Tom and Jesse Bingham came across an unassuming hole in 1881. As the story goes, the wind from this hole blew Tom’s hat right off his head. A few days later, that hat was sucked in the hole by the wind.
This hole was an opening to Wind Cave. Wind Cave National Park is the world’s 6th largest known cave system with over 140 miles of explored passages. It also has the distinction of being the first cave to be designated as a national park.
Wind Cave was named for the pronounced way the cave breathes. The air pressure inside the cave is constantly working to equalize with the air pressure outside the cave which creates its wind.
One of Wind Cave’s unique features is the intricate boxwork, or honeycombed calcite formations which fill the cave. This South Dakota cave system has the largest concentration of these lace like formations in the world. Wind Cave is unlike any other cave I’ve visited!
The park service offers several tour options. We selected the Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour. Tickets for the Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour or any of the other tours available may be purchased at the tour desk in the visitor center. If someone traveling in your party has a 4th grade pass, be sure to mention it when you purchase your tickets.
The Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour is rated as one of the more difficult walking tours due to the number of stairs. There are 450 stairs on the Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour. Those stairs are both up and down and occur throughout the 2/3 mile tour.
I recommend arriving early in the day to purchase tour tickets. Tickets are limited and available on a first come first serve basis. While we waited for our tour time, we enjoyed exploring the exhibits in the visitors center.
The Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour begins in the Elevator Building. Since everyone in the tour cannot fit in the elevator at the same time, we descended in groups.
Throughout the Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour, the park ranger pointed out the cave’s unique features and talked about Wind Cave’s rich history.
Of course, as with any other cave tour I’ve been on, there is the obligatory turning off the lights to showcase the darkness. Fortunately, on the Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour, we were actually seated on some small bleachers during the blackout. Side note: I would rather skip the dark portion of the cave tour. I get it. It is super dark in there. No need to demonstrate!
The Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour lasts about an hour and a half. Fortunately, after the tour is over, you get out the way you came, the elevator!
I did not find the Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour to be all that strenuous. We stopped numerous times throughout the tour to look at formations and to hear cave history. In my opinion, a person in reasonable health with no mobility challenges should be ok on this tour.
Wind Cave National Park is an incredible place both above and below ground. Whether you choose the Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour or one of the other tour options, you’ll be amazed at the spectacular intricacy of the formations in this cave.
Be sure to check out this Fun Fact about Wind Cave National Park!