You can see boxwork, frostwork, and popcorn along its path.
Wind Cave National Park also offers a Candlelight Tour and Caving Tour. The Candlelight Tour allows visitors to experience the cave as the first explorers did. The Caving Tour allows visitors to experience what it is like to explore a wild cave passage. These specialty tours require reservations, and they can be made no sooner than one month.
Camping at Wind Cave National Park
There are numerous places close to the Black Hills near the park for lodging and camping. Wind Cave National Park has one campground, Elk Mountain Campground. It has 62 sites and is open all year on a first-come-first-serve basis. Flush toilets and drinking water are available from early spring through early fall.
Wind Cave National Park
With all the beautiful and fun things to do in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Wind Cave National Park needs to be on your list. With a great deal of culture and history as well as unique geology, it does not disappoint.