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 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.
Park Alerts (1)
[Information] Decontamination Mats Used to Prevent the Spread of White-nose Syndrome. [+ Info]
All cave visitors will walk across a decontamination mat when entering and exiting the cave. Shoes, clothing, or gear used in other caves are not allowed on the Candlelight or Wild Cave tours to prevent the spread of White-nose Syndrome.
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.
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.
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
Elk Mountain Group Camping
Within Elk Mountain Campground, there are two spots available for groups of 9 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.
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 8 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.
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
When you visit WInd Cave National Park, you’ll likely get to see elk, bison, deer, pronghorn, and so much more. They can be seen grazing the prairie fields, all 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.
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.
Hiking Wind Cave Canyon
What was once a road follows Wind Cave Canyon, and you can hike alongside it and see it for yourself. This trial 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.
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.
Exploring the Creeks
In the spring, the snow is finally beginning to melt and you can watch as the water in the creeks begin 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.
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 8 and the tour is labeled to be strenuous--and it is only available during the summer months.
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 year old.
Backcountry camping is an immersive way to experience the park and all it has to offer. Lose yourself in all of it 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.
There are so many trails to choose from when you visit Wind Cave National Park--you’ll be sure to find trails that are 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 can find one that fits.
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
This tour is available from late April to early October, and is one of the most popular cave tours here. 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.
Hiking Rankin Ridge
This trail is one of the most popular trails within Wind Cave National Park, and for good reason. Rankin Ridge is only a one mile hike, and it’ll take you to the highest peak in the park. We’re sure you can just imagine what kind of breathtaking and awe-striking views this allows for. This is one hike that is sure to make the whole family smile.
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.
There are over 28 thousand 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.
Inside the Visitor Center, you’ll find exhibits on the Plains Indians, 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 the park here.
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?
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.
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 plenty of snow.
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.
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