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A Guide to Jewel Cave National Monument

Nestled in the heart of South Dakota’s Black Hills, Jewel Cave National Monument is renowned as the fifth longest cave system in the world, with over 219 miles of mapped passageways. After spending time at Wind Cave, we were looking forward to the cave tour we scheduled at Jewel Cave National Monument.  

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Getting to Jewel Cave is a nice drive, going through the Hell Canyon district of the Black Hills National Forest. We used the audio tour guidealong app and it was really helpful. It was fantastic during our visit to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park, and we added the Black Hills section during our trip. It was well worth the twenty bucks as it provided great suggestions and information during the drive in and around this area. Super awesome.

It took less than an hour to drive from Wind Cave to Jewel Cave National Monument with plenty of time to before our scenic cave tour. This allowed our youngest to go through the Jr. Ranger book for this site. 

She is hot and cold on getting the Jr. Ranger badges when we visit National Park sites. On this day, she was gung-ho and was able to finish and get sworn in after our Cave tour.

Since we arrived early, we were able to check in for our ‘scenic cave tour’ and spent time in the little visitor center. It has informative exhibits on the history of the site and the cave. The stamping location was also one of the nicest I have seen, with a lovely desk and display. 

There is an informative video that goes into detail about the cave and all the interesting facts. This is not found inside the visitor center, but in a separate building outside the front entrance where you can also find the restroom. I can’t emphasize enough how getting to the site early helps. We were able to get checked in, experience the content in the auditorium and the exhibits, and, of course, use the bathroom!

INFOGRAPHIC with amazing facts about Jewel Cave National Monument

There are four different tours available of Jewel Cave:

Discovery Talk

  • Tour Length: 20 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Description: A short 20-minute talk about the caves natural and cultural history. The tour starts by going down an elevator and then views one large target room. The walk only has one staircase and can accommodate wheelchairs by staying on the upper platform.

Scenic Tour

  • Tour Length: 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Description: The tour starts with an elevator decent and then you walk along a 1/2-mile loop going up/down 734 stair steps as you view various cave formations and get historic insights from the Park Ranger. No age restriction.

Historic Lantern Tour

  • Tour Length: 1 hour 45 min
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Description: A Park Ranger dresses in a 1930 uniform and uses the historic entrance from an unpaved trail. The only light is from provided lanterns that you have to carry. The route is about 1/2 mile long through low/narrow passages. Participant must be 8 years old or older. Runs out of the Historic area and only runs in the summer.

Wild Caving Tour

  • Tour Length: 3-4 Hours
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Description: This is an extremely strenuous in-depth spelunking tour. You will wear a hard hat and headlamp and be required to crawl through a passage the size of 8 1/2 inch by 24 inches before you leave on the tour. You must be 16 years of age or older. There are also equipment requirements that you have to provide (Ankle high hiking boots, long pant & shirt, knee/elbow pads and a change of clothes (to protect against white nose syndrome). Only 2-5 visitors per group. Only available in the summer.

Practical Information about Jewel Cave Tours

  • Pets: No Pets are allowed in the cave, except for service animals
  • Cell Service: It should go without saying, you will not have any cell service during the tour.
  • White Nose Syndrome: All visitors leaving the cave will have to walk through a decontamination tray. This helps control the spread of this fungal disease impacting the local bats.

How do you get cave tour tickets?

Advanced tickets are recommended for the cave tours at Jewel Cave National Monument. To get the tickets go to the recreation.gov website. There are some walk-in / day-of tickets available, but it is by far not a guarantee and highly recommended to set it up in advance if at all possible. Of course, it does not hurt to try if this is a last-minute visit.

What to bring and wear on cave tour at Jewel Cave

  • Bring a jacket. No matter the surface temperature, the cave will be cool at 49°F /9°C. Even in the summer.
  • Wear closed toe shoes (sneakers, tennis shoes, etc.) No sandals or flip flops

Our Scenic Tour Experience

We choose the scenic tour as it provided a good overview of the cave and fit our schedule.

You first go down a set of elevators to the main target room. From there the tour takes you up and down some steep steps and watch your head! I was almost clobbered when I distracted talking with my daughter. 

The sites within the cave are out of this world. The different rock features were remarkable. Draperies generated from water dripping down the cave walls looked eerie. Also found saw some cool calcite crystals as well. By far the most incredible and unexpected site was Bacon rock feature. It looked just like bacon! How cool is that?! I am getting hungry just looking at it!

One tip I would suggest if you can manage it, is to avoid going into the cave with a group that includes two crying babies. We had the pleasure of experiencing the echoing capabilities of the cave over a rather extended period of time. It brought back flashbacks and some eye twitching from me as I harkened back to my two kid’s early years. 

Yes! There are also three hiking trails that you can take to discover the surface of Jewel Cave National Monument. Ponderosa Pine, open meadows and some rocky terrain abound. 

  • Roof Trail: This is the simplest, with a short quarter mile circular trail that starts and stops at the visitor center. 
  • Canyon Trail: At the 3.5-mile, it is an offshoot of the roof trail that runs through the parking lot in the historic area, runs southeast and then back north to the visitor center. 
  • Hell Canyon: The longest hike at 5 1/2 miles, Hell Canyon, is outside of the park boundary west of the historic area in the Black Hills National Forest. Hells Canyon is where the historic entrance to Jewel cave is located and the only known natural entrance. This was the only entrance until 1972. 
  • All trails run from easy to moderate.

Final Observations

Overall, an awesome afternoon. This little site has a lot to offer and provides a really unique experience while visiting the Black Hills. Try out one of the amazing cave tours or go on a hike on one of the surface trails. Get out there and explore!

Jewel Cave National Monument Custer, SD cancellation stamp

Unit: Jewel Cave National Monument

Visit Progress to All Sites: 82

Region: Rocky Mountain

Month/Year: Aug 2023

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