From the Badlands to the winding back roads of the Black Hills; Rapid City, South Dakota has always been known for leading visitors to larger than life curiosities. However, there is no other hidden gem that challenges surface level exploration quite like Jewel Cave National Monument

Jewel Cave is an underground wilderness. Just an hour drive Southwest of the city, you’ll find a mysterious maze of natural underground tunnels awaiting your arrival. If the captivating crystals and “cave bacon” aren't enough to lure you in; Jewel Cave is considered one of the last frontiers left on Earth as only 5% of the cave has been uncovered (and cave explorers are actively discovering more untouched pathways). 

Whether you’re a geology guru, an untamed adventurer, or a family traveler looking for a one-of-a-kind experience to brag about back home; Jewel Cave National Monument is worthy of taking up space on your itinerary. Here’s our top reasons to explore Jewel Cave National Monument:

Rich History & Culture


guided cave tour using candle light at jewel cave national monument in south dakota


It’s no secret that Jewel Cave’s history is as deep as its caverns. The cave was first discovered by gold prospectors, brothers Frank and Albert Michaud, in 1900 when they stumbled across a cold blast of air emanating from a hole in the ground. Insatiably curious and wildly intrigued, they enlarged the natural entrance of the cave only to discover a glittering underground sanctuary lined with calcite crystals that shimmered like jewels, hence the name "Jewel Cave".

In 1908 Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Jewel Cave a national monument to preserve the precious land. The Michaud brothers attempted to turn the cave into a tourist attraction alongside other locals, complete with primitive walkways and ladders. However, it wasn’t until the 1930s, when the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) constructed more substantial trails and infrastructure, that Jewel Cave began to attract more visitors. 

For decades Jewel Cave was thought to be only 2 miles long until a significant breakthrough occurred in 1965. That year, Herb and Jan Conn, two devoted cavers, and geologist Dwight Deal began their thorough mapping and exploration of Jewel Cave only to uncover 65 miles of pristine passages (now known as the Scenic and Discovery Tours). Their impact laid the foundation for future explorations and helped solidify Jewel Cave’s status as one of the longest caves in the world! 

Fast forward a half a century to today where the National Park Service manages Jewel Cave, and exploration has just begun. Preserving the cave’s natural beauty, historical roots, and rare ecosystem is top priority. However, with over 5,000 - 7,000 miles left to uncover, the work is not even close to done. Every year, another 5-6 miles are accessed and added to the map.   

The truth is there is so much more to experiencing Jewel Cave beyond the eye candy and epic adventurers; it’s about carrying on the impact and stories of the legends that caved before us.


Legendary Exploration for Every Level of Adventurer


caver exploring the depths of jewel cave in south dakota


Listen, Jewel Cave could care less if you’re a courageous, caving newbie or a seasoned spelunker… if you’re the kind of traveler who dares to explore the depths of any destination; this national monument was meant for you. 

When you visit, you will have four different types of guided ranger tours to choose from depending on your desired experience, time, and budget:


  • Discovery Tour

The Discovery Tour boasts a brief, 20 minute introduction to Jewel Cave’s wonder. Those who choose to experience the cave through the Discovery Tour will be granted access to the “Target Room” by elevator. From the “Target Room”, explorers will be invited to traverse a concrete surface and walk down 15 stair steps to a metal platform that rests in awe of the cave’s sparkling crevices and canals. For those who have a difficult time traversing stairs or require wheelchair access, the tour can be experienced from an upper concrete platform. Inside the tour explorers will not only learn about the cave’s history and formation, but they will witness the two true “jewels” of Jewel Cave - nailhead spar and dogtooth spar. 

The Discovery Tour is a great option for adventurers who are limited on time, traveling with kids, or may be looking to minimize intense physical activity on vacation (we get it!). 

  • Scenic Tour


Allow us to introduce you to the Mount Rushmore of cave tours - the Scenic Tour. This 1 hour 20 minute walking tour takes visitors through the crystal covered passageways of Jewel Cave, on a paved trail with electric lighting, allowing all who wander an opportunity to experience not only the history and cultural significance of the cave; but the diverse geological gems that add to the underground haven’s mysterious allure. Here you will get up close and personal with: the bright hues of the natural hideaway, cave popcorn, stalactites, stalagmites, delicious ribbon drapery called “cave bacon”, and more.

Although the Scenic Tour is moderately challenging and boasts more stairs than the Discovery Tour; it’s worth the descent (and the most popular for a reason). We promise you that you will walk away with impressive imagery, lasting memories, and a newfound appreciation for the underworld. 

  • Historic Lantern Tour


Follow in the footsteps of the cavers that came before you on Jewel Cave’s Historic Lantern Tour. This unique adventure was designed to take visitors back in time to earlier days when the cave’s first explorers roamed the luminous tunnels with only the light of a lantern to ignite their path forward. An hour and 45 minutes long and a ½ mile in distance, The Historic Lantern Tour beckons cavers through unpaved trails, low, narrow passages, and wooden stairs that require backwards scaling.


The season for Historic Lantern tours begins the second week in June through September, and there is an age limit of 8 years or older. 

  • Wild Caving Tour


Last on the menu of Jewel Cave tours is the most untamed of all; the Wild Caving Tour. This advanced exploration takes the most daring of cavers through the depths of Jewel Cave where the true magic unfolds. Fasten your hardhat and secure your headlamp for 3-4 hours of belly crawling, rope climbing and unparalleled discovery of the best of Jewel Cave. During the Wild Caving Tour you’ll not only face the wind of the famous Hurricane Corner and squeeze into the “Brain Drain”; but you’ll see the place where hydromagnesite balloons were first discovered and become friendly with the most fragile cave formations. A true passport to this beyond surface level sanctuary. 


Safety is Jewel Cave’s top priority as to why all Wild Caving goers are given: a hard hat, headlamp, knee and elbow pads, and gloves. Beyond must-have gear, participants will also learn caving techniques and best practices for safe low-impact caving. By protocol, you must be 16 years of age to cave and those who dislike small, confined spaces are encouraged to take another tour option. 


No matter what tour is best for you and yours, reservations are recommended. The visitor center hours, access to surface trails and picnic areas, tour times, and tour availability change throughout the year, depending on visitation and staffing levels. For the most up-to-date information, visitors are encouraged to review the operating hours and seasonal changes before making travel plans to the monument. 


Know that the booking window closes at noon the day before, and can potentially close earlier if the tour sells out. In the summer season (May through September), cave tour reservations will become available approximately 30 days in advance. All cave access is by guided tour only. Tickets can be purchased at To learn more about each tour, visit the National Park Service’s website.

Iconic Geological Formations Waiting to be Discovered


cave bacon flowstone formation at jewel cave national monument in south dakota


Jewel Cave is a geological gem that sparkles in rarity. Unlike other caves, Jewel Cave was not carved by underground rivers, but by slowly circulating, acid-rich groundwater nodding to its uniqueness. As you venture deeper into the underworld, you'll encounter a variety of fascinating formations that showcase the power and artistry of natural processes:

  • Stalactites and Stalagmites 


These iconic formations are created by the slow dripping of mineral-rich water over thousands of years. Stalactites hang from the ceiling like icicles, while stalagmites rise from the floor, sometimes meeting to form impressive columns. The Soda Straw formations, particularly delicate and thin stalactites, are a testament to the cave's intricate beauty.

  • Flowstones


These formations resemble frozen waterfalls and are created by sheets of water flowing over the cave walls and floors, depositing layers of calcite. Flowstones at Jewel Cave, such as the "Flowstone Wall," exhibit a mesmerizing array of colors and textures, adding to the cave’s ethereal beauty.

  • Helictites


Defying gravity, helictites are twisted, spiraling formations that grow in all directions. Their unique shapes are a result of water seeping through the rock and depositing minerals in seemingly impossible orientations. Helictites at Jewel Cave provide a fascinating contrast to the more traditional stalactites and stalagmites.

  • Draperies and Bacon Strips


Feast your eyes and cue the cave bacon! Draperies are thin, wavy sheets of calcite that hang from the ceiling, often resembling folded curtains or (you guessed it!) strips of bacon. These flowstone formations add a colorful and tantalizing element to the cave's interior. Only downfall is you can’t take a bite! 

  • Frostwork 


This delicate, needle-like formation often resembles intricate frost patterns on a window. Frostwork is composed of aragonite, a crystal form of calcium carbonate, and adds a delicate, almost crystalline texture to the cave's formations.

  • Boxwork


Although less common, boxwork is another fascinating formation found in Jewel Cave. This honeycomb-like pattern is created when thin blades of calcite form a network of intersecting veins, often enclosing pockets of softer rock that eventually erode away, leaving the calcite "boxes" behind.

These geological marvels can be met at every turn in Jewel Cave. However, monumental spots like the “Crystal Gallery” and the “Scenic Room” present them as the stars of the show they are! Regardless, as you step below, you’ll be met with overwhelming awe.

Untamed Nature & Wildlife


Crystals and fancy formations are not the only curiosities that are alive at Jewel Cave. The monument is rich in untamed nature and wildlife. Jewel Cave National Monument hosts one of the largest bat hibernations in the western United States with ten species found here, and seven species making the cave their winter home. At ground level, where the Ponderosa Pines grace blue skies, more wild wanderers can be caught roaming free; from an array of birds species to bighorn sheep and mule deer. Jewel Cave is truly a wildlife sanctuary waiting to welcome you. Pack your cameras and wildlife whispering skills! But, remember this is wildlife, so maintain a safe distance away.

Immersive Educational Opportunities


Cave Tour Guide in Jewel Cave National Monument


From the in-depth ranger guided tours and junior programs to the incredible visitor center on site; the learning opportunities are endless. Whether you’re a history or geology buff or you’re simply looking for an alternative, immersive education for your kids; you’ve found a professor of the year in Jewel Cave. Soak in the interactive exhibits and film in the visitor center before your tour or go all in by signing your children up for one of the National Monument’s many junior programs; from Junior Cave Scientologist and Junior Ranger to a school field trip! No matter your curriculum, these programs are designed to engage visitors of all ages, making Jewel Cave the perfect destination for families, students, and anyone with a forever student mindset.

Budget Friendly Admission Fees 


Keeping with the South Dakota spirit of accessible and affordable travel; Jewel Cave is easy on the wallet. The monument offers budget-friendly admission fees, making it accessible for all. Plus, the National Park Service’s easy-to-use reservation system ensures you can plan your visit headache free. Whether you’re flying solo or planning a family outing, Jewel Cave offers an adventure that’s big on value and light on the budget.

Tickets range in price from $4.00 - $45.00 depending on your age and desired tour experience. Reservations are highly recommended and all advanced booking can be done through


Close Proximity to Rapid City & Other Black Hill’s Must-See Destinations


Rapid City is known for connecting travelers to the best of the Black Hills, and Jewel Cave is no exception. Only an hour drive Southwest of the city, the National Monument is not only an accessible attraction, but its neighbors to the legendary: Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Custer State Park, and so much more. Jewel Cave is the perfect addition to any Black Hills adventure before coming back home to Rapid City’s lively entertainment, rising dining and shopping scene, and stirring energy sure to leave you forever changed. 

Go untamed, plan your visit, and get ready to uncover the hidden treasures of Jewel Cave National Monument! 

More Good Stuff You'll Love