Exploring Wind Cave National Park

The first time I heard of Wind Cave National Park was while planning our recent trip to Wyoming and South Dakota to scout where we might want to live.

Although lesser known, Wind Cave was the sixth national park established in the U.S. (in January 1903) and was the first cave designated as a national park anywhere in the world! The park shares borders with Custer State Park and the Black Hills National Forest, and its grasslands and ponderosa pine forests are home to 30 miles of hiking trails and numerous flora and fauna, including bison, pronghorn, elk, and more.

We only had enough time to tour the cave itself, but there’s clearly a wealth of above-ground interests that we’ll need to return to explore.

Wind Cave, one of the longest and most complex caves in the world. Named for barometric winds at its entrance, this maze of passages is home to boxwork, a unique formation rarely found elsewhere.


It was a hot afternoon and I was happy we were headed underground for our tour.

Tip: Plan Ahead! We had to reserve our tour in advance and saw several people show up and be disappointed that there were no spots open during the time they had hoped to visit. Also, the tours leave right on time – we saw several other people get very upset because they missed their tour time and could not simply be added to the next available tour.

Of the several tours available, we opted for the 90-minute, more adventurous Fairgrounds Tour. We arrived the requested 30 minutes ahead of schedule to check in and enjoyed spending that time in the visitor center, learning more about the cave and area.

When it was our tour time, we were directed to walk over to a nearby building with an elevator down into the cave. We were part of a large group, and although our guide tried to get us to squish together each time he stopped to point something out, it was fairly hard to hear if you weren’t standing near him.

For that reason, I appreciated the point of the tour where we were seated in a small section of the cave for his more detailed explanation about the boxwork, frostwork, popcorn, and flowerstone formations unique to this cave system. The vast majority of the world’s boxwork is in this cave – it’s featured in the first photo below.

At the conclusion of our tour we returned above ground and walked over to the formal cave entrance, which is small and not accessible by humans.

This entrance is sacred to the Lakota people as Wind Cave is the site of their oral creation story.

For the Lakota, people emerged from the spirit world to Earth’s surface through a passageway called Maka Oniye, “breathing earth,” or Wind Cave. People were to wait in the spirit world until Earth was ready for them.

Two spirits tricked the people, sending them a wolf from Earth with tempting clothes and food. Others stayed, as the creator instructed. The followers emerged to a beautiful place. The tricksters taught them work, but the people grew tired and were unprepared for winter. When the tricksters revealed themselves, the people tried to return to the spirit world but found the entrance blocked. Hearing their cries, the creator turned them into bison, as punishment for their disobedience.

When Earth was finally ready, the others emerged. They were instructed to follow the bison in order to have all they needed to live on Earth. The creator then shrank the entrance so they could never return – yet never forget where they came from.

NPS brochure

It was a short visit, but I learned a great deal at this new-to-me national park. Hopefully we’ll be able to explore more of this area, including the nearby Jewel Cave National Monument, during our next visit!

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