Within the Black Hills region of South Dakota, visitors will find Jewel Cave National Monument. The cave was first discovered in 1900 by the Michaud brothers. Using dynamite they blasted an entrance large enough to enter the cave and found the jewel-like crystals. They later built a trail and a nearby lodge with the intent to make the cave a tourist attraction. Travel to the cave was difficult at the time and the region was sparsely populated. In 1908, President Roosevelt proclaimed the cave to be a national monument. When the Michaud brothers later moved away from the area they sold the land to the government.
As construction efforts continued over the years and new discoveries within Jewel Cave were made. Today, visitors to the monument can explore the cave on one of the four tours that the monument offers. These tours range from easy to strenuous and visitors will see the crystals or “jewels” of the cave as well as many stunning cave formations. Outside of the cave, there are three hiking trails that visitors can explore. Each trail provides stunning canyon views.
Tour tickets are required to enter Jewel Cave. Tours can sell out, especially over holiday weekends and during the summer months. It is advised to reserve tickets in advance or plan to get to the monument in the morning. Those planning to enter the cave should dress warmly. Jewel Cave is a constant 49 degrees, even in the summertime. While there isn’t a campground at the national monument there is a KOA and other lodging options in Custer.
Jewel Cave National Monument is located about 13 miles west of Custer, South Dakota on U.S. Highway 16. Similar to much of the Black Hills region of South Dakota, cell phone service is spotty and can vary by carrier. The visitor center at the monument has free, public WiFi if needed during your visit.
Snow is common during the winter and into the spring months. Snow and other inclement weather may cause the monument to change their hours or close. If visiting during periods of snow, check with the monument to confirm their hours.
The closest services, including food and lodging, is in the city of Custer. Bring plenty of water and some food or snacks for your visit to the monument.
Jewel Cave National Monument does not have a campground, however, there is a KOA about 13 miles west of the monument in Custer. The Custer/Mt. Rushmore KOA is open from May to September. It is encouraged to make reservations in advance as the campground is busy during the summer months.
This KOA offers both 30 and 50-amp electric hookup sites. Many sites are pull-through, but others are back-in. Amenities of the KOA include a playground, heated pool, laundry facilities, free WiFi, and a dog park.
During the Scenic Tour, visitors will walk up and down about 40 flights of stairs that are along the half mile tour loop. The path is paved and has electric lighting. During the Scenic Tour, visitors will have the opportunity to see two types of crystals which are the “jewels” of the cave.
Although the path is paved, make sure you are wearing comfortable and sturdy footwear.
The Historic Lantern Tour is about half a mile long. Visitors will be provided with a lantern and will be led through dark, narrow passages. There are 600 steep wooden steps along this route. During the tour, visitors will see many different cave formations and will be led to either the Dungeon Room or the Heavenly Room. The entrance and exit to this tour is an unpaved trail. The Historic Lantern Tour is considered to be strenuous.
The Wild Caving Tour is considered extremely strenuous. Participants will crawl and climb through different areas of the cave including sections known as Roller Coaster and the Brain Drain. Beautiful cave formations will be seen throughout much of the tour. This tour is about 0.67 miles long and will last between three and four hours.
The monument staff will provide each person with a hard hat and head lamp. Those who are interested in participating will need to wear appropriate clothing. Check with the park staff for guidelines.
The Discovery Talk is great for all ages. This talk is led by rangers and lasts 20 minutes. Visitors will learn about the history of Jewel Cave, including its discovery. During the Discovery Talk, participants will see one room of the cave providing the opportunity to see the cave's “jewels” and other important aspects of its geology.
Jewel Cave National Monument has three hiking trails. A Walk on the Roof Trail is a short, quarter-mile loop which leads through the forest above the cave. An overlook along the trail provides a view of the canyons. The Canyons Trail is a 3.5-mile loop that leads hikers into Lithograph Canyon. This trail is rough and uneven in places. Hell Canyon Trail is adjacent to Jewel Cave and is a U.S. Forest Service Trail. Hell Canyon is a 5.5-mile loop that follows limestone cliffs to views of Hell Canyon.
Visitors may encounter many different types of wildlife during their visit to the monument. Bats are commonly seen within the cave. There are nine species of bats known to Jewel Cave, six of which are at the cave year-round.
White-tailed and mule deer often graze near the visitor center. Birding enthusiasts will see many different types of birds no matter the season. Some species such as wild turkeys and great blue herons are year-round residents at the monument.
On occasion a snake may be spotted. While there are snakes ranging from the harmless garter snake to the venomous rattlesnake, there are no snakes in the cave.