South Dakota’s sprawling Black Hills remain one of North America’s top caving destinations for spelunkers and casual travelers alike. Around the time South Dakota officially became a U.S. territory, loggers, miners, and ordinary citizens began discovering several unique underground palaces, most notably Jewel Cave, the world’s third longest cave system. From spring through autumn, tourists flock to the prettiest caves in South Dakota, all of which lie within minutes of Rushmore Express, a classic Keystone inn.
The 3 Best Caves in South Dakota
It’s worth noting that COVID-19 has affected some cave operations, especially those inside federally-funded parks. However, the Rushmore Express team is confident that functions will be back to normal in time for spring’s long-awaited arrival. There are five renowned caves in South Dakota’s Black Hills, starting with the aforementioned Jewel Cave and the always dazzling Wind Cave—the perfect place to begin our shortlist.
South Dakota boasts an embarrassment of underground riches, especially when it comes to caves. It makes deciding between Wind and Jewel a genuine conundrum, which typically leads to a visit to both destinations. However, Wind Cave is the Black Hills’ crown jewel, with its jaw-dropping boxwork, sparkling gypsum, and charismatic (and family-friendly) guides. If you’re even remotely claustrophobic, we recommend Jewel’s open feel over Wind’s tight albeit gorgeous spaces. It doesn’t hurt Wind Cave’s cause that it rests just a short distance from Custer State Park’s “Wildlife Loop.”
The exceedingly strenuous four-hour spelunking tour at Jewel Cave is a bucket list-esque experience. Although, families typically gravitate toward the standard excursions, all of which stroll past calcite crystals, lengthy stalactites, and cave popcorn. Jewel requires more steps and stairs than Wind, so please keep that in mind. However, the extra effort is well worth it, thanks in large part to the cave’s many “great rooms”—expansive sections that make visitors feel quite small. Please make reservations well in advance as Jewel Cave is one of the most frequented cave systems on the globe. Despite this fact, it never feels “touristy.”
Rushmore narrowly thwarted Wonderland Cave and Black Hills Caverns, two worthy options for families looking for something off the beaten path. However, “Rushmore Cave,” also known as Rushmore Mountain Adventure Park, is too darn alluring to ignore. While Rushmore is only the ninth-largest cave in South Dakota, it sits underneath an adventure lover’s wonderland, complete with a zipline, roller coasters, a gemstone mining area, and so much more. The 3,600-foot-long cave is ideal for families with youngsters looking for a one-hour distraction, including themed cave rooms that feature eye-popping speleothems and helictite.
Cozy Mount Rushmore Lodging: Rushmore Express
After visiting one of the prettiest caves in South Dakota, return to Rushmore Express for a memorable night in Keystone. Save money on your overnight stay by choosing Rushmore Express, and use that extra cash on a gourmet dinner at the Ruby House or Sherpa’s Kitchen. Or, better yet, embark on an ATV tour, visit Mount Rushmore, or soar above the Black Hills in a hot air balloon. As one of the most affordable hotels near Mount Rushmore, we’re expecting a full house during peak seasons in 2021, so please book your trip at your earliest convenience. Book direct online to save money on hidden, third-party fees.