This post is a part of my Black Hills Road Trip Series
Jewel Cave National Monument has rock formations that look like bacon.
So, in the eternal Jewel Cave or Wind Cave debate, I think it’s very clear who the winner should be. My sister and I tacked Jewel Cave onto the end of our grand tour of South Dakota and were very glad that we did so!
While it’s not number one on a list of things to do in South Dakota (that would be Mount Rushmore, duh), if you have the time, it’s a fun look into the geographical history (and mystery!) of the Black Hills.
Getting to Jewel Cave National Monument
Knowing how to get to Jewel Cave National Monument is step one to a great trip. You don’t want to end up lost somewhere in the Black Hills only to have a Donner Party moment with your travel mates.
As you can see, Jewel Cave National Monument is about an hour’s drive southwest of Rapid City. Set your GPS to Custer, South Dakota and from there, follow Highway 16 West. There are signs for the monument’s entrance along the road.
If needed, its exact coordinates are as follows
594270, 4842528 (UTM NAD 83)
Latitude / Longitude:
43 43′ 46.6153″ N
103 49′ 46.6522″ W
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Purchasing Jewel Cave Tour Tickets
You’ll need to wake up and get going quite early on the day of your visit.
This is because you cannot reserve tickets for the guided tours online. You can only get them in person on the day you wish to tour. Because of this, you’ll want to arrive early in the day to purchase and pick up your tickets, even if you don’t end up touring Jewel Cave until the afternoon.
Seriously. Get there early. During the summer, tours for the day are almost always sold out before noon.
The quantity and scheduling of tours depends heavily on the season. The year is divided into ten sections, each with its own tour time table. You can read this in detail on the NPS website here.
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Types of Jewel Cave Tours
- Scenic Tour
$12 over 17 / $8 under 17 / free under 5
This is the one my sister and I took. It lasted just about 90 minutes.
We entered and left the cave through an elevator and walked on paved trails and metal platforms throughout the cave. It was a nice group, about 20 people (although they will take up to 30), so it didn’t feel crowded. The parts of the cave we walked through had high ceilings and felt very open.
At the beginning of the tour, after the Park Ranger gave his little intro, he gave the opportunity for anyone feeling scared or uneasy to leave at that point. So, if you are unsure how you will feel going down into the cave, you should still try! If you get down there and you don’t like it, you can bail. You just don’t get your money back.
The scenic tour is also well lit. I didn’t feel afraid at any point.
So, if you are scared of the dark or of tight spaces, you should be fine on this tour as there is no pitch darkness and no squeezing through anything. You are just walking around. There are 723 steps on the route; however, so those with limited mobility will unfortunately not be able to take this tour.
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- Discovery Talk
$4 over 17 / free under 17
The Discovery Talk tour lasts only 20 minutes and is accessible to visitors with limited mobility, kids in strollers, and those with apprehensions about caves. You take the elevator down into the Jewel Cave’s Target Room, enjoy the introductory talk, then take the elevator back out again. Easy!
- Historic Lantern and Wild Caving Tours
During the summer season, visitors looking for a more “authentic” spelunking experience can join the Historic Lantern and Wild Caving Tours with offer the opportunity to enter Jewel Cave through its “natural entrance” and shimmy and squeeze through stalacTITE (oh ho ho) spaces.
This honestly sounded terrifying to me, so I took a hard pass on these options, but hey, if it sounds fun for you, go for it.
More information on the NPS website here.
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Tips for Visiting Jewel Cave National Monument
- Bring a jacket!
Even if you visit during the summer months, it’s still a chilly 49°F/9°C year-round down in the cave. Just enough to be uncomfortable in a t-shirt.
- Leave your purse in the car!
Lock it in the trunk if you need to, but the folks that run the cave don’t like backpacks, purses, or bulky camera bags along for the tour.
- Bring your camera!
Like I said earlier, there are rock formations inside of Jewel Cave National Monument that look like freaking bacon. If I didn’t see it with my own two eyeballs, I might not believe it. So make sure to bring your camera so the people at home don’t think you’re yanking their chain.
- Save the bats!
If you have been to any other caves outside of the Black Hills, do NOT wear the same clothing or bring the dame gear.
A terrible disease called White-Nose Syndrome is wiping out bats at an alarming rate across the USA. We love our bats and want to keep them save, so do your part to stop the spread of the disease.
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