If you’re hot and in the Black Hills of South Dakota, there’s an easy way to cool down: enter one of the area’s caves. The national monuments of Wind Cave and Jewel Cave are both located in the southwest corner of South Dakota, not too far from Mount Rushmore. We visited Wind Cave on a previous South Dakota trip in 2005. This trip we focused on Jewel Cave, the third longest cave in the world.
While there is a visitor center which you can visit at no cost, to really see the cave’s jewels, you need to take a tour. Jewel Cave National Monument offers four tours which range in time, price, and strenuous ability: the scenic tour, discovery tour, historic lantern tour, and wild caving tour.
Although my spelunking experienced husband would have preferred the 4-hour wild caving tour, we chose the scenic tour, a moderately strenuous 1.5-hour tour.
After descending deep underground (in an elevator), we (and about 25 others) followed our tour guide on a paved trail through chambers decorated with calcite crystals and other speleothems.
Although we traveled only 1/2 mile, there are over 170 miles of mapped and surveyed passages. If you want to do more, the wild caving tour takes you along a 2/3 mile route, but you will have to belly crawl through a passage 8 1/2 inches high by 24 inches wide.
Tickets are only available on a first come first served basis and, except for the wild caving tour, must be purchased the day of the tour. My advice – get there early to choose the time of your tour. The entrance to Jewel Cave is located 13 miles west of the city of Custer, South Dakota.
Trip taken July 2013.