Over many years of exploration and mapping, Wind Cave has grown to be one of the world’s largest known caves. Currently over 142.75 miles of passages have been mapped making it the third longest cave in the U.S. and the sixth longest cave in the world. Wind Cave has few stalactites and stalagmites, but many unusual formations and a variety of minerals are found in the cave. The cave is well known for its outstanding display of boxwork, an unusual cave formation composed of thin calcite fins resembling honeycombs.
Along with this massive cave, Wind Cave National Park also features 28,295 acres of mixed-grass prairie, Ponderosa pine forest and wildlife. The park’s mixed-grass prairie is one of the few remaining and is home to native wildlife such as bison, elk, pronghorn, mule deer, coyotes and prairie dogs.
General Tour Information
Ranger-guided tours of Wind Cave leave from the visitor center year-round. Tickets are sold on a first-come, first-served basis, except for the Candlelight, Crawling Tour and for groups. During peak summer visitation, long waits may be encountered. To avoid waiting, the best time to visit the cave is during the early hours of the day. During the summer, weekends are a good time to visit. Tuesday and Wednesdays are the busiest days at Wind Cave.
Visiting Wind Cave
When visiting Wind Cave National Park there are a few things visitors should keep in mind. Cave trails are dimly lit and trail surfaces may be uneven, wet and slippery. Some of the cave ceilings are low, requiring some bending or stooping. Cave tours are not recommended for anyone with claustrophobia, heart or respiratory problems, recent surgeries or illnesses and/or other physical limitations.
Tour participants should wear low-heeled walking shoes with non-slip soles. Sandals or shoes with leather or hard composition soles are not recommended. A light jacket or sweater is recommended as the cave is only 53 degrees Fahrenheit (11 degrees Celsius).
Help protect the cave and refrain from touching the cave, removing cave rocks or formations or stepping off the trail. Visitors are not allowed to eat, drink, use tobacco or chew gum while on cave tours. There are no restrooms in the cave.
Animals in the park are wild and unpredictable. Please do not approach and do not feed the wildlife. Beware of rattlesnakes and bison while you’re visiting the prairie dog towns and on hiking trails. Also beware that ticks are common in high grass.
Pets must be leashed at all times and may not be left unattended. They are not permitted in the back country of the park or on cave tours. They are permitted on the Elk Mountain and Prairie Vista Nature Trails. Pets are also permitted at the Elk Mountain Campground.
When driving park roads, please obey posted speed limits. They are strictly enforced to protect visitors and wildlife. Vehicles (including bicycles) must be on the roadways at all times. Off-road driving or bicycle riding is prohibited.
Cell phone coverage at Wind Cave National Park is spotty at best. There is no cell coverage at the Visitor Center.
Afternoon thunderstorms are common in June and July. Thunderstorms can be dangerous and visitors should be prepared for them. Large hail is common and the storms can produce lightning.
The Wind Cave area has been protected since 1903, when it was declared as a national park by Theodore Roosevelt. Thought to be one of the world’s oldest caves and regarded as sacred by American Indians, cave exploration did not begin here until 1881, when the entrance was noticed by two brothers, Jesse and Tom Bingham. The brothers discovered a small hole in the ground when they heard a loud whistling noise. This is the cave’s only natural opening. Legend has it that the wind was blowing out that hole with such force that it blew off Jesse’s hat. That wind, which gave the cave its name, is created by differences between atmospheric pressures in the cave and outside. This wind is still noticed today at the cave’s entrance.