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.
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!