Protected since 1903, Wind Cave National Park was the first national park dedicated to a cave. It is known as being one of the most complex cave systems in the world and houses 90% of the world’s unique cave formation known as Boxwork. However, the cave isn’t all that astonishes people during a visit to this national park. On the surface of Wind Cave National Park, visitors are met with an abundance of natural beauty and things to do. 

This summer, Wind Cave is working to replace and modernize the elevator system used during cave tours. Because of this update, guided tours will be closed starting in May and going into September. Keeping that in mind, there’s still a day full of adventure waiting for you here – so don’t write off Wind Cave on your summer to-do list. 

If you’re looking for other cave tours to enjoy during your summer vacation, you’ll find a list of suggestions at the end of this blog


wind cave park sign through the windshield of the vehicle


Getting to the Park


From Rapid City you can take Highway 16 or Highway 79. Highway 79 is the quickest route from Rapid taking about 50-minutes, Highway 16 is the more scenic option. Portions of Highway 385 near Pactola Lake are currently under construction, but you can take Highway 16 to Highway 385 south to the park.


First Stop: Wind Cave Visitors Center


Learn about this park from the experts at the Visitors Center. Explore the exhibit rooms to learn more about the wildlife, how the park manages the prairie, the Native American Culture tied to this location, learn about the cave formations, and watch the park film. This summer Park Rangers will also be offering virtual tours of the cave due to its closure.  

This summer the park will also be offering Ranger Talks discussing the history of the park, the Native American culture, and the nature. 

If you’re looking for a park souvenir, stamp, or Junior Ranger book and badge – this is your place. 


visitors enjoying the view of beaver creek bridge in wind cave national park


Take a Drive


The southern portion of Highway 385 weaves through a stunning area of Wind Cave National Park. Take it from the Visitors Center and head north onto Highway 87. On this route you’ll witness the rolling prairies, granite formations and more. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife, Wind Cave has over 400 bison, communities of prairie dogs, elk, and more. Iconic things you'll see along the way:


  • Norbeck Dam: Located about 1.5 miles north of the Visitor Center, the Norbeck Dam was named after the U.S. Senator from South Dakota Peter Norbeck. Norbeck played a crucial part in the development of Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park, and the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway in the Black Hills. The ironic thing about this dam is that it never held any water, whether it was poor construction, poor design, or a mixture of both.

Fun Fact: the lake behind the dam was supposed to be called Lake Ti-Tan-Ka, but since it ended up not holding any water it was referred to as “Peter’s Puddle” after Peter Norbeck. 

  • Beaver Creek Bridge:  Rising from the rock it sits upon, which was its intended design, is the Beaver Creek Bridge. Located two miles north of the Visitors Cener, this beauty of a bridge was built in 1929 to provide travelers with easier access to the newly developing park next door, Custer State Park. The bridge is 225 feet long and sits 115 feet above the canyon floor. It is the only bridge of its particular arch type in the state of South Dakota and is one of the only three “most significant bridges” in the Rocky Mountain region of the National Park System. You’ll be able to spot this bridge across the canyon as you make your way north on Highway 87 before crossing it. 


  • Ranking Ridge Lookout Tower: Located on the highest point in the national park, at an elevation of 5,013 feet, sits Rankin Ridge Fire Tower. Named after the park’s first superintendent, William A. Rankin, the tower was built in 1956 and used during fire seasons until 1998. The tower itself is closed to the public, but great views of the surrounding Black Hills and rolling Great Plains can still be seen from Rankin Ridge. 


bison in the grassland of wind cave national park


Go for a Hike


Wind Cave National Park offers over 30 miles of hiking trails within its borders. These trails traverse a variety of landscapes including mixed-grass prairies and dense ponderosa pines. The below are only a few options; you can find a full list of trails here


  • If you’re traveling with pets you’ll find two pet friendly trails in the park. Prairie Visita Trail with is about a mile long through prairie grasslands, and the Elk Mountain Campground Trail which is another mile long trail option through grasslands and forests. 


  • Rankin Ridge: A one mile trail that takes you to the base of the lookout tower on Rankin Ridge. This is a great loop for families or those looking for an easy hike with beautiful views of the park. 


  • Lookout Point: Rated moderate, this trail is 2.2-miles long and takes hikers along the rolling hills of the prairie to Lookout Point across from Beaver Creek. You can combine this trail with Highland Creek and the Centennial Trail to make it a 4.5-mile loop.


  • The Centennial Trail: part of the Centennial, which weaves through the hills for 111 miles, can be found in Wind Cave National Park. The 6-mile segment found in the park is moderately strenuous and can be accessed from Highway 87.


family with tour guide exploring the cave in wind cave national park


Other Guided Cave Tour Options


Beneath the Black Hills lies a world of stunning beauty. While the Wind Cave tours will be closed the summer of 2024, there are some other options in the area for guided cave tours. 

Jewel Cave National Monument is a 60-minute drive from Rapid City. With the closure of Wind Cave tours, it’s highly recommended to reserve your tickets in advance here (the booking window closes at noon the day before and walk-tickets are not guaranteed). Jewel Cave offers four different guided tour options, the Discover Tour, the Historic Lantern Tour, the Scenic Tour, and the Wild Caving tour. Each offer something a little different so read the descriptions on their site to find the one that best suits you. 

The closest cave to Rapid City is Black Hills Caverns. Visitors can enjoy either the Crystal Tour or the Adventure Tour. The Crystal Tour is an easy half mile option in the first level of the cave where you can see the many Calcite Crystals. The Adventure Tour take about an hour to complete and includes all three levels of the cave, approximately three quarters of a mile. 

Rushmore Cave is the closest cave to Mount Rushmore. Located at Rush Mountain Adventure Park in Keystone, Rushmore Cave offers two tour types: the Scenic Walking Tour and the Xpedition Adventure Tour. 

There’s so much more than what’s below the surface, spend a day taking in the splendor of Wind Cave. Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park border each other, so if you want to split your time between the two it’s easy to do. However, both parks offer activities that could easily fill a day or more. 

Find more great ways to explore the area in the related content below, or sign up for our monthly travel tips newsletter and we’ll send all your vacation planning tips to your inbox. 

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