The Black Hills Caves: Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument

July 15 – 16, 2016: The beauty in the Black Hills extends below ground. Adjacent to Custer State Park is Wind Cave National Park and nearby is Jewel Cave National Monument.

Wind Cave is named for the barometric winds at its entrance (resulting from a difference in atmospheric pressure between the cave and the surface) and is one of the longest and most complex caves in the world. It is estimated that only 5-10% of the cave has been explored. The cave contains a unique formation called boxwork; 90% of the boxwork in the world is located in Wind Cave and the remaining 10% is located in caves within the Black Hills area. These lacy, intricate calcite formations look a little bit like honeycomb or spiderwebs.

TIP: It is necessary to go on a ranger-guided tour to gain access to Wind Cave. Reservations are only accepted for two specialty tours so arrive early (first-come, first-served) to purchase tickets.


The most popular tour is Natural Entrance Tour but we selected the 1.5 hour Fairygrounds Tour. It is noted as strenuous but we didn’t see why (and there were people of varying fitness levels in our group). This tour explored some of both the upper and middle levels of the cave. This allowed us to see the boxwork formations as well as areas of the cave that were sandstone with a red hue (reminiscent of an Antelope Canyon mixed with Canyon de Chelly – if Canyon de Chelly was a cave and not a canyon).

Overall, I didn’t find Wind Cave to be startlingly beautiful but I am glad to have seen the diversity that can occur between caves and their formations.

<insert photos from Wind Cave>

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Jewel Cave is named for its colorful formations. It is estimated that approximately 10% of the cave has been explored and it is possible that it connects to Wind Cave somewhere.

TIP: Jewel Cave also requires participation in a ranger-guided tour to gain access to the cave. Reservations are first-come, first-served and tours are often fully booked for the entire day so arrive early to purchase tickets!

We joined the Scenic Tour with a fantastic ranger (who had only been on the job for seven weeks!) named Jaron. He did an amazing job telling us about the history of the cave, history of the monument, how each type of formation is created, and even tricks to remember the various formation names. Jewel Cave contains nailhead spar and dogtooth spar (both are calcite crystals), quartz layers, boxwork, popcorn, flowstone, stalactites, stalagmites and draperies. The variety and beauty in the formations is astounding.

<insert photos from Jewel Cave>

As you might have guessed, if you only have time to visit one cave, my recommendation would be Jewel Cave National Monument over Wind Cave National Park.

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TIP: If you’d prefer to book in advance or don’t want to camp, check out these accommodation options in Rapid City, South Dakota.

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