Planning a Black Hills vacation? Jewel Cave National Monument and Wind Cave National Park are close to each other but are quite different.
If you love caves, you'll probably want to see both. But there are SO MANY fun things to do in the Black Hills that you may need to choose just one.
Need a place to stay? The town of Custer is the most central to both caves and we stayed in a great VRBO cabin there. Rapid City is not as close, but with lots of hotels to choose from, it makes a good base for a Black Hills trip.
If you have to choose between Jewel Cave and Wind Cave, here's a comparison, plus my top tips for visiting both.
When we could only visit one cave on our return trip to the Black Hills, we chose Jewel Cave.
Jewel Cave's elevator will drop you deep into the earth and into a spacious cavern. True to its name, the walls of Jewel Cave sparkle.
Jewel Cave has a nice collection of one of my favorite features: Cave Bacon! Cave bacon is a translucent ribbon of minerals growing from the walls of the cave and it looks a lot like bacon. Cave Popcorn follows the same logic and can also be found in Jewel Cave.
There is no fee to enter the monument, but there is a per-person fee for the cave tours. We took the Scenic Tour.
Related: Tips for Getting Jewel Cave Tickets
We enjoyed our tour of Wind Cave just as much as Jewel Cave on our first Black Hills trip and were not able to choose a favorite.
We took the Natural Entrance Tour at Wind Cave, so instead of taking an elevator down we walked in at ground level and walked into the cave. Wind Cave felt smaller than Jewel Cave. The colors were different and so were the features.
Wind Cave has one of the best collections of boxwork formations – crisscrossed lines of minerals sticking out from the ceilings and walls – in the world.
Wind Cave is a national park instead of a national monument because it also protects an abundance of wildlife and beautiful scenery above ground. It borders Custer State Park.
Related: Tips for Visiting Custer State Park
Are Cave Tours Good for Kids?
I recommend the cave tours for kids who are old enough to walk up and down stairs on their own and not touch the cave walls. You will not be able to carry kids through the caves.
Keep in mind that you cannot bring any food, drinks, or bags on the cave tours. There are no bathrooms inside the caves.
Ask for Junior Ranger booklets at the ranger desks. If kids complete the activity book, they can take it back to the desk and get a free souvenir badge.
My four-year-old did fine on both our Jewel Cave and Wind Cave tours on our first Black Hills trip.
Related: Ultimate Black Hills Itinerary for Families
Book Tours in Advance
Book tours for Jewel Cave and Wind Cave at recreation.gov. Tours fill quickly during the busy summer season. Book up to 6 months in advance.
Same-day tickets may be available for some tours. Arrive early for your best chance of getting a last-minute tour.
Arrive about 30 minutes early for your tour if you have a reservation. This will give you time to find parking, use the facilities and check in for your tour.
If you are late and the tour leaves without you, you cannot join the tour late and you will not receive a refund.
Tips for Success
Here are a few more things you need to know before you take a cave tour:
- Bring a jacket or hoodie. It's always 50 degrees inside the caves.
- Wear sturdy, shoes that cover your whole foot – like athletic shoes. You'll be walking up and down stairs and on uneven rock surfaces.
- Use the bathroom before your tour. There are no bathrooms in the cave, and if you leave the tour, you can't rejoin.
- Don't wear clothes or shoes that you have worn in other caves. This helps keep the bats healthy – though you probably won't see bats on your tour.
- Leave snacks, drinks, and bags in the car. You won't be able to bring them into the cave.
I love cave tours, and if you have time to do Jewel Cave and Wind Cave, I recommend both.
If you can only choose one, I'd pick Jewel Cave unless you really want to see the boxwork at Wind Cave. Wind Cave may also be a better choice for spending a full day in the park because it's larger – with more hiking trails and wildlife.
Be sure to check out my popular Black Hills Itinerary for more trip ideas. I hope you have a great trip!
Just wanted to clarify that while they don’t allow baby backpacks, they DO allow soft baby carriers as long as the child is close to your body and carries below your head, not high and tall in the back like the hiking backpacks are. This was important to us and we were concerned about it beforehand because we were wanting to visit with a 2 year old and a 5 week old and certainly couldn’t imagine doing it without carriers. But our ergo and our moby wrap were welcomed and we had a really, really wonderful time on the tour. 🙂
Thank you for that information! This will be helpful for families with very young children.
That is a relief! I was just going to go to their site and find out. I will be wearing our 15 month old through most of the trip and was hoping for a stop at a cave!
minerals can’t die.
This has been very helpful! Thank you! How cold was it in the caves? Our kids range in age from 14 to almost 4 and we are trying to pack for a couple days in that area next week. We are planning on sneakers and light jackets, but will they be fine in shorts? Any other tips? The potty one was very helpful for adult and kids! 😉 We can’t wait to go!
Thank you! It is always about 40-50 degrees F in a cave. Shorts may be fine with a warm jacket or hoodie.
Great! Thanks again!
For Wind Cave, do you know anything about the Garden of Eden Tour? I will have a 6, 3, and 1 year old along.
Thank you so much for this comparison. Just made my vacation planning so much easier since we can only do one cave.
Glad to help! Thanks so much for your comment. 🙂