Hiking Wind Cave National Park: Prairie above, Boxwork below

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Nestled in the scenic Black Hills of South Dakota is one of our nation’s oldest national parks. Honestly, it is a pretty unassuming place. From the scenic drive, there are some modest views of prairie littered with buffalo. Most people take the drive and tour the cave, but you would be missing a whole lot if you didn’t do more. Hiking Wind Cave National Park was an awesome experience both above ground and below it.

Photo Credit: Google Maps

A Word on Wind Cave

We’ve toured many cave systems in the USA, including Carlsbad, Mammoth, and Lehman. Carlsbad is hands down the most impressive. Wind Cave, while cool, is not. The unique feature at Wind Cave is the boxwork. It is a latticed speleothem (cave formation) that resembles boxes.


Visits to Wind Cave are by tour only. Click here for information. We did the Fairgrounds Tour. This 1.5-hour guided walk is only two-thirds of a mile. It’s labeled “strenuous” because it has stairs, uneven surfaces, and the occasional tight spot. But if you’re in reasonably good shape, it’s a breeze. The price is $12.

Jewel Cave is a Beaut

Don’t get me wrong Wind Cave is neat and worth a visit; however, if you only had enough time to tour one cave in the area, I would definitely choose Jewel Cave National Monument. It’s not far from Wind Cave and is highly decorated, in a word beautiful. Another bonus is that Jewel Cave is not nearly as crowded. I’m not saying you have to choose between them at all. We visited both, and I’m happy that we did. Incidentally, Jewel and Wind could be the same system. They haven’t explored them entirely.

Visits to Jewel Cave are by tour only. Click here for information. We did the Scenic Tour. This 1-hour- twenty-minute guided walk is only one-half mile long. It’s labeled “moderately strenuous” because it has stairs, uneven surfaces, and the occasional tight spot. But if you’re in reasonably good shape, it’s a breeze. The price is $12.

Hiking Wind Cave National Park

Photo Credit: NPS

Rankin Ridge

The Rankin Ridge trail is an excellent way to get up high for a panoramic of the surrounding Black Hills and mixed-grass prairie. This is a 1-mile loop with a bit of elevation gain. It will take you to the highest point in the park. From below the fire tower, you can see why they call them the “Black Hills”. Ponderosa pine dots the hills.

Centennial-Highland-Lookout Loop

This 4.5-mile loop is created by taking part of the Centennial Trail eastbound, connecting it with part of the Highland Creek Trail southbound, and linking it to the Lookout Point Trail. You will experience Ponderosa hills, a babbling creek in a brushy canyon (watch out for poison ivy!), and gorgeous undulating, open prairie. I would classify this hike as moderate. There is a small amount of elevation gain. You will likely see many bison, so be on your guard and keep your distance. Also, the extensive prairie dog towns are highly entertaining.

For detailed information and a map for Hiking Wind Cave National Park, click here.

Black Hill Attractions

Many people come to this area to see the Crazy Horse & Mount Rushmore Memorials. That is all well and good. In my opinion, these are best seen from the road. They are tourist traps and are unbelievably crowded. If you’re like me, and you don’t like crowds, skip it. Parking is expensive and the views from the road are better!

Definitely check out the Mammoth Site & Museum though. This place has the largest concentration of mammoths in the world. The crowds aren’t too bad. They give small group tours. Admission is $10. The nice thing is that once you’ve completed the tour, you can remain at the dig site and in the museum at your leisure.

A few hours drive into Wyoming is Devils Tower National Monument. It is extremely impressive but a total zoo. Seriously, the crowds are overwhelming and obnoxious. My advice is to get up to the monument early and take the 1.3-mile Tower Trail loop hike around the monolith’s base. This affords good views. In my opinion, this is an absolutely beautiful area. Visit the Devils Tower real quick like and then go spend your time in the Black Hills National Forest.

Photo Credit: NPS

I highly recommend Wind Cave National Park and this area of South Dakota and Wyoming as a fantastic and scenic place to spend your time. If you have any questions or comments about this park, please feel free to contact us. Thanks for reading. Happy trails!

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Hiker Tips:

  • Take a light-weight jacket and sturdy shoes on the cave tours.
  • Wear hiking pants on the trails. Poison Ivy is common.
  • Be very cautious around Bison. Give them a wide berth.

One Response

  1. Misti
    | Reply

    Cool places!

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