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!

Fun Fact: Wind Cave National Park

The main attraction at Wind Cave National Park is, of course, the cave itself.  This incredible cave system boasts the largest concentration of rare boxwork formations in the world. With all those passages, it is one colossal underground maze. In your excitement to tour the cave, don’t miss what’s on top!

Wind Cave National Park

Above Wind Cave sits a rich mixed grass prairie.  This grassland is a great place to watch wildlife. Many species of mammals reside in Wind Cave National Park. As you drive through the park, be on the lookout for bison, elk pronghorns, prairie dogs, and coyotes.

Wind Cave National Park Bison

Prairie dog towns are not hard to spot. If you see several mounds of dirt in a cluster, chances are prairie dogs will be bobbing up and down nearby. During our visit, we were fortunate enough to see a coyote stalking a prairie dog town and the prairie dogs watching intently for predators.

Wind Cave National Park CoyoteWind Cave National Park-5 trip

As you visit Wind Cave National Park allow some time to enjoy the treasures which lie above ground.  With so many wildlife viewing opportunities and 30 miles of hiking trails, the world above ground is just as incredible as what lies beneath!

Wind Cave National Park

Planning a visit to South Dakota?  Don’t miss The Needles Eye TunnelDriving to Mount RushmoreThe Custer State Park Buffalo HerdBadlands Fossil FindsBadlands Notch Trail, and Badlands Trip and Tee.

Fun Fact: The Custer State Park Buffalo Herd

The bison, commonly referred to the as the American buffalo, was officially designated the National Mammal of the United States in 2016. Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota is one of the best places to see these magnificent mammals.

Custer State Park Buffalo

Buffalo were introduced to Custer State Park in 1936. The small herd originally included 36 animals.  Today, Custer State Park buffalo herd includes approximately 1300 bison.  Each September, the park holds the Buffalo Roundup where animals are examined, branded, and culled to maintain the health of the population. Whether you’re fortunate enough to visit during the roundup or at another time of the year, observing this American icon is sure to be a highlight of your visit to Custer State Park.

Custer State Park Buffalo

Planning a trip to South Dakota?  Check out The Needles Eye TunnelThe Corn Palace, and The Badlands Notch Trail

The Corn Palace of South Dakota

Mitchell, South Dakota is home to a quirky and one of a kind attraction –  The Corn Palace. I’ll admit when I first heard about The Corn Palace, I was somewhat skeptical. However, a trusted source from South Dakota insisted it was worth a stop.  She was right. I’m glad we made time for a visit!

South Dakota Corn Palace-2 trip

The Corn Palace has a great backstory. In the late 1800’s, the citizens of Mitchell decided to build a corn palace to showcase its rich farmland to attract settlers. Oddly enough, this was not a novel idea at the time.  In fact, corn and grain palaces were cropping up throughout the plains.  Fortunately, Mitchell’s Corn Palace has stood the test of time thanks to the support of the community.

Corn Palace of South Dakota

Mitchell’s original corn palace was built in 1892 and was the centerpiece of the Corn Belt Expo. It has been rebuilt several times over the years.  Today’s Corn Palace was constructed in 1921 and serves as an entertainment venue as well as a home for community events.

Corn Palace of South Dakota

Surprisingly, there is no charge to visit the Corn Palace!  Several exhibits highlight the importance of corn on the economy as well as the painstaking work that goes into decorating the palace each year. Many of these exhibits are interactive and great for kids! A gift shop on the arena floor sells more corn related merchandise than you can imagine. There is a Corn Palace movie as well as a tour available. I suggest allowing at least an hour for your visit.

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The Worlds Only Corn Palace is a distinctive destination that you’ll not soon forget.  Corn designs and murals are both inside and outside of the facility.  Only natural corn colors are used, and the cobs are split in half to create these designs. These murals are quite intricate.  Each year, the corn decorations are removed and replaced at a cost of over $130,000.  This is truly a labor of love.

South Dakota Corn Palace-10 tripCorn Palace of South Dakota

The Corn Palace of Mitchell, South Dakota is a unique budget friendly destination.  It is awesome to see a community embrace their past and present. They have successfully used a commodity which may seem ordinary and created something quite extraordinary!

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!