Cave Tours in Wind Cave National Park

You can’t visit Wind Cave National Park without going inside the cave. You just can’t. There’s no point. You have to see the cave.

Wind Cave is one of the longest and most complex caves in the entire world. Cavers don’t even know the full extent of it yet and are still finding new chambers. To say that this cave is impressive wouldn’t come anywhere close to doing it justice. It’s something you just have to see.

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The mapped out and explored sections of the cave.

The park offers five different cave tour options (yes, you have to take a tour in order to enter the cave), each with different levels of difficulty and exploring different parts of the cave. So really, you could go on all five and see new stuff each time (though you might get bored of hearing about Alvin McDonald…you’ll hear plenty about him no matter which tour you take).

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Well, we only had time to do three of the tours, though I’m sure we would’ve done more if we could’ve. Here is some info on the tours we took, as well as plenty of photos!


Fairgrounds Cave Tour

“This 1½ hour tour explores both the upper and middle levels of Wind Cave. Boxwork is abundant along the trail in the middle level of the cave. In the upper level, the trail winds through the larger rooms where popcorn and frostwork can be seen. This is our most strenuous walking tour. The tour enters and exits the cave by elevator and there are 450 stairs along the 2/3 mile route with one flight of 89 steps going up.” (NPS website)

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Prices (at time of publication):

Age 17-61

$12.00

Age 6-16

$6.00

Senior, Golden Age or Access Passes

$6.00

Under 6 (all children must have a ticket)

Free

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This tour was really cool. It takes you by a lot of really beautiful formations and through fun passage ways. There are some tight fits and short ceilings, but that is the charm of this particular tour. It gives you a glimpse of how it would feel to really explore the cave while still being on paved paths. A little adventurous, a little easy. If you only had time to do one tour while in Wind Cave, this is the one I would recommend (for those in good enough physical condition).

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I’ll share my general tips and advice for going on these cave tours at the end of the post, but first, here are some of my photos from the Fairgrounds Tour:

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It was really dark in the cave, making photography difficult. Thus lots of blurry pics…

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These formations seriously look unreal. Almost like a coral reef

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Wild Cave Tour

“Explore the cave away from the developed trails.” (NPS website)

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Alright, this tour was freaking awesome! On this tour, the guide takes a small group of visitors off the beaten path. There are no developed trails for this one. You will climb, crawl, shimmy, slide, and squeeze your way through the cave. For obvious reasons, you must be in excellent physical condition, a healthy weight, and not claustrophobic or afraid of the dark. You have to be strong enough to do some climbing and possess enough agility to scoot through some small openings and weird shaped spaces.

If the thought of squeezing through a fairly small hole freaks you out, skip this tour.

If the thought of being in a dark cave for 4hrs freaks you out, skip this tour.

If you have any doubts about your physical capabilities, skip this tour.

Honestly, it wasn’t that hard and we were all fine. But you wouldn’t want to be an hour into the tour and then realize you don’t like small dark places.

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Before the Wild Cave Tour

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Rules and advice for this specific tour:

  • The tour is 4hrs with no places to take bathroom breaks. Be prepared to hold it in till the tour is over.
  • Along those same lines, you are not permitted to bring any food or drinks on the tour, so eat first and be hydrated (but not too hydrated…you don’t want to have to pee halfway through the tour and be forced to hold it like I did. That was rough).
  • Wear old clothes you don’t care about, as much of the trip will be crawling and scooting on your butt through the dirt.
  • Long pants, long sleeved shirts, and sturdy, lace up boots or shoes with non-slip soles are required (such as hiking boots. And those ridiculous five-fingered shoes don’t count…those aren’t shoes).
  • If you’ve recently been in Jewel Cave, anything you wore in that cave is not permitted in Wind Cave (to protect the cave and wildlife).
  • The tour provides hard hats, lights, gloves, and kneepads (yes, you have to wear them, and you’ll be grateful you did).
  • This tour is limited to 10 people and the minimum age is 16 (so make your reservations early!).
  • No jewelry or valuables allowed, which sadly includes cameras and phones. The fact I have no photos of this tour is one of the saddest regrets of my life.
  • Reservations are required. You can make your reservation up to one month in advance of your desired tour date by calling the park at 605-745-4600.
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After the Wild Cave Tour. Showing off our dirty booties.

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Prices (at time of publication):

Age 16-61

$30.00

Senior or Golden Age/Access Passholders*

$15.00

Under 16

Not Allowed

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Natural Entrance Cave Tour

“This tour includes a visit to the natural entrance of Wind Cave where visitors can see where the cave was discovered and learn how it got its name. Participants enter the cave through a man-made entrance and journey through the middle level of the cave. Wind Cave’s famous boxwork is abundant throughout this trip. Most of the 300 stairs along this route are down. This moderately strenuous 2/3 mile tour lasts 1¼ hours and exits the cave by elevator.” (NPS website)

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When our attempts at hiking in Wind Cave were a bust, we decided to sign up for another cave tour instead. We chose this one for two reasons: it takes you to a part of the cave completely different than where you go on the other cave tours, and we were curious to see the “natural entrance.” The natural entrance isn’t marked on any of the park maps, so you basically have to either take this tour or accidentally stumble upon it in order to see it.

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Even though native Americans had known about the cave and considered it a sacred place for centuries, it was through this opening that early explorers first discovered its existence in 1881. Though what made someone decide to climb into that hole is beyond me.

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Thankfully this tour uses a nearby man-made entrance.

Prices (at time of publication):

Age 17-61

$12.00

Age 6-16

$6.00

Senior, Golden Age or Access*

$6.00

Under 6 (all children must have a ticket)

Free

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This was a fun and easy tour. I would absolutely recommend taking this one too if you have the time. After all (as I mentioned in my other Wind Cave post), the cave is the reason this became a national park, so I say see as much of that cave as you can! Here are a few of my photos:

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When the tour was over, we had some unfinished business to take care of with the natural entrance…

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Being careful to time it correctly to avoid the next tour, we headed back to the entrance and tried climbing in (not for reals… we weren’t gonna actually enter the cave. We just wanted to take some pictures and see if we could fit in that small hole).

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The answer is no, we couldn’t. Those early explorers must’ve been very small humans. Or been able to contort in weird ways. Either way, I will say again…I have no idea what made them decide to climb into that small hole. I mean, what if they got stuck and couldn’t get back out????

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A shot for perspective.

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This is one of my favorite photos from the whole trip. The wind blowing out of the cave entrance is what’s blowing my scarf. You can see how the cave got its name!

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There are two other cave tours available that we didn’t do, but here are the links to check them out if you want:

This display was posted in the visitor’s center and I thought it was pretty cool. It shows off some of the formations found in the cave that can’t be seen on any of the tours:

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And now as promised, my tips and advice for entering the cave! As well as the official rules from the NPS website.

Know before you go:

  • Cave tours are not recommended for anyone with claustrophobia, heart or respiratory conditions, recent surgeries or illnesses, or other physical limitations.
  • All tours are considered moderate to very strenuous and involve walking up and down stairs and occasional low ceilings/narrow passageways.

Booking your tour:

  • Tickets for the Fairgrounds, Natural Entrance, and Garden of Eden tours are sold first come, first served and can be purchased in the visitor center on the day of your tour only.
  • Reservations are recommended for the Candlelight tour and are required for the Wild Cave tour. Reservations can be made up to a month in advance by calling 605-745-4600.
  • The line to buy tickets can get pretty gnarly. To avoid long waits, go as soon as the visitor center opens (this will also help ensure you get the tour time you want). Also, according to the park website, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the busiest days, so maybe plan to be there on different days.

Preparing for your tour:

  • It is COLD in the cave (by Californian standards). It is consistently 53° F, so if that is too cold for you as well, bring warm clothes.
  • Wear comfortable shoes with non-slip soles (think sneakers or hiking boots).
  • There are no restrooms available during any of the tours, so go before you leave.
  • DO NOT BRING: food, drink, candy, gum, tobacco products, large purses, handbags, backpacks, large camera bags, walking sticks, tripods, baby backpacks, or pets. Service animals are permitted on the Fairgrounds, Garden of Eden, and Natural Entrance tours only, and babies must be worn in front packs.
  • All tours begin at the visitor center.

During your tour:

  • Flash photography is allowed on the Fairgrounds, Garden of Eden, and Natural Entrance tours (no tripods). No photography is permitted on the Candlelight or Wild Cave tour. Photography tip: while flashes are permitted, I wouldn’t recommend using them. Use your lowlight camera settings and take the photos without a flash. It keeps the colors more accurate, but just be sure to hold your camera as still as possible.
  • Don’t touch anything in the cave except for designated hand rails and stay on the paved path at all times.

And there you have it! For anything I may have missed or additional information, visit the guided tour section of the Wind Cave National Park website.

Have you done any of these tours? Share your tips or advice below!

Author: Natalie Bates

LA-based freelance writer | Blogger | Craft beer drinker | Rock 'n roll girlfriend | Adventurer | Lover of tattoos, red lipstick, and popcorn | World traveler | Compassionate human | Photography enthusiast | Eco warrior | Celtic babe ❤️

2 thoughts

  1. Loved it! Makes me want to go now. It is quite a ways away but soo cool that you can take that long of tours underground. Have you been to pinnacles national park? There are some cool Talus caves there that you can tour without a guide. Not as impressive of these of course. Good stuff Natalie keep up the exploring!

    Jared

    >

    Like

    1. Thanks Jared! I haven’t been to Pinnacles yet but I really want to! Hopefully sometime next year. Wind Cave was super awesome… If you go you should totally do the Wild Cave tour. I think you would really like it!

      Like

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