The Wind Caves of South Dakota

Doodicus would probably tell you that touring the Wind Caves was his favorite part of the trip. It didn’t involve sitting in a car and watching the landscape whiz by his car window hour after hour.

When you pull up, there’s really not much to see. A simple, single-level, brick building surrounded by native brush and rather innocuous bluffs. Inside the building, you can either visit the retail store, which if you or someone you love is into books on geology, that’s the place to be; check the tour schedule or purchase tickets. Downstairs they have a modest display highlighting how the caves were found, by whom, and some examples of what would be found below.

The tours are scheduled throughout the day so make sure to check the schedules and the availability before heading out, especially if you are not going to go out until later. We got lucky as I hadn’t taken this into account and had arrived about 40 minutes prior to their most popular tour plus there were openings. They can only take a certain number of people with them on each time.

With Aitch’s fear of dark, unknown spaces and her age, Sparring Partner volunteered to stay on the surface with her while I went with Dood underground. I had thought enough to bring my Merrills and a light jacket, but Dood didn’t have anything but his t-shirt to keep him warm. A quick trip to the tourist area and he then had a long-sleeved t-shirt to layer. For him, I figured that’d be enough to keep him comfortable in the 53 F temperatures.

I was very proud of Doodicus. Sometimes I’m never sure if he’s paying attention, but prior to our tour, the ranger gave us a briefing on what we’ll see and the rules of the caves, including not touching anything but handrails; no leaning on outcroppings and no walking or standing on anything but the pathways. Guess who was the first to lean on a ledge during one of our stops? Me. Not once did I have to remind him not to touch even when I wanted to. After exiting the tour, he excitedly explained the rules to Sparring Partner and what he saw along the way.

Keep these tips in mind:

1) Check the descriptions and times for tours. Make reservations. “Moderately Strenuous” was easy enough for me, and I’m lazy.

2) I wouldn’t recommend for smaller children. For our tour, I think three was the youngest they’d allow, but realistically, I wouldn’t take one under the age of five. If they get scared, or tired, or bored and want to be carried, you can’t.

3) Make sure to have something to eat and entertainment for anyone left at the surface. Neither is an accommodation by the park and tours can last two hours.

4) Stairs are numerous and some areas are super narrow. Seriously, there are a lot of steps, nearly all of them going down, which makes it a rather easy tour, but if your knees are wonky, I wouldn’t recommend. Another reason you can’t carry your kid. Not to mention some places so narrow, I wonder how our guide, a park ranger, made it through without removing his hat.

5) It’s cool down there. A sweatshirt or jacket or you’ll be miserably cold. I wore shorts, but with my jacket, it was perfect. Doodicus is warm blooded, so his layered shirts worked great.

6) No flip flops, sandals or heels. You’re a danger to yourself and everyone else on the tour.

7) Flash photography is still allowed but they could change that policy at any time. Nothing more dangerous than taking 300 steps down into a cave and some asshole blinds you with his camera flash and you miss a step.

8) Go last. I was that asshole with a camera but somewhere along the line, I read a tip from someone else when visiting the caves. With Doodicus and I last in line, we didn’t have the pressure from people behind us. The ranger stressed the importance of staying with the group, but it was nice to have a couple extra seconds to take a picture without someone breathing down my neck. I think this tip made the difference between Doodicus really enjoying the tour to just finding it “meh”.

The exterior of The Wind Cave Visitor’s Center
The natural entrance to The Wind Caves. That’s it…just a hole not much wider than my 10 year old’s shoulders.
The first gate installed to the Wind Caves, but there’s an external door that’s actually an air-lock. Once in, these are locked. The only way out is at the other end of the tour.
Details not caught unless using flash: reinforcements to the ceiling.
A sampling of what makes these caves so special: rare boxwork. It’s impossible to describe how beautiful it is.
This is a shot looking UP towards the stairwell we’d come from. A handful of steps among the over 300 on this tour. See? The advantage to being last of the tour group!
One of the few steps we had to go UP. An elevator actually takes everyone back to the surface.


3 thoughts on “The Wind Caves of South Dakota”

  1. Looks pretty cool – I do love a cave tour! The mildly strenuous hike for our cave tour in the Sequoia National Forest was very strenuous for me – it was 1.5 miles back up the side of the mountain. Ugh. I thought I was going to die!

    Nice mother-son bonding time…

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