Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave National Park is a United States National Park that is located near the town of Hot Springs in western South Dakota, in the United States. The park takes its name from the unique phenomenon of air being either sucked into or blown out of a natural hole in the ground, depending on atmospheric conditions.
Wind Cave National Park gets its name from how air is exchanged between the cave system and the atmosphere. When the outside air pressure is higher than the cavern's air pressure, air is sucked into a natural fissure in the ground in attempt to equalize the pressure. When the atmospheric pressure is lower than the air within the cave, air is blown out this same fissure. The resulting wind can be strong enough to visibly stir nearby plants.
Since low atmospheric pressure is associated with precipitation, the Wind Cave can actually be used to predict the weather. The reverse is also true--when air is going into the cave, that suggests high atmospheric pressure and fair weather.
The park designation applies both to the prairies above and the caverns below ground. This cave system is also noted for its abundance of "boxwork", a rare mineral formation which is somewhat reminiscent of a honeycomb. Bison, prairie dogs and other wildlife can be found above the surface. It is predicted that Wind Cave could be connected through its "boxwork" to many other caves in the Black Hills, SD area. If this is proven to be true, these caves interlinked would create the longest underground cave network in the world.
Flora and fauna
There is a strong bison population here. Normal precautions for this animal should be taken.
There are also a number of prairie dog towns within the park's borders.
The cave maintains a temperature of roughly 53° F (12° C) throughout the year. In the above-ground portion of the park, temperatures and precipitation are similar to that of the semi-arid surrounding region, with cold temperatures (and occasional waves of warm weather) during the winter and warm, occasionally very hot conditions during the summer.
The nearest commercial airport is in Rapid City.
You'll need a car to get here.
Wind Cave National Park is located 6 miles north of Hot Springs. The Visitor Center is 11 miles north of Hot Springs on U.S. Route 385.
For visitors traveling on I-90: At Rapid City, exit onto U.S. Route 79 south. Follow Route 79 south approximately 50 miles to U.S. Route 385. Turn right onto U.S. Route 385 North, which will take you through Hot Springs and into Wind Cave National Park. Follow signs to the visitor center for cave tours and general park information.
Visitors can also reach the park by following Route 16 west out of Rapid City onto U.S. Route 385 south. The Park is about 20 miles south of Custer.
Visitors traveling from Nebraska can follow U.S. Route 385 north to the park.
Visitors may also travel through Custer State Park on State Road 36 and 87. These winding roads are slower than other routes, but provide visitors with scenic views of the Black Hills, Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park.
There are no fees to drive through or hike in the park. There are fees associated with visiting the cave or camping in the park's campground.
There are five cave tours, costing $7-25/adult and $3.50-4.50/child.
- The boxwork formations inside the cave (probably on a guided tour).
A number of cave tours are available, varying in length and difficulty. The tours are listed below in order of increasing difficulty.
- Garden of Eden Cave Tour This one hour tour presents some representative features of the Wind Cave. Visitors enter and leave the cave by elevator. 150 stairsteps. $7.00 fee, half price for under 17 or Golden Age cardholders, free for 5 and under.
- Natural Entrance Cave Tour This moderately strenuous, 1¼ hour tour, goes through areas of the cave where boxwork is abundant. This tour, including 300 stairsteps (mostly down), begins at the walk-in entrance and exits by elevator. $9.00 fee, half price for under 17 or Golden Age cardholders, free for 5 and under.
- Fairgrounds Cave Tour This moderately strenuous tour, including 450 stairsteps and lasting 1½ hours, goes through the upper and middle levels of the Wind Cave. Boxwork, popcorn and other rock formations will be seen. Visitors enter and exit the cave by elevator. $9.00 fee, half price for under 17 or Golden Age cardholders, free for 5 and under.
- Candlelight Cave Tour This 2 hour strenuous tour covers about a mile of rugged trail in a less developed, unlighted part of the cave. Each participant will carry a candle bucket. Due to the rough conditions, shoes (no sandals) with non-slip soles are required. This tour is limited to 10 people and the minimum age is 8. Reservations are strongly recommended. Reservations may only be made in person or by telephone at (605) 745-4600. $9.00 fee, half price for age 8-16 or Golden Age cardholders.
- Wild Cave Tour This 4 hour tour introduces to basic, safe caving techniques. Wear old clothes and gloves, as much of the trip will be crawling. Long pants, long sleeved shirts and sturdy, lace up boots or shoes with non-slip soles are required. The park provides hard hats, lights and kneepads. Please do not bring jewelry, watches and other valuables on the tour. This tour is limited to 10 people and the minimum age is 16. A signed consent form is required for those 17 and under. Reservations are required. Reservations may only be made in person or by telephone - (605) 745-4600. $23.00 fee, half price for Golden Age cardholders.
In addition to these tours, cave tour arrangements can be made for visitors with special needs. $5.00, half price for under 17 or Golden Age/Golden Access cardholders, free for 5 and under. Call the park at (605) 745-4600 to arrange a tour.
Several hiking trails exist aboveground.
- Elk Mountain Campground, with 75 campsites, is located one mile from the visitor center; fee $12/night/site during high-use months, $6/night/site other times, 50% discount with Park Pass. Campsites are basic, with running water during high-use periods but not year-round.