Spelunking in Wind Cave National Park
- Travel Tips
- Fodor's Choice
You may not explore the depths of Wind Cave on your own, but you can choose from five ranger-led cave tours, available from June through August; the rest of the year, only one or two tours are available. On each tour you pass incredibly beautiful cave formations, including extremely well-developed boxwork. The least crowded times to visit in summer are mornings and weekends. The cave is 53°F year-round, so bring a sweater. Note that the uneven passages are often wet and slippery. Rangers discourage those with heart conditions and physical limitations from taking the organized tours. However, with some advance warning (and for a nominal fee) park rangers can arrange private, limited tours for those with physical disabilities. The park provides hard hats, knee pads, and gloves, and all cavers are required to have long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and hiking boots or shoes with nonslip soles. If you prefer lighted passages and stairways to dark crawl spaces, a tour other than the Wild Caving Tour might appeal to you.
Tours depart from the visitor center. A schedule can be found online at www.nps.gov/wica. To make a reservation, call 605/745-4600.
Garden of Eden Cave Tour. You don't need to go far to see boxwork, popcorn, and flowstone formations. Just take the relatively easy, one-hour tour, which covers about 0.25 mi and 150 stairs. It's available four times daily, June through Labor Day, and three times daily, October to early June. (It is unavailable most of September.) The cost is $7. Easy.
Natural Entrance Cave Tour. This 1¼-hour tour takes you 0.5 mi into the cave, over 300 stairs (most heading down), and out an elevator exit. Along the way are some significant boxwork deposits on the middle level. The tour costs $9 and leaves 15 times daily from June through Labor Day, and seven times daily for the rest of September. Easy.
Candlelight Cave Tour. Available twice daily, early June through Labor Day, this tour goes into a section of the cave with no paved walks or lighting. Everyone on the tour carries a lantern similar to those used in expeditions in the 1890s. The $9 tour lasts two hours and covers 1 mi; reservations are essential. Children younger than 8 are not admitted. Moderate.
Fairgrounds Cave Tour. View examples of nearly every type of calcite formation found in the cave on this 1½-hour tour, available eight times daily, June through Labor Day. There are some 450 steps, leading up and down; the cost is $9. Moderate.
Wild Caving Tour. For a serious caving experience, sign up for this challenging four-hour tour. After some basic training in spelunking, you crawl and climb through fissures and corridors, most lined with gypsum needles, frostwork, and boxwork. Expect to get dirty. Wear shoes with good traction, long pants, and a long-sleeve shirt. The park provides knee pads, gloves, and hard hats with headlamps. Parents or guardians must sign a consent form for 16- and 17-year-olds. Tours cost $23 and are available at 1 pm daily, early June through mid-August, and at 1 pm weekends mid-August through Labor Day. Reservations are essential. Difficult.
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