Wind Cave National Park Overview
|Caving in Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota (courtesy, National Park Service)|
Don't be deceived by the park's name. Oh sure, there's plenty of wind at Wind Cave, but there's also more to see and do than visit the world-class, namesake cave. Above ground you'll find rolling prairie, interesting rock formations, and beautiful pine forests open to exploration. The park is also home to native wildlife such as bison, elk, pronghorn, mule deer, coyotes, and prairie dogs.
Wind Cave is just one of the natural, historic, and scenic attractions in the western South Dakota vicinity. Near at hand are Black Hills National Forest, Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Jewel Cave National Monument, Custer State Park, and all of the outdoor recreational opportunities they provide.
Care to Spelunk?
The 70-mile labyrinth of passageways in Wind Cave are undeniably the park's leading attraction. Packed with crystals, suggestive underground formations, and chambers, the cave is full of geologic wonders such as "Garden of Eden" and the "Dungeon." Five types of guided tours last between one hour and four hours and cover between a quarter-mile and a half-mile by electric light, candlelight, or headlamp as true cave explorers do. Reserve ahead.
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Pick a Hiking Theme
You'll find 30 miles of maintained trails in the park, with hikes ranging in length from 1.4 miles to 8.6 miles. Try Wind Cave Canyon Trail for bird-watching, and the East Bison Flats Trail and Lookout Point Trail for views. Highland Creek Trail is the longest and most diverse trail in the park. There are two particularly noteworthy self-guiding nature trails (with trail booklets)the Rankin Ridge Trail and Elk Mountain Trailthat attract all types of hoofers. The Rankin Ridge Trail climbs to the fire tower lookout at the highest point in the park.
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Commune with Bison
In the early 1900s, bison, pronghorn, and elk were brought back to the park to live on the preserved prairie habitat. Today these animals flourish to the point where there are yearly roundups after which animals are transplanted to other parks in other parts of the country. If you are venturing into the backcountry on your own, keep an eye out. Bison are unpredictable and surly. Steer clear of them. Also beware of rattlesnakes, ticks, and deerflies. If you don't want to tackle this minefield on your own, organized animal-peeping visitslike a prairie hikeare offered through the visitor center.
Cruise the Prairie Roads
Three strips of well-maintained road open up the park to wheeling spectators. Wildlife Loop Road, Iron Mountain Road, and Needles Highway dip into the backcountry's pine-spruce forests, open meadows, and rock-tipped mountains and pillars of granite. Cyclists will adore the rolling ride; motorists should beware of the narrow and low tunnels. Backcountry biking is forbidden.
Camp under the Stars
Elk Mountainopen on a first-come, first-served basisis the park's only campground. The surroundings are excellent and near to both the visitor center and the trailheads. Backcountry camping is allowed, but only with a permit, available for free at the visitor centers.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication