Our third day in South Dakota might just have been my favorite. But I also really loved the fourth day, so maybe don’t ask me which day was my favorite—I loved all of them!
After settling into our morning routine (waking up, mom making coffee in her french press that she finally figured out how to use, and the daily battle of me & my eyeballs vs. my contacts) we headed off to Wind Cave National Park, less than a half an hour from Big Pine. The cave system is one of the largest in the world, and they estimate that they’ve only discovered and mapped a small percentage of the entire system. Because of this, you have to see the cave on a ranger-led tour. We’d heard that you should get there early in the morning to purchase your tour tickets, because during the peak summer season tours can sell out midway through the day. The visitor’s center opens at 8am, and the first tours head out around 8:40. There’s a few different tours to choose from, and we went with the Fairgrounds tour, which is listed as “strenuous.” Neither my mom nor I had any difficulty—it’s listed this way because of the amount of stairs, but to be honest, I was so distracted by the beauty of the cave structures around me that I completely forgot about how many stairs there were!
Later in the day, we headed over to Jewel Cave National Monument. Like Wind Cave, it’s a pretty popular destination and because we got there so late in the afternoon, there were only two tours with one time each left available: the Discovery Talk, where you see one room of the cave, or Historic Lantern Tour, which is advertised as an adventurous and strenuous tour with 600 “ladder-like stairs.” Well, we wanted to see more than one room of the cave, so the ladder-like stairs it was. We decided that at the end of the tour we would either say “That was awesome” or “We did it once, we can say we did it, never again.”
Post-tour? Definitely the first. Such an amazing experience!!! Unlike Wind Cave, which was illuminated by electric lights all along the walls, the only lights in Jewel Cave were the historic oil lanterns that we all carried. It’s so incredible to realize that when you see the cave by lantern light, you’re seeing it the same way that the first explorers saw it.
The other great thing about cave tours is that no matter the season or weather above ground, caves are always crisp and cool. Wind Cave hovers around 55°F, while Jewel Cave is a slightly frostier 49°F year round. We visited South Dakota during the peak of the summer, which meant it was hot, hot, hot. Cave tours are a great thing to do during these summer months as a way to see some amazing sights, get in a workout (quads, meet 1,000+ steps in one day), and not sweat out half your body weight!
If you’re ever in South Dakota, be sure not to miss these amazing sights! I feel like Wind Cave National Park often gets forgotten for its more famous counterpart in the state, Badlands National Park (which is a hint about the next blog post about our last day in South Dakota!!) but really, it’s absolutely stunning. While the cave is what the national park is most known for, the land above is incredible as well. We saw so many bison and prairie dogs and even enjoyed a little drive through the prairie! The drive may or may not have been an accident because we took a wrong turn on our way out of the park. But it was awesome anyway. Oops.