Tip & Tee: Wind Cave National Park Tours

Wind Cave was designated a National Park in 1903 by Theodore Roosevelt. Wind Cave National Park is located in South Dakota near the Black Hills and shares a border with Custer State Park.

Wind Cave National Park offers three different ranger guided walking tours. These tours are rated easy to strenuous based on the amount of walking and number of stairs, so you can choose the cave tour that is best for your family. Tour descriptions are available on the Wind Cave National Park website.

Wind Cave National Park Tours Trip Tip

If you are traveling during the busy summer season, be sure to arrive early at the Wind Cave National Park Visitor Center to purchase tickets for a cave tour.  Each tour has a limited number of tickets available for the day. Arriving early will give you a better chance to get your pick of tours and times. If you’re traveling with a child with a 4th grade pass, be sure to mention it at the tour desk!

For more information on Wind Cave National Park, check out Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour and Fun Fact: Wind Cave National Park!

Wind Cave National Park Tee Trip
Wind Cave National Park Tee Trip – I LOVE the bison shape on this shirt!

When it comes to shopping on a trip, I am a total tourist! My favorite souvenirs are travel tee shirts! Over the years, I’ve amassed quite a collection. In Tip & Tee, I share some of my treasures and a Trip Tip for that destination!

Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour

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 in by the wind.

Wind Cave Natural Entrance
The natural entrance to Wind Cave and origin of the legendary hat story

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 National Park Sign

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.

Wind Cave Air Flow Conditions
Visitor Center display shows the current air flow in or out of the cave.

One 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!

Boxwork on the Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour
Intricate Wind Cave boxwork

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.

Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour Map
Map showing the Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour route

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.

Boxwork on the Wind Cave Fairgrounds 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.

Map of Wind Cave National Park
Map of explored passages of Wind Cave in the visitor 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.

Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour Elevator
The Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour elevator

Throughout the Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour, the park ranger pointed out the cave’s unique features and talked about Wind Cave’s rich history.

Wind Cave Fairground Tour
At the age of 16, Alvin McDonald began exploring Wind Cave and continued until his death at age 20.  He explored 8 to 10 miles of Wind Cave and left his initials on the ceiling in this room in code.

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!

Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour

The Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour lasts about hour and a half. Fortunately, after the tour is over, you get out the way you came, the elevator!

Boxwork on the Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour

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-19 trip

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.

Boxwork on the Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour

Be sure to check out this Fun Fact about Wind Cave National Park!

Delicate Arch Hike: 6 Things to Know Before You Go

Arches National Park is home to over 2000 natural arches and boasts the largest concentration of arches in the world. Of all those 2000 arches, there is one that stands out – Delicate Arch. This arch gets more press than all the other arches combined. It is the star of both Utah’s license plate and state quarter! Visiting Arches National Park without seeing Delicate Arch seems like visiting Paris and skipping the Eiffle Tower. Who doesn’t want their picture made with this icon?

Delicate Arch hike in Arches National Park

Delicate Arch is not visible from the park’s main road. To see this rock star, you can either trek the 3 mile round trip Delicate Arch hike or visit the much easier to access Delicate Arch Viewpoints area to see the arch from about a mile away.

Delicate Arch hike in Arches National Park
The Delicate Arch Hike slickrock.

If you are physically able, I recommend making the Delicate Arch hike which begins at Wolf Ranch. It is a much more rewarding experience. Should you decide to hike this trail, here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. It’s uphill. Delicate Arch hike has an elevation gain of 480 feet.  Once you pass the first flat section of the trail, the elevation gain is primarily up open slickrock. The trail is marked with carins.Delicate Arch hike in Arches National ParkDelicate Arch hike open slickrock
  2. There is no shade. Most of the trail traverses slickrock. So, there is basically no shade. The sun can be quite intense during the most challenging part of this hike. Consider wearing a hat and don’t forget your sunscreen! Also, don’t expect respite from the sun once you reach the arch. There is no real shade up there either.Delicate Arch hike open slickrock
  3. Water is a must. I know this is obvious but still worth mentioning. It would be really easy to get dehydrated on the Delicate Arch hike. Arches National Park is a high desert environment, so I suggest bringing plenty of water since you’ll be exerting quite a bit of effort.Delicate Arch hike in Arches National Park
  4. You won’t be alone. The Delicate Arch hike is popular. If you are seeking solitude in Arches National Park, look elsewhere. During busy times of the year, getting a photo of Delicate Arch without people in it can be challenging. Be patient and you’ll likely have an opportunity, albeit brief.Delicate Arch Trail in Arches National Park
  5. Mind the drop off. In general, this is not a trail where you have to worry about taking a tumble off a cliff. However, there is a short section right before you reach the arch where you might want to keep the kiddos close.

    Delicate Arch hike narrow portion of the trail
    Narrow Section of the Delicate Arch Hike
  6. You may not want to leave. The stonework here is mesmerizing. Gazing on this giant spectacle from different perspectives never gets old. It is a bit of work to get up to the arch, so allow yourself extra time to sit and stare.View of Delicate Arch Thru Rock Opening

The Delicate Arch hike is not easy. But, the payoff is worth every uphill step! With the La Sal Mountains as a backdrop, this natural wonder poses perfectly on the rock face. No wonder this Delicate Arch steals so much of the spotlight!

Delicate Arch Hike Closeup View of Delicate Arch
We made it! The Delicate Arch hike is worth every step!

For more information on Arches National Park hikes, check out Turret ArchPark AvenueBalanced Rock, and Family Fun in Moab.

Fun Fact: Badlands National Park Fossil Finds

Badlands National Park boasts one of the largest mammal fossil deposits in the world! Park visitors can even join in the fossil hunting fun. Badlands has an open hike policy, so you are not required to stay on designated trails! This policy, rare in a national park, actually encourages visitors to go off trail to search for fossils. As a result, every year photos of park visitors and their fossil finds are added to the wall of fame in the Badlands National Park visitor center.

Badlands National Park Fossils Trip

The Badlands Notch Trail

The Notch Trail in Badlands National Park is one of the park’s most popular trails. If you do much research on the Badlands, you’ll likely come across photos of a long wooden ladder on a rock face. This is the Notch Trail. It is a 1.5 mile round trip hike which is rated moderate to strenuous by the park service.

Badlands National Park Notch Trail SignBadlands National Park Notch Trail-3 Trips

I’ll admit to feeling a little nervous about the Notch Trail. In my pre-trip research, I found some sites suggesting that people with a fear of heights (me) might want to sit this one out. However, I was afraid I’d regret it later if we didn’t give it a try.

Badlands National Park Notch Trail

The first portion of the Notch Trail is really easy and mostly flat.  Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the trail markers. In some spots, the trail appears to go in multiple directions.

Badlands National Park Notch Trail

After enjoying this leisurely section, we came to the most challenging part of the trail – the long wooden ladder.  If you take your time, it really isn’t too bad.  The ladder is stable, so falling off was not a concern.

Badlands National Park Notch Trail

After ascending the ladder, there are some rocks to scramble up, over, and around. However, as a whole, it was pretty tame. Once you reach the end of the trail, or the Notch, you are rewarded with a panoramic view.

Badlands National Park Notch Trail

Badlands National Park Notch View

Excluding the ladder, I would rate this trail as easy. The most challenging part of this hike is the ladder descent. It is a bit nerve wracking but not terrifying. Again, just take your time.

Badlands National Park Notch Trail

The Notch Trail offers sweeping views of the White River Valley. It is well worth the time and effort! I was glad I stepped outside of my comfort zone to experience this fun and unique hike!

 

 

 

Tip & Tee: Driving to Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is arguably one of the most recognizable icons in the National Park System. The massive scale and realism of this sculpture completed in 1941 is mind boggling! It is no surprise that over 3 million people visit this symbol of America each year.

Mount Rushmore Doane Mountain Tunnel

Trip Tip:  Mount Rushmore

For an extra special treat, approach Mount Rushmore from Custer State Park by driving north on Iron Mountain Road (16A). This Scenic Byway is also an engineering feat with its remarkable bridges, tunnels, and switchbacks.  A highlight of this journey is the Doane Robinson Tunnel which perfectly frames Mount Rushmore!

Mount Rushmore Trip TeeWhen it comes to shopping on a trip, I am a total tourist! My favorite souvenirs are travel tee shirts! Over the years, I’ve amassed quite a collection. In Tip & Tee, I share some of my treasures and a Trip Tip for that destination!

Tip & Tee: Glacier National Park

When it comes to shopping on a trip, I am a total tourist! My favorite souvenirs are travel tee shirts! Over the years, I’ve amassed quite a collection. In Tip & Tee, I share some of my treasures and a Trip Tip for that destination!

I could not pass up this trip tee at the Logan Pass Visitor Center in Glacier National Park. The design was available in several colors, but the turquoise reminded me of the park’s glacial lakes.

Glacier National Park is often referred to as the Crown of the Continent.  One visit, and it is easy to see that this nickname is well deserved.  The Going to the Sun Road is the main highway in Glacier National Park which traverses the Rocky Mountains at Logan Pass. This road is a marvel particularly when considering the terrain crews had to conquer during its construction between 1921 and 1932.

Glacier National Park Trip Tip

Be sure to allow plenty of time to enjoy exploring the Going to the Sun Road in BOTH directions. The views are amazing regardless of whether you’re traveling east or west, but the change in perspective offers a different experience which should not be rushed.Glacier National Park Trip Tee