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Vacation Down Under

10/12/2007
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With all of the majesty and splendor of the Black Hills, who would think exploring below the surface would yield as much beauty as above?
South Dakota offers some of the longest and most diversified caves in the world. The Black Hills region contains more than 100 caves, which draw tourists year-round and contain hundreds of miles of trails.
Jewel Cave National Monument is so named for the calcite crystals covering nearly every cave wall. When brothers Frank and Albert Michaud discovered the uncharted cave in 1900, they believed its jewels were a valuable resource. The name stuck even when they found out the crystals weren’t worth anything. The brothers began to develop the cave into a tourist attraction, but lack of people in the region prevented the cave from being a successful tourist stop. Today the cave is open year-round to tourists and tour schedules typically sell out each morning.
Jewel Cave stretches 139 miles, making it the second longest cave in the country. New passages of Jewel Cave are constantly being discovered. Some passages are just 15 minutes off the main path, while others can be a ten hour trip deep into the cave. Wind flow through the cave suggests that the cave has many more rooms and passageways left to be discovered.
Visitors to Wind Cave National Park enjoy hiking through the Ponderosa Pine forest or watching the bison population above ground, andare surprised to find a whole other world below them. The cave is known worldwide for its very rare box work, a calcite shape similar to honeycomb.
The cave offers five tours through different trails and levels of the cave:
  • The Garden of Eden tour is one hour long and explores sparkling formations.
  • The Fairgrounds Tour is slightly more strenuous and explores two different levels of the cave.
  • In the Candlelight Tours, visitors, with candle buckets in hand, experience a historic tour through strenuous parts of the cave that are no longer lighted.
  • The most adventurous tour, the Wild Cave tour, allows spelunkers four hours of crawling on hands and knees, stooping, and sometimes squeezing through unpaved parts of the cave.
Visit www.nps.gov/wica to view a multimedia link featuring videos and photos of the cave.
Find more information on any of the caves of South Dakota at http://www.travelsd.com/tripplanner/itp/.