While Wind Cave National Park is a great place to hike and see bison near Hot Springs, South Dakota, its biggest attraction is obviously the cave! Unlike some caves where you can walk a few steps inside or see into a big opening, you can’t see any of the cave from above ground – it’s only got one natural entrance, and it’s very, very small. So, you’ll definitely need to take a tour to see any of the cave itself.
Wind Cave is one of the longest caves in the world (154.2 explored miles), and the densest, meaning it has the largest volume of passages per cubic mile. It features unique formations like boxwork, frostwork, and cave popcorn. It’s a dry cave, so don’t expect to see a lot of stalactites and stalagmites (though our tour guide did point out a few very, very tiny ones).
The National Parks Service offers three main tours, an accessible tour, and a couple of more adventurous tours (you can tour by candlelight or tour a more wild part of the cave). The number of tours per day varies by the time of year.
We’ve done the Garden of Eden tour, which they tout as their “least strenuous” tour and “for people with limited time or abilities”. We initially wanted to do the Natural Entrance tour, but it sold out right before we got there. Based on the comparative descriptions of the tours, I was afraid the Garden of Eden tour was going to be kind of lame, but was pleasantly surprised that it felt like the real deal – I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this tour if you’re short on time or if it’s the only tour available.
You can purchase tour tickets at the park, or reserve online, which they strongly recommend during the high season (May-September).There is no admission fee to enter the national park – you can hike or drive through without a pass. However, the cave tours do have a fee.
When traveling to Wind Cave for a scheduled tour, it’s a good idea to allow a bit of extra time as you can be slowed down by bison crossing the road. Or rather, you might be more slowed down by other people stopping to take pictures of bison crossing the road! Either way, allow a few extra minutes for driving especially during the summer.
Find out everything you need to know about Wind Cave National Park on the National Park Service website.