South Dakota Nature July 25, 2017
This Cave In South Dakota Is So Enormous, Only 3 Percent Has Ever Been Explored
South Dakota is home to some incredible natural wonders, but not all of them are fully accessible to us. Jewel Cave is so large that while 180 miles of passages have been mapped, that portion only accounts for about 3-5 percent of the estimated total volume of this magical wonder. Take a guided tour to see some of it.
Jewel Cave National Monument is located in the Black Hills, about 13 miles west of Custer along U.S. Highway 16.
Jewel Cave was first discovered by some prospectors who felt some cold air blowing out of a small hole in the mountain.
The two men (Frank and Albert Michaud) blew a bigger entrance into the cave with dynamite, and set up a small tourist attraction, naming it "Jewel Cave" because of all the calcite crystals that lined the walls. President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed the cave a national monument in 1908.
It took decades for explorers to make much progress exploring the cave's depths.
By 1979, about 64 miles had been mapped and surveyed, but the work was strenuous and difficult. Even today, as scientists continue exploring, they must camp inside the cave for as many as four days because it takes so long to reach the portions that are unmapped.
With just over 180 miles of mapped passages, Jewel Cave is now considered the third-longest cave in the world (Mammoth Cave in Kentucky and Sistema Sac Actun in Mexico are both longer).
Jewel Cave is full of unique and interesting formations, such as bottle brushes...
Beautiful calcite crystals cover 95 percent of the cave's walls.
How can you see these wonders of nature? With a cave tour, of course! The park offers four tours.
The Discovery Talk is the shortest, easiest cave tour.
Lasting just 20 minutes, this tour gives you a bit of information about the history of the cave. You'll enter one large room of the cave for the tour, first by taking an elevator, then by walking down 15 stairs. The tour is also wheelchair accessible, and its suitable for children of all ages.
The Scenic Tour is the most popular tour at Jewel Cave National Monument. It's moderately strenuous.
You'll spend about 1.5 hours on the Scenic Tour, and you'll need to be in good enough shape to climb and descend 723 stair steps. This tour shows you tons of the cave's natural wonders. Make sure you bring sturdy shoes with non-slip soles and a jacket - the cave maintains a temperature of about 49 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Scenic Tour is only available on a first-come, first-served basis. During the summer, tickets are often sold out by noon. The park recommends that you cal (605) 673-8300 to check availability before your visit.
The Historic Lantern Tour takes you back to the 1930s.
Explore the cave like the 1930s explorers would have, with a lantern. Your park ranger is dressed in 1930s attire, and you'll descend the staircases by the light of your lantern. Children must be at least six years old to take this one hour and forty-five minute tour, and all participants must be able to climb and descend 450 stairs, as well as do some bending and stooping. The Historic Lantern Tour is considered strenuous.
This tour also sells out quickly, and is available only on a first-come, first-served basis.Open-toed shoes are not allowed on this tour.
The Wild Cave Tour allows you to explore even more of the cave, but this tour isn't right for everyone.
The Wild Cave Tour is extremely strenuous, but it takes you to some of the most amazing, beautiful places in the cave. This tour isn't for anyone who's claustrophobic, afraid of heights or has heart conditions. You must be at least 16 years old for this tour (you'll have to show proof of your age to get your ticket). During the 3-4 hour tour, you'll use a rope to climb a vertical wall and belly crawl though tight spaces. Specific clothing is required for the Wild Cave Tour.
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The Wild Cave Tour is limited to five participants, and you must make advanced reservations for this tour (at least three days in advance).
Click here for reservations
Before you take the Wild Cave Tour, you'll have to pass through the 8 1/2 inch x 24 inch crawl space block.
Ready to take a tour of Jewel Cave?
Visit the Jewel Cave National Monument's
for more details, including directions to the cave, and helpful tips for your visit.
Have you explored this cave? If so, what was your favorite part of the trip? We love to hear your feedback and comments.
Want to explore another place that celebrates the beauty of nature? Head to the opposite side of the state and visit the
Butterfly House & Aquarium in Sioux Falls.
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