Wind Cave National Park Caving Overview

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Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

  • Guided tours are the only way to explore here, as the vast majority of the Wind Cave is off-limits to cavers unless they are under the Park Service's direct supervision. Tour schedules are available online or by calling the park. Experienced cavers interested in formal exploration projects should contact the Park Service.
  • The one-hour Garden of Eden Tour descends via elevator and follows its namesake route a quarter mile through the cave. This is the least demanding tour, but still shows off the cave's honeycomb-like boxwork formations and other features.
  • Visitors actually enter via a man-made entrance on the Natural Entrance Tour, but they do get to see the eponymous, natural opening as well as a number of the cave's earliest discovered rooms. The 55-foot tall Devil’s Lookout fissure is a highlight.
  • More adventurous visitors should consider the Candlelight Cave Tour, a fairly strenuous, two-hour trip that explores the more claustrophobic and less-developed Pearly Gates Route.
  • The park also offers a tour through undeveloped portions of the cave, which requires a tutorial on basic caving skills and gear. This four-hour tour is the only way to get off the beaten path at Wind Cave. Reserve a spot for these trips a month in advance.

Ranger guided tours of Wind Cave are offered on a scheduled basis year-round. Fees are charged. The cave is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. Cave tour tickets and information are available at the visitor center, where all tours begin.

Three cave tours are available—two tours are 1/2 mile; one tour is 1/4 mile—that follow paved, lighted walkways through underground passages decorated with boxwork and other fascinating cave formations. The Natural Entrance Tour and the Fairgrounds Tour last 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hours and require traversing 300 to 450 stairs. The shorter Garden of Eden Tour is about 3/4 of an hour and includes 150 stairs.

Two special tours are offered from mid-June to mid-August. A one-mile candlelight tour allows visitors to experience Wind Cave as early visitors may have. Most of the tour route follows passages where the only light comes from handheld candle lanterns. Bending, stooping and stair climbing are required on this two-hour tour. Another special tour, the caving tour, lets visitors experience what is was like to explore a wild 3,000-foot passage of Wind Cave. Participants must be physically fit because much crawling is required on this three- to four-hour trip. Reservations for both tours may be not be made earlier than one month in advance. Contact the park for reservations or information about proper clothing, caving gear, and age restrictions.

A short tour for visitors with special needs may be arranged at the visitor center.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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