Wind Cave National Park
Guide

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Introduction

Wind Cave National Park in Hot Springs, South Dakota, is one of the oldest parks in the United States and home to all sorts of wildlife that inhabit the grasslands, including elk and bison, along with mule deer, pronghorn antelope, prairie dogs, coyotes, and bobcats. It’s underneath this vast prairie land that you’ll find the hidden beauty of Wind Cave, one of the longest and most intricate cave systems in the world. Within these cave systems, you can catch a glimpse of remarkable cave formations, including rare and intricate “boxwork” that can only be found in a few places on earth. You won’t find anything like Wind Cave anywhere else.

This park is full of exciting features to discover and is accessible by RV, so set up your base camp and get out there. If you’re not used to the climate in the region, you may find it extreme. You can expect an average of 30 inches of snow each winter, hail, and thunderstorms in the summer, and vacillation between warm and sunny to rainy and wind in the spring and fall. Just be sure that you’re completely prepared for the weather in whichever season you choose to visit. Checking the weather forecast and road conditions before heading out is never a bad idea, and can help you to know what to expect when you head out to explore Wind Cave National Park. For an amazing vacation in an idyllic natural setting, plan your next RV stay at Wind Cave National Park. You'll have a fantastic time.

Park Alerts (1)

[Park Closure] Cave Elevators Out of Service, No Tours Being Offered [+ Info]

November 1, 2019: no cave tours are being offered until further notice due to major elevator repairs. The visitor center is open and ranger programs are offered daily. Check this website for the status of cave tours, which may resume early December.

RV Rentals in Wind Cave National Park

Transportation in Wind Cave National Park

Driving

Wind Cave National Park is most easily accessed from Highway 385 or state route 87, about 10 miles outside Hot Springs, SD. The most common mode of transportation throughout the park is by personal vehicle. There are many primary roads that go through the park, along with some more scenic back roads that go deeper into nature. You can take your RV on any of these - just be sure to exercise caution on the dirt roads. Also, make sure that your directions to the visitor center are reliable, as many GPS systems can take you the wrong way.

Parking

There are lots of parking options within the park, at the visitor center, and at the campground. During the popular season when the place can get a bit crowded, there are plans in place to ensure that there is enough parking for everyone, even those with the largest of RVs and trailers.

Public Transport

There is currently no public transportation to or inside the park, but plenty of roads to take your personal vehicle on. All park roads are open to bikes, but not the hiking trails or off-road. Just be sure that you stay aware of your surroundings and watch for passing vehicles, especially on the busier paved roads.

Campgrounds and parking in Wind Cave National Park

Campsites in Wind Cave National Park

Reservations camping

Custer / Mount Rushmore / Black Hills KOA

When it comes to fascinating vistas, a stay at Custer/Mount Rushmore/Black Hills KOA puts you in a great spot to see the best--from the prestige of Mount Rushmore to the dynamic Black Hills. This KOA gives you easy access to some amazing natural areas along with the amenities you need to relax. Enjoy sites for up to 60-foot RVs, 50-amp hookups, Wi-Fi, and a pool. The beautiful backdrop makes this a great spot to relax and explore.

Hot Springs / Black Hills KOA

At the Hot Springs/Black Hills KOA, set up camp near Black Hills, Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park, the Mammoth Site, Evans Plunge, the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, Windcross Conservancy and the shops in historic downtown Hot Springs. At the Hot Springs/Black Hills KOA, you’ll find a variety of lodging options, from cabins to tent sites, to RV sites with 50-amp serviceable to accommodate rigs up to 80 feet. Electric and cable TV hookups can be found at all the RV sites along with free Wi-Fi for all. A heated pool, mini-golf, and recreation room will most definitely keep the kids occupied so you can take in the still moments in this mountainous setting.

Rapid City / Black Hills KOA

Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, Deadwood, and five additional national parks are just a short drive away from Rapid City/Black Hills KOA. The campground is conveniently located just off I-90. From the campground, guests can rent a car, catch a shuttle, or schedule a guided tour. The family-friendly amenities include Wi-Fi and cable, fire rings, and picnic tables at each site. Other on-site attractions include a pool and hot tub, a vegetable and herb garden, a Little Free Library, a game room, a dog park, a snack bar, all-you-can-eat daily pancake breakfasts, and additional planned activities.

Mount Rushmore KOA at Palmer Gulch

You don’t have to drive too far to check out one of the most spectacular landmarks in the world when you visit Mount Rushmore KOA at Palmer Gulch. There’s plenty more to see in the area, too, including state parks, mountain peaks, and other memorials. On top of all the sites and scenery, Mount Rushmore KOA also has plenty of activities to enjoy like fire engine rides, climbing walls, and ATV rentals. You can enjoy a pancake breakfast at this KOA, along with other amenities such as Wi-Fi, cable TV, a Kamping Kitchen, swimming pool, and so much more.

Elk Mountain Group Camping

Within Elk Mountain Campground, there are two spots available for groups of nine to 30 people. These are the only campsites in the entire park that require reservations, and these spots can be found in the D loop. You can bring your trailer or RV, but keep in mind that only one of these types of vehicles is allowed at each group site. There is overflow parking available at the amphitheater parking lot though. When you stay at one of the group sites, you’ll find many picnic tables to eat at, a firewood station, and a fire ring with a cooking grate. During the warmer and more popular months, you can find flush toilets, sinks with running water, and potable water available. These large sites are great for scout groups or even big families.

First-come first-served

Elk Mountain Campground

Elk Mountain Campground is the only campground in the entire park, but don’t let this make you think that there won’t be any room for your RV. This campground is first-come, first-served, so you can pick out the spot that you think works best for you. They have up to 25 pull-through sites available for your RV, and there are no size limits if you choose a site in loop B. Do keep in mind that there are no hookups or showers available. You can camp with a party of up to eight people and you can stay at this campground for up to 14 days.

During your stay, you can help out the environment by putting your recyclables in the bins provided throughout the park, and taking your waste water to the nearest dump stations in Hot Springs and Custer. If you’re lucky, you might find free firewood made available to you at the campground entrance. Donations are gladly accepted for this. Feel free to bring your pets along on your trip to Wind Cave as well -- just be sure to keep them on a leash.

Alternate camping

Backcountry Camping

Backcountry camping is a great way to immerse yourself in the beautiful nature of the park. Be sure to get a permit before heading out, and make yourself familiar with the rules and regulations. There are certain parts of the park where backcountry camping is not allowed. In the places where it is allowed, you must camp at least a quarter-mile away from any roads and at least 100 feet away from any trail or water source. Also be sure to bring as much water as you’ll need during your trip, as there are very few water sources in the park.

Seasonal activities in Wind Cave National Park

Spring

Exploring the Creeks

In the spring, the snow is finally beginning to melt and you can watch as the water in the creeks begins to finally rush forth again, coming back to life. At this park, you can check out Beaver Creek and Highland Creek, which can be accessed from moderate to strenuous hiking trails.

Choose appropriate footwear for hiking over various types of terrain. Bring your pooch along if you like but be prepared to clean up and properly dispose of their waste. In keeping with local laws, please keep your dog on a leash at all times.

Be sure to tote some drinking water to keep your hydration levels primed for performance. Springtime at the Creeks is an excellent time for enjoying a picnic lunch on the grounds. Bring along a packed meal from home to feast on when your day of exploration is done.

Bicycling

While off-road bicycling is not allowed within the park, those who choose to get around by bike can do so comfortably on the main roads. US HWY 385 is great for cyclists as it has wide shoulders. State Route 87, on the other hand, may prove to be a more difficult ride with all of its narrow twists and turns. For the utmost in safety precautions, consider wearing a helmet when cycling. To prevent dehydration, always carry drinking water with you and be sure to maintain easy access to a snack.

Hiking Wind Cave Canyon

What was once a road now follows Wind Cave Canyon, and you can hike alongside it and see it for yourself. This trail is fairly easy, being only 1.8 total miles and giving you some unique views. The rocky cliffs that you’ll see here are perfect nesting spots for many different kinds of birds, so this is a good place to go bird watching. Bring along your camera to capture the interesting bird species you find along your journey.

Bird Watching

There are many birds that are native to this area that reside within the park. Grab your binoculars and bird-identifying booklet, find a spot to sit quietly, and you just might spot some rare birds that you’ve never seen before. The park is home to species such as the Bald Eagle, American Kestrel, Mountain Bluebird, and Western Tanager.

Wildlife Viewing

When you visit Wind Cave National Park, you’ll likely be treated to the rare sight of elk, bison, deer, pronghorn, and so much more. Many of these animals can be seen grazing in the prairie fields in an area which sits atop the intricate cave system the park is named for. Inside the cave, you might be able to spot a few different species of bats.

Summer

Fairgrounds Cave Tour

This cave tour, lasting an hour and a half and including both upper and middle levels of the cave, is only available during the summer season. Be aware that this is a fairly strenuous tour with lots of steps. If you’re willing to put in the effort, you’ll be rewarded with views of magnificent cave formations including boxwork, cave popcorn, and frostwork.

Wild Cave Tour

If you want to feel like a true adventurer and be faced with challenges and difficulties, this tour is for you. This is a very strenuous tour where you’ll be expected to wear long sleeves, lace-up boots, hardhats, and more to keep you safe during the cave trip. All participants must be at least 16 years old and are expected to sign a waiver.

Candlelight Cave Tour

By taking the candlelight cave tour, you can get a feel for what it must’ve been like for the earlier travelers that discovered the cave systems. This is one of the most unique ways to experience a cave system and is definitely worth your while. The minimum age is eight, and the tour is labeled to be strenuous. The tour is only available during the summer months.
Since this tour is considered extremely challenging, you will need to come dressed for a hike that travels over diverse terrain and through unusual conditions such as cold, damp, and fog.

Backcountry Camping

Backcountry camping is an excellent way to experience the park and all it has to offer. Lose yourself in the beauty of nature and find peace and quiet once again. Be sure to get a permit before you go, and make sure the area that you choose to set up camp at is an acceptable spot.

You will need to remain alert for the presence of wildlife that could be dangerous and take care to store all of your food properly to avoid attracting animals. Backcountry camping offers families the opportunity to experience a whole new level of rest and relaxation in a unique and serene setting.

Hiking Trails

There are so many trails to choose from when you visit Wind Cave National Park--you’ll be sure to find something that is just right for any family member, as many of the trails are easy little hikes. You’ll also be able to find more moderate to strenuous trails for those who are up for a challenge. Whatever kind of hike that you enjoy, you won't be disappointed!

The terrain found on the grounds is quite varied with sections that are marked by steep inclines and vast hills. There are also densely forested areas that are alive with various species of plant and animal life.

Fall

Garden of Eden Cave Tour

This hour-long tour is great for children and folks who aren’t up for a strenuous hike to get a taste of the caves. The tour begins when you step out of an elevator that takes you where you need to be. During the tour, you’ll get to see all kinds of unique cave formations, including boxwork, flowstone, and cave popcorn.

Natural Entrance Cave Tour

The Natural Entrance Cave Tour is available from late April to early October and is one of the most popular cave tours in the region. When you go, you’ll get to learn where the cave got its name and how it was originally discovered. You’ll also get to see an abundance of neat boxwork cave formations. Most of the tour is through the middle section of the cave, with steps leading downward, then exiting through an elevator.

This tour is considered to be somewhat challenging and is best reserved for those with excellent mobility. You will want to wear footwear that is appropriate for more strenuous hiking endeavors.

Horseback Riding

There are over 28,000 acres of prairie lands and ponderosa pine forests available for you and your horse to roam within Wind Cave National Park, making it a great place for a bit of riding. Just be sure that you get a permit first and check the rules and regulations.

Though fall conditions in South Dakota are typically quite favorable, you may still catch a chill, so dress in layers to remain warm. Picnicking is a popular activity along the trails, so pack a lunch to enjoy when you find the perfect spot. Be sure to include lots of drinking water for you and your equine friend.

Junior Ranger Activities

Wind Cave National Park is very kid-friendly. The park offers a free program that allows your child to become a Wind Cave Junior Ranger. You can get program booklets at the visitor center, and even check out their online program, called WebRangers.

The journey to becoming Junior Ranger includes all kinds of interesting tests of skill and knowledge. The activities are grand fun for both children and adults alike and will quickly become something you and your kids look forward to each day. You will be amazed by the interesting facts you learn!

Hiking Rankin Ridge

This trail is one of the most popular hikes within Wind Cave National Park, and for good reason. Rankin Ridge is only a one-mile path, and it’ll take you to the highest peak in the park, treating visitors to awe-inspiring views that make for wonderful photo ops. This is one hike that is sure to make the whole family smile.

Pack a lunch and be sure to grab some drinking water, so you can feast like kings at the summit. Bring along your dog if you like but take care to keep them leashed at all times.

Winter

Snow Play

The possibilities are endless when you let your creativity go wild in the snow. Make some snow angels, build a snowman or some other neat snow sculptures, or even wage war on your family and friends with a snowball fight. There are plenty of options and, most often, there is also plenty of snow. Since you can get awfully chilly when wet from snow play, be sure to dress in layers to help keep yourself warm and protected against the elements.

Birding

Every year, rangers at Wind Cave National Park enlist the help of volunteers to conduct their winter bird count. Bring your scope or binoculars to help spot and document the park’s feathered residents, and hang out with fellow birding enthusiasts. A naturalist's guide is a great way to identify the different birds that you discover along your journey. Bring a camera too to capture some photos of your finds.

Visitor Center

Inside the Visitor Center, you’ll find exhibits on the Plains Indians, the park and prairie management, and all things having to do with the caves, including how they formed and how they were discovered. There is even a short movie you can watch. You’ll also find all the information you’ll need about local events and attractions to help you plan the remainder of your stay.

Enjoy your journey to the Visitor's Center on foot, giving you the opportunity to burn off a few extra calories while drinking in the crisp, refreshing winter air. Bring along a snack or two to help keep your energy levels primed for your day's adventure.

Photography

Winter at Wind Cave National Park can be a beautiful sight to see. At the overlooks, you can see the rolling hills topped with glistening white snow. It’s the perfect time to take a few pictures. After all, what better way is there to preserve your best memories? Take a stroll throughout the property in search of picture-perfect opportunities; you will be spoiled for choice. Whether you snap a pic of the wildlife that makes this park their home, the abundance of trees covered with a thick blanket of snow, or even just a great family photo or two, you are sure to bring home some great shots.

Elk Mountain Trail

This hike is a fairly short loop that simply winds around the campground, so you won’t have to go very far to discover this trail. It’s the perfect solution if you just want to stretch your legs but still experience fantastic views. And, you won’t be out in the cold for very long.

Bundle up against the winter chill by dressing in layers. Bring along drinking water to quench your thirst and a thermos of hot coffee in case you get cold. Your dog may join you on your hiking adventure but must remain leashed.

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