I must admit, when I originally planned this little road trip through western South Dakota, I had no idea just how much there was to see and do. In addition to Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park, there’s also nearby Wind Cave National Park.
Wind Cave National Park is located in southwestern South Dakota near Black Hills National Forest and Custer State Park. Established in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt, it was the 8th National Park in the U.S. and first cave to be designated as a national park anywhere in the world!
In 1881 Jesse and Tom Bingham were also attracted to the cave by the whistling noise of the air coming out of the cave. As the story goes, wind was blowing out of the cave entrance with such force that it blew off Tom’s hat. A few days later when Jesse returned to show this phenomenon to some friends, he was surprised to find the wind had switched directions and his hat was sucked into the cave. This change in movement of the wind is related to the difference in atmospheric pressure between the cave and the surface.
The cave is considered a three-dimensional maze cave, recognized as the densest (most passage volume per cubic mile) cave system in the world. It is currently the 6th longest cave system in the world with over 140 miles of explored cave passageways. An average of 4 new miles of cave are discovered each year (and if you find a new chamber, you get to name it!).
This maze of passages is home to boxwork, a unique formation rarely found elsewhere. Approximately 95 percent of the world’s discovered boxwork formations are found in Wind Cave.
Above ground, the park includes the largest remaining natural mixed-grass prairie in the U.S. Bison, elk, pronghorn, and prairie dogs abound, so drive carefully and enjoy the view from a safe distance!
This was another park I was totally unaware of until we happened to see it on the map. Being a huge fan of caves, I made sure we saw this one! The tours are guided and the guides are very knowledgeable. It is a wet cave and there are a lot of stairs, so be aware of that before you sign up. Entrance to the park is free but the tours are available for a small fee. The boxwork is pretty phenomenal and make it well worth a visit – especially if you enjoy caves!