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South Dakota

South Dakota State Parks

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USA Parks
South Dakota
Black Hills & Badlands Region
Wind Cave National Park
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Wind Cave National Park Wind Cave National Park credits Share the Experience, Joseph James
Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave National Park © Alexis J. Williams
Wind Cave National Park © Nancy Bauer
Wind Cave National Park © Nancy Bauer
Wind Cave National Park Antelope © Nancy Bauer
Wind Cave National Park Mule deer © Nancy Bauer
Wind Cave National Park Mule deer © Nancy Bauer
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26611 US Highway 385
Hot Springs, South Dakota   57747
(lat:43.5724 lon:-103.4416) map location

Phone: 605-745-4600
Email: park email button icon
One of the world's longest and most complex caves and 28,295 acres of mixed-grass prairie, ponderosa pine forest, and associated wildlife are the main features of the park. The cave is well known for its outstanding display of boxwork, an unusual cave formation composed of thin calcite fins resembling honeycombs. The park's mixed grass prairie is one of the few remaining and is home to native wildlife such as bison, elk, pronghorn, mule deer, coyotes, and prairie dogs.
Nature of the Area

National parks are great places to see wildlife. However, that has not always been the case. In the early 1900's many animal populations were nearing extinction because of habitat destruction or hunting pressures. You couldn't see them in the wild or in national parks.

At one time, more than 60 million bison roamed this continent. By the early 1900's fewer than 1,000 were left. Some were in zoos, a scattering on private ranches and a few were still wild in places like Yellowstone but most wild bison had been killed.

People noticed what was happening and took action. Ranchers started private herds and zoos began protecting species at risk. Conservationists and hunters realized that action must also be taken to protect the animals' habitats or we might never see them in the wild again.

In 1911, the American Bison Society looked for places to establish free roaming bison herds. They selected Wind Cave National Park as one of the first areas where these animals would be returned to the wild. The rolling mixed grass prairie is excellent habitat for bison.

Other animals, like pronghorn and elk, were reintroduced to the park at the same time. Because of this effort, we can see elk, bison, pronghorn, turkeys and even prairie dogs. And, just as important, we can see the habitat that supports them.


The oldest rocks are exposed in the northwest part of the park. These are schists and pegmatites. The schists are metamorphic rocks which formed under heat and intense pressure during an early episode of mountain building.

Pegmatites are made of large crystals of glassy-gray quartz, pink feldspar, silvery micas, and shiny black tourmaline. Pegmatite is an igneous rock, similar to granite. It hardened from magma and hot fluids. In places, the pegmatite intruded into the schists. This proves the pegmatite is younger than the schists. The emplacement of the pegmatite probably occurred during another mountain building event.

Wind Cave formed in the Pahasapa Limestone. This limestone was deposited in a warm shallow sea about 350 million years ago and is composed mostly of fragments of calcium carbonate sea shells. Coinciding with the accumulation of limestone, bodies of gypsum (calcium sulfate) crystallized from the sea water, when arid conditions caused evaporation. The gypsum formed irregular shaped masses within the limestone.

The gypsum masses were unstable. Their volumes increased and decreased as they absorbed and expelled water. This caused fracturing to occur within the gypsum and in the surrounding limestone.

Since acid-rich water dissolves limestone, a chemical change in the groundwater had to occur for the cave to form. The oceans receded allowing fresh water into the region. As gypsum was converted to limestone, sulfur was chemically freed to form either sulfuric or sulfurous acid. These acids dissolved the limestone to form the first cave passageways some 320 million years ago.

After the first period of cave formation, seas again advanced over this area. About 300 million years ago, layers of red clay, sandstone and limestone of the Minnelusa Formation were deposited above the Pahasapa Limestone. Some of this sediment washed into and filled early-formed cave passageways. These "paleofills", are visible in higher levels of the cave, near the Garden of Eden and Fairgrounds rooms.

Wind Cave is over 300 million years old, making it one of the oldest in the world. Besides extreme age, other features make Wind Cave unique. The cave is large and extremely complex, the 116.89 miles (188.11 kilometers) of known cave fit under just over one square mile of land. The boxwork is rare and found in few other caves. Geologists have many questions yet to answer before we can fully understand the rich, incredible world below our feet.
History of the Area
On January 3, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the bill creating Wind Cave National Park. It was the seventh national park and the first one created to protect a cave. The parklands at that time were small and there were no bison, elk, or pronghorn. They came later as the park boundaries expanded.

In 1912, the American Bison Society was looking for a place to reestablish a bison herd. Because of the excellent prairie habitat around the park, a national game preserve was established bordering Wind Cave. It was managed by the U.S. Biological Survey. In 1913 and 1914, the animals began to arrive. Fourteen bison came from the New York Zoological Society, twenty-one elk arrived from Wyoming and thirteen pronghorn came from Alberta, Canada.

Interest in the wildlife attracted more visitors to the park and additional improvements were necessary. Some happened in the 1920's but the major work was accomplished by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930's. The CCC camp was located in the park and operated from July 16, 1934 to October 3, 1939. Some of the projects they worked on can be seen today. These include roads, the entrance to the cave, concrete stairs in the cave, the elevator building and shaft, and other structures. n July of 1935, the game preserve became part of Wind Cave National Park. During the early years of the preserve, the animals were kept in small enclosures. Eventually, it was realized that they needed more space. The bison and elk needed additional forage and the pronghorn needed room to escape from predators. With the help of the CCC, fences within the park were removed. And in 1946, 16,341 additional acres were added, enlarging the park to 28,059 acres.

During the 1950's and 60's, park wildlife was the focus of much attention. Because of the lack of large predators, like wolves and grizzly bears, the bison and elk herds had grown to the point that they were literally "eating themselves out of house and home." Park rangers began to evaluate the carrying capacity of the park. Carrying capacity is the number of animals that can exist in a habitat without damaging it. To solve the problem of overgrazing, the bison and elk herd sizes were reduced. Park rangers began an active program to manage the herd size. They began rounding up the animals and shipping the excess live from the park to other parks and reserves. Rangers also worked to improve the grassland by reseeding overgrazed areas with native grasses and controlling exotic plant species.

In the 1970's and 80's, managers continued to focus on caring for the wildlife and rangeland by building an understanding of how the natural systems should function. The reintroduction of fire as a natural means to improve the range and to limit the expansion of the forest onto the prairie was researched. An active fire program was started, with the first prescribed fire occurring in 1972.


The mission of Wind Cave National Park is to preserve and protect the natural resources. Wind Cave National Park is 28,295 acres. Because of its relatively small size and because there are missing parts, park managers must take an active role in helping the ecosystems function as they might have in the past. This requires understanding how everything in the park relates and how the naturally operating system would have functioned. Park rangers work with researchers to replicate that natural system using prescribed fires, bison and elk round-ups, and biological control of exotic plant species.

How we accomplish the mission of the park is determined by what we know about the park. The land, the animals, and the cave are all related and it is only when we understand the resources and their connections that we can best protect Wind Cave National Park.
Day-UseHiking Trailyes
Elk Mountain Campground is opened all year and offers campers a unique opportunity to view the plants and animals of the southern Black Hills. Campers, whether in a tent or a motor home, are responsible for maintaining the natural state of these habitats. After camping, leave a site you would like to visit again.

REGISTRATION: The campground fee is $12.00 a night per site from mid-May through mid-September. From mid-September to mid-May the water is turned off and facilities at the campground are reduced. The fee is $6.00 per night during these times. Personal checks may be written for camping fees.

Visitors holding a Golden Age or Golden Access Passport pay a half price fee. After selecting a site, return to the fee station to register and pay for the site. Drop fees into the designated box.

CAMPSITES: Occupancy is on a first-come, first-served basis. Each site accommodates up to eight people and two vehicles. This limit reduces impacts on the soil and vegetation. Altering the terrain by ditching or leveling the ground is prohibited. Campers with recreational vehicles must park at established campsites within the designated parking area. There is a limit of 14 days occupancy for the campground. Sites 24 and 69 are for campers with a handicapped license or a disabled permit.

CAMPGROUND HOST: The campground host resides on site 22 at the entrance to A Loop. This person can answer many of your questions and provide assistance.

RECYCLING PROGRAMY: You can recycle materials while camping. Please place recyclables at the locations marked on the map. Items that can be collected here are glass bottles and jars, aluminum beverage cans and plastic containers with the PETE 1 or HDPE 2 markings. Please rinse all recyclables before placing them in the containers.

CAMPFIRES: Firewood is available for a small fee at the bin located at the entrance to the campground. Deposit the fee envelope in the same box as camping fees. Help preserve the park resources by using this wood and by not removing wood from the forest. The threat of fire is moderate to high most of the year. Build fires only in the designated fire grates provided. Never leave fires unattended and make sure wood and charcoal fires are completely extinguished before leaving.

QUIET HOURS: Quiet hours are between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. Generators may only be used from 7:00 am to 7:00 p.m. Maintain your neighbor's right to quiet by respecting the quiet hours.

GROUP CAMPING: Group camping is available by reservation. Contact the park for information and reservations.

WILDLIFE: The animals found around the campground and throughout the park are wild. An animal that becomes habituated to people may beg or become a nuisance. Respect wildlife. Please do not feed or harass the animals that live in Elk Mountain Campground or in the park.

SECURITY: Protect your valuables. Do not invite theft at your campsite. Keep all valuables with you at all times. Keep extra equipment or personal items out of sight and locked in your car.

WASTE WATER: Please do not dump waste water on the ground. Trailer dump stations are located in Hot Springs and Custer. Camper service sinks are available in each comfort station. Remember, a very delicate cave lies beneath the campground and our actions may have a negative impact on it.

PETS: Help preserve the environment at Wind Cave National Park by keeping all dogs, cats and other pets on a leash at all times. Pets running loose disrupt the native wildlife, can disturb other park visitors and are sometimes the targets of larger wild animals.

EMERGENCY ASSISTANCE: Contact the campground host in site 22 or use the pay telephone to call 911 or (605) 745-4600 during business hours.


Imagine walking across a prairie and viewing scenery similar to that seen by Black Hills pioneers in the 1890s. Such landscapes can be seen from the 30 miles of hiking trails in Wind Cave National Park.

From these trails you can view one of the best examples of mixed-grass prairie in the United States. Seventy-five percent of the park is mixed-grass prairie and the balance is ponderosa pine forest and riparian habitat.Backcountry Camping

Cold Brook Canyon Trail 1.4 Miles: The trail begins on the west side of Hwy 385 two miles south of the Visitor Center. This mildly strenuous trail traverses across a former prairie dog town, along the edge of a prescribed fire and through Cold Brook Canyon to the park boundary fence.

Wind Cave Canyon Trail 1.8 Miles: The trail begins on the east side of Hwy 385 one mile north of the southern access road to the Visitor Center. This easily walked trail follows Wind Cave Canyon to the park boundary fence. Wind Cave Canyon is one of the best places in the park for bird watching. Limestone cliffs provide good nesting areas for cliff swallows and great horned owls. Standing dead trees serve as homes for red-headed and Lewis woodpeckers.

East Bison Flats Trail 3.7 Miles: The trail begins along the Wind Cave Canyon Trail ? mile east of Hwy 385. This mildly strenuous trail leads hikers across the rolling hills of the prairie. From this trail you may see panoramic views of Wind Cave National Park, Buffalo Gap and the Black Hills.

Lookout Point Trail 1.9 Miles: The trail begins on the east side of Hwy 87, ? mile north of its junction with Hwy 385. This mildly strenuous trail follows the rolling hills of the prairie, traverses Lookout Point and ends at Beaver Creek. Take a side trip up Lookout Point to see views of the 1997 prescribed fire.

Sanctuary Trail 3.6 Miles: The trail begins on the east side of Hwy 87 about one mile north of the Rankin Ridge fire tower road. This mildly strenuous trail follows the rolling hills of the prairie, crosses a large prairie dog town and ends at the Highland Creek Trail. View the Rankin Ridge fire tower at the intersection of the Centennial Trail. This trail provided a fire break for the 1988 prescribed fire of 2400 acres. The trail is faint in places, but can still be easily followed.

Centennial Trail 6.0 Miles: The southern access to the trail is on Hwy 87, 0.7 miles north of Hwy 385. The northern access is on NPS 5, 1.4 miles east of its junction with Hwy 87. This moderately strenuous.

Highland Creek Trail 8.6 Miles: The southern trail begins along the Wind Cave Canyon Trail one mile east of Hwy 385. The northern trail begins on NPS 5, 2.8 miles east of Hwy 87. This strenuous trail is the longest and the most diverse in the park. The trail traverses mixed-grass prairies, ponderosa pine forests and riparian habitats of Highland Creek, Beaver Creek and Wind Cave Canyon.

Boland Ridge Trail 2.7 Miles: The trail begins one mile north of the NPS 5 and NPS 6 junction. This strenuous trail climbs the ridge to panoramic views of Wind Cave National Park, the Black Hills, Red Valley and Battle Mountain.

Elk Mountain Nature Trail 1.2 Miles: Trail begins at the campground. Nine interpretive stops.

Rankin Ridge Nature Trail 1.0 Miles: Trail is a loop beginning and ending at the parking lot at Rankin Ridge. There are 14 interpretive stops placed at irregular intervals along the path.

Prairie Vista Trail 1.0 Mile: Trail begins at the picnic area near the Visitor Center. An interpretative brochure is available for this trail at the Information Desk in the Visitor Center.
Nature Programs
"Connections" is the theme of our grades one through eight environmental education program. The program is designed to enhance learning in many curriculum areas and to illustrate the connections between the classroom and the mixed grass prairie, the ponderosa pine forest, Wind Cave, and the plants an animals that live in the Park, as well as the connections between each of us and other organisms on our planet.

We offer the Connections program during the months of May. After a teacher makes reservations for the program, the will receive an information packet. This packet includes a description of the grade specific concept that we will be focusing on, curriculum goals and objectives, pre-visit classroom activities to introduce the concept, a vocabulary list, Park background information, and post-visit activities to reinforce the ideas presented at the Park
Area Attractions
National Park Service Areas

Jewel Cave National Monument, 36 miles.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, 51 miles.

Badlands National Park, 145 miles.

Devils Tower National Monument, 135 miles.

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, 125 miles.

Fort Laramie National Historic Site, 192 miles.

Scotts Bluff National Monument, 186 miles.

Yellowstone National Park, 480 miles.

Visitor Comments, Memories and Reviews
December 15 by nikki <3
park review stars; one to five
October 1 Breathtaking by Blue 62 Chevy
park review stars; one to five Went there for a quick two day get-away. We were in the park less than an hour before we were planning a four day trip next year. Just beautiful.
March 23 by Hedi
park review stars; one to five I Love IT!!!!!
write a review read more reviews
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Area Campgrounds
Broken Arrow Campground
Flynn Creek Road
Custer, SD
Custers Gulch Campground
25112 Golden Valley Road
Custer, SD
Hidden Lake Campground and Resort
27291 Evans Street
Hot Springs, SD
Nearby Hotels

Wind Cave National Park is located in South Dakota about 11 miles north of Hot Springs, or about 22 miles south of Custer, on US Highway 385. The park Visitor Center, where all cave tours begin, is approximately 1/2 mile west of the highway.

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