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The Ultimate Guide to Wind Cave National Park — Best Things To Do, See & Enjoy!

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Amar Hussain
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Amar Hussain

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Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications incl...
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Keri Stooksbury

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Wind Cave is one of the world’s oldest caves, creating a mazelike underground chamber system. Each year, over a million visitors come to explore Wind Cave National Park. It is teeming with wildlife, has many miles of scenic roads, and of course, a historic cave just waiting to be explored. This park has a rich cultural and geologic history and plenty of sights and activities for visitors to enjoy.

How To Get to Wind Cave National Park

Where Is Wind Cave National Park?

Wind Cave National Park is located in South Dakota, not far from Mount Rushmore. This national park is nestled in the southeastern shoulder of the Black Hills. This national park stretches over 33,000 acres of prairie and forest, with a mesmerizing cave system lying under its surface. 

Nearest Airports to Wind Cave National Park

The closest airport to Wind Cave National Park is Rapid City Regional Airport (RAP). This airport is only 48 miles from the park. 

Rapid City Regional Airport offers nonstop flights to 8 different destinations in the US. This airport services many major airlines, including Allegiant, American, Delta, Sun Country, and United. 

Flying into RAP is the most convenient way to arrive in the Black Hills area. With its proximity to Wind Cave National Park, utilizing this airport is a sure way to maximize your travel time. 

Driving to Wind Cave National Park

There are several different routes for arriving at Wind Cave National Park, depending on which area you are coming from. US Highway 285 is the major highway that leads to the park. For those coming directly from Rapid City, Route 79 will lead to Highway 385. For visitors coming from Rapid City by the Black Hills, Highway 16 will lead to Highway 385. This highway leads right to the park entrance and visitor center. 

Taking a Bus to Wind Cave National Park

Taking a Greyhound bus is a great way to enjoy a vacation without the stress and worry of driving. The nearest Greyhound station to Wind Cave National Park is in Rapid City, South Dakota, just 42 miles from the park’s entrance. Once arriving in Rapid City, you are just a short drive from the park. 

Getting Around Wind Cave National Park

There are several ways to get around Wind Cave National Park, including horseback riding and cycling, but the best option for getting around is by personal vehicle. There are miles and miles of highways, paved roads, and gravel roads winding through the park, making a vehicle the best option for exploring. The National Park Service offers an interactive map to help you plan your park excursions. 

What To See and Do in Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave National Park has so much for visitors to see and do. From cave exploration to wildlife watching and from hiking to horseback riding, there is something for everyone. Take a look at the activities available in Wind Cave National Park and see which ones you would like to add to your vacation itinerary. 

Biking

Biking Wind Cave National Park
Image Credit: Abby Rimstidt via NPS

Biking through Wind Cave National Park is an incredible way to explore the park. This activity is perfect for visitors to enjoy during the spring, summer, or fall months. Bikes are only permitted on established roads throughout the park. Biking is a spectacular way to sightsee at a leisurely pace and take in the natural beauty of the park. 

Birdwatching

Birdwatchers are in for a treat when visiting Wind Cave National Park. Since there is a mixture of ecosystems, there are many birds that can be found in this park. Some of the best places to see the birds of this park include the Elk Mountain Campground and the visitor center.

Over 100 types of birds live in Wind Cave National Park permanently, and dozens of other species pass through during migration seasons. Some of the types of birds frequently spotted in Wind Cave National Park include woodpeckers, great horned owls, yellow warblers, magpies, and turkey vultures.

Bottom Line:

Birdwatching is a great activity no matter what time of year you visit Wind Cave National Park.

Cave Tour

Cave tours are what bring most visitors to Wind Cave National Park. This park offers amazing tours of the cave throughout the spring, summer, and fall. If you hope to participate in a cave tour, it is essential that you purchase tickets in advance.

Some cave tours include the Garden of Eden Tour, the Natural Entrance Tour, and the Candlelight Tour. All tours are guided by a park ranger who teaches about how the caves were formed and the history of Wind Cave. 

Driving Tours

The Wind Cave Geology Driving Tour is an amazing way to see and learn about the geology of the park. The driving tour lasts between 60 and 90 minutes and is a self-guided tour that is offered year-round. The tour is 20 miles long, showcases the historic rock record, and teaches about the geologic history of the Black Hills. The Wind Cave Geology Tour gives visitors a way to explore a fascinating part of the park at their own pace. 

Hiking

Hiking Wind Cave National Park
Image Credit: Michael Reid via NPS

Hiking is an activity that can be enjoyed year-round at Wind Cave National Park. There are nearly 30 miles of hiking trails varying in difficulty and length. From easy walks to strenuous journeys, there is a hike available for every visitor, no matter your age or ability level. Some popular hikes include Rankin Ridge Nature Trail, Elk Mountain Nature Trail, Wind Cave Canyon Trail, Lookout Point, and Centennial Trail Loop. 

Horseback Riding

Horseback riding is one of the best ways to explore the ponderosa woodlands and prairies throughout Wind Cave National Park. There are thousands of acres just waiting for riders to enjoy. The park doesn’t have facilities that provide horses, so you must bring your own or use a facility nearby. If you plan to ride in Wind Cave National Park, it is imperative that you obtain a free day permit ahead of time. 

Wildlife Viewing

Wildlife is plentiful at Wind Cave National Park. Wildlife viewing is one of the top activities available year-round at this national park. Some of the iconic animals that make their home in Wind Cave National Park include bison, elk, and prairie dogs. Wind Cave National Park is actively working to conserve the American bison. There is an entire herd that can be followed through this national park.

Visiting during the fall months will allow visitors a sight of the male elk searching and bugling to attract mates. Prairie dog towns are a must-see when wildlife watching. There are tons of these adorable mammals sprinkled throughout the backcountry hiking trails.

Bottom Line:

Seeing the animals that make their home in Wind Cave National Park is an incredible opportunity that will create memories to last a lifetime. 

Best Times To Visit Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave National Park is an exciting park with lots to see and do no matter what time of year you visit. If there are particular sights and activities you want to participate in, there may be better times to visit than others.

Best Time To Visit Wind Cave National Park for Ideal Weather

For ideal weather, plan a trip to Wind Cave National Park in September. The weather is comfortable for hiking and exploring through the park, and there typically isn’t a problem with too much rain during September. Another great part of visiting Wind Cave National Park in September is that the crowds have dissipated since school is returning to session. A September trip is the best time of year to visit if you are seeking ideal weather. 

Best Time To Visit Wind Cave National Park To Avoid the Crowds

A national park experience without a crowd is a dream come true for most visitors. If you want to visit Wind Cave National Park without the crowds, plan for a trip in early June. This is right before the summer crowds come in so that you can enjoy the park at your own pace with peace and quiet.

Best Time To Visit Wind Cave National Park for Wildlife

Wind Cave National Park for Wildlife
Image Credit: NPS

If you love viewing wildlife, you should plan a visit to Wind Cave National Park in April. An April visit guarantees exceptional sights of the wildlife that makes their home in the park. The temperatures are also comfortable, with a high of 59 degrees during the day. Dawn and dusk are opportune times to catch a glimpse of the animals in the park. 

Cheapest Time To Visit Wind Cave National Park

Traveling and saving money don’t usually go hand in hand, but that’s not the case with this national park vacation. The cheapest time to visit Wind Cave National Park is from mid to late September. This is when it is cheapest to fly, and the lodging rates are typically lower during this time of year. A September trip is a great way to be able to enjoy a national park vacation while going easy on your budget. 

Annual Events in Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave National Park offers programs on a regular schedule throughout the entire year. There are also some events that take place in and near the park on an annual basis. Take a look at some of the exciting events offered in and near this national park to see if you’d like to plan your visit around them so that you can participate. 

Fall River Hot Air Balloon Festival

The Fall River Hot Air Balloon Festival takes place near Wind Cave National Park in Hot Springs, South Dakota. This event is a great way to see the park and the rest of the city from a bird’s eye view. This 3-day event has balloon launches from the nearby airport, local vendors, an art walk and chalk art showcase, as well as live music, sidewalk sales, and a Kid Zone for young visitors.

The Fall River Hot Air Balloon Festival is a great way to experience the culture and beauty of the city surrounding and encompassing Wind Cave National Park. 

Main Street Arts and Crafts Festival

The Main Street Arts and Crafts Festival takes place each year near Wind Cave National Park. This 3-day event occurs on the last full weekend of June each year. This is a lovely event where local artists and tradesmen can showcase their products, and guests can shop for a wide variety of art, jewelry, pottery, and more.

The Main Street Arts and Crafts Festival has food vendors and live entertainment. Visiting Wind Cave National Park during the weekend of the Main Street Arts and Crafts Festival is a great way to enjoy both park activities and the local culture. 

National Park Week

National Park Week takes place each year in April. This is an excellent week to plan a visit to Wind Cave National Park. There are no entry fees for any national park in the U.S. during this week, and there are additional programs, workshops, and activities to teach visitors about the culture and history of the park. Visiting Wind Cave National Park during National Park Week will allow visitors a unique experience that isn’t available throughout the rest of the year. 

Where To Stay in Wind Cave National Park

There are several options for staying in and near Wind Cave National Park. The park has a couple of camping options, and there are some towns nearby with more traditional options.

Inside the Park

The only option for lodging is to set up camp under the stars in the backcountry or in the park’s only campground. Camping is an excellent way to experience Wind Cave National Park. Check out the camping options at this park to see if either would work for your park vacation. 

Backcountry Camping

Backcountry Camping at Wind Cave
Image Credit: Kim Acker via NPS

Backcountry camping is available in the northwestern area of the park. If you choose to camp in the backcountry, you are able to choose from many different habitats, including riparian, prairie, and forest areas.

This type of camping is a primitive experience and a great way to soak in the majestic ambiance of Wind Cave National Park. Backcountry camping requires a free permit that can be obtained at the visitor center. The National Park Service offers a wealth of information about backcountry camping on its website, including maps, regulations, and safety tips.

Elk Mountain Campground

Elk Mountain Campground is comprised of ponderosa pine forest and open prairie. This campground is open year-round and has 62 campsites that are open to tent camping and RVs. These sites can be reserved in advance and are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Amenities at Elk Mountain Campground include picnic tables, fire rings, and an amphitheater where many programs are held. From May to September, drinking water and flush toilets are available. If you plan to camp when water is unavailable, the camping fees are half-price.

Bottom Line:

Sleeping under the stars is an incredible way to experience the beauty and wonder of the southern Black Hills.

Towns Near Wind Cave National Park

There are a couple of towns near Wind Cave National Park that are excellent places to set up a home away from home during your park stay. These towns each have plenty to offer for lodging, dining, and recreation. Let’s take a look at the 2 closest towns to Wind Cave National Park to see if either would work for your vacation. 

Custer, South Dakota

Black Hills of South Dakota
Image Credit: Tommy Bond via Unsplash

Custer is a town just 20 minutes from Wind Cave National Park. This town is the oldest in the Black Hills and is a former mining town that is now the ideal place to set up a base camp for your national park vacation. There is a variety of accommodations available; from budget-friendly motels to charming inns, there’s plenty to choose from when lodging in this town. 

The culinary scene is a paradise for foodies, with several restaurants serving local fare with unbeatable hospitality. There are fine dining restaurants, classic diners, and delis in this town, ready to treat your tastebuds to an unforgettable meal.

This town is in a convenient location for many major attractions. Guests are only a short drive from Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, and other exciting places to explore. Shopping enthusiasts love perusing the downtown gift shops, galleries, and boutiques. Adventure awaits in Custer as there are various opportunities for outdoor fun, like hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, and horseback riding. 

Custer is just a hop, skip, and jump from Wind Cave National Park. This convenient town has so much to offer that visitors find themselves wanting to return again and again. 

Hot Springs, South Dakota

The closest town to Wind Cave National Park is Hot Springs. This town is a mere 7 miles from the park and has lots to offer to visitors wanting to make this their home base during their vacation. Guests can find a variety of places for lodging, dining, and recreation in this area. 

There is a long list of lodging options for guests to choose from. Whether you prefer staying in historic log cabins, a campground with amenities galore, a resort, or a traditional hotel, you can find exactly what you need in Hot Springs.

Food enthusiasts are in for a treat — there are breakfast diners, pizza parlors, steakhouses, bakeries, and ice cream shops around the town. No matter what you find yourself craving, you can rest assured that you will find something to hit the spot.

The town is in an incredible location for exploring the Black Hills of South Dakota. There are amazing activities year-round like canoeing, fishing, swimming, fishing, and cross-country skiing. Just a short ride from this town are amazing places to check out, like wild horse sanctuaries, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Mount Rushmore, and Jewel Cave National Monument.

Bottom Line:

With its close proximity to Wind Cave National Park and countless opportunities for restoration and entertainment, Hot Springs makes a great place to stay during your vacation.

Where To Eat in Wind Cave National Park

There are no restaurants in Wind Cave National Park, so if you want to eat in the park, you will need to bring all the fixings for a picnic. If picnicking isn’t your style, you can find plenty of restaurants near the park in the surrounding towns. Let’s take a look at some of the top-ranked restaurants near Wind Cave National Park. 

Big Time Pizza

Big Time Pizza is less than 10 miles from Wind Cave National Park in the city of Hot Springs. This restaurant is loved by locals and tourists alike and serves lunch and dinner. 

This family-owned restaurant uses the best ingredients to make its made-to-order pizzas and subs. The menu features an extensive list of specialty and custom-order pizzas and chicken wings, as well as an impressive beer and wine selection. Customers rave over the Buffalo Stampede, the Ultimate Supreme, and the All Meat Pizza.

Not only does Big Time Pizza have the best pizza around, but they also frequently have live music for your entertainment. For a great meal and a good time, make your way down to Big Time Pizza during your Wind Cave National Park vacation. 

Buffalo Dreamer

Buffalo Dreamer
Image Credit: Buffalo Dreamer

Buffalo Dreamer is a fine dining establishment that serves unique culinary creations for lunch and dinner. Guests are able to take a break from their park adventures and enjoy an amazing meal in the most relaxing environment. 

The menu features gluten-free, organic, and locally-sourced ingredients and specialties so that every diner has options, no matter what their nutrition needs are. Customers can’t say enough about the chef’s creations and rate the meals as some of the top meals they’ve ever had. Popular dishes at Buffalo Dreamer include Georgia O’Keefe’s Lamp Chops, Faroe Island Salmon, and the Bahn Mi Tacos. 

Buffalo Dreamer is less than 10 minutes from Wind Cave National Park in Hot Springs, making this a wonderful place to dine before, during, or after your park excursions. You may like it so well that you come back again and again during your park vacation. 

The Hitch Rail Bar and Restaurant

The Hitch Rail Bar and Restaurant is a top-rated restaurant in Pringle, South Dakota. Open for lunch and dinner daily, this restaurant is ready to serve its signature dishes that will leave you wanting seconds. 

The lunch and dinner menu features American classics like burgers, sloppy joes, and steaks, as well as cultural dishes like Indian tacos, chicken enchiladas, and lasagna. Some favorite meals of customers include prime rib, barbecue pork ribs, and chicken fried steak. 

The combination of convenience, affordable pricing, amazing service, and delicious dishes makes The Hitch Rail Bar and Restaurant an obvious choice for visitors of Wind Cave National Park. Be sure to check out this fantastic restaurant during your visit. 

The 1891 Steakhouse and Bistro

The 1891 Steakhouse and Bistro is in Hot Springs, just 10 minutes from Wind Cave National Park. This restaurant is located in the historic Red Rock River Resort and serves American fare with a French flair. 

The menu at The 1891 Steakhouse and Bistro features signature burgers, sandwiches, starters, incredible entrees, and an extensive wine and drink list. Popular dishes include surf and turf, New York strip steak, chicken Oscar, and scallops.

Bottom Line:

If you are in the mood to try something more formal for dinner while on your Wind Cave National Park vacation, give The 1891 Steakhouse and Bistro a try. Your tastebuds will be in paradise.

Wind Cave National Park Facts

Wind Cave National Park
Image Credit: Aline Dassel via Pixabay

1. A New National Park

Wind Cave National Park was established on January 9, 1903, by President Theodore Roosevelt.

2. Noteworthy Numbers

Wind Cave National Park was the eighth national park in the US. It became a national park in 1903, but the National Park Service wasn’t established until 13 years later. 

3. First Park for a Cave

Wind Cave National Park was the first park created to protect a cave. 

4. First Explorer

Charlie Crary from Custer, South Dakota, squeezed his way through the Natural Entrance. He became Wind Cave’s first known explorer. He used candles to light his way and a string to mark his path. 

5. First True Explorer

While Charlie Crary was the first to go in and take a look at Wind Cave, the first true explorer was Alvin McDonald. He researched and studied the cave, recorded information about it, named the rooms and routes, and created maps. 

6. Cave Tours

The first cave tours began taking place in 1890. Alvin McDonald partnered with a man named John Stabler in 1892, and his children helped lead tours through the cave. 

7. Diverse Ecosystems

Wind Cave National Park has 2 diverse ecosystems present throughout its boundaries. The open prairie and the ponderosa pine woodland. Because of this diversity, there are many different types of animals that can be seen here. 

8. Record Numbers

Wind Cave is a complex maze type of cave, which means there are many interconnected passages running through it. Because of these passages, it is very difficult to map entirely. A total of 140 miles of passages have been mapped for Wind Cave, which makes this cave the sixth-longest mapped cave in the world. 

9. An Abundance of Animals

Wind Cave National Park is home to many animals, but some of the animals that steal the show when visitors come include the elk, bison, prairie dogs, and the black-footed ferret. Prairie dogs can be found in prairie dog towns in the backcountry. The black-footed ferret was reintroduced to the park in 2007. They love to eat prairie dogs, so visiting the prairie dog towns may reward you with sights of both of these unique animals. 

10. Fossils Galore

Due to the landscape and geology of Wind Cave National Park, many fossils have been uncovered and studied. Some of the fossils that have been found here include seashells, sea creatures, and large animal fossils like jaw bones, turtle shells, and more. 

Final Thoughts

Wind Cave National Park is a spectacular park with a vast array of sights and activities to enjoy. From wildlife viewing to cave exploration and from horseback riding to hiking, this amazing park has no shortage of adventure. Book your trip to Wind Cave National Park and discover what brings over a million visitors from around the world to this phenomenal park. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How much do the entry fees cost at Wind Cave National Park?

There is no fee for entering Wind Cave National Park. There are fees if you choose to do a cave tour.

How many days should I spend at Wind Cave National Park?

It is recommended to visit Wind Cave National Park for 5 to 7 days. There is so much to explore at this national park, both above ground and below, so a 5- to 7-day trip will allow you to explore at a relaxed pace and check off all the things on your must-experience list.

Is there Wi-Fi available at Wind Cave National Park?

Wi-Fi is available at the visitor center at Wind Cave National Park. Cellular service and connection are not reliable elsewhere.

What is the weather like in Wind Cave National Park?

The weather varies throughout the year at Wind Cave National Park. Summer temperatures are warm and comfortable with clear conditions, while winter is frigid with snow and clouds. The low temperatures typically average 15 degrees, and the highs reach into the 70s.

Amar Hussain's image

About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.

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