Jewel Cave National Monument, SD

jewel-cave-sd1Wind cave and Jewel cave are the two best known caves in the Black Hills Region. Wind cave is a National Park located just south of Custer State Park, and it’s easy to locate on a map. Jewel cave is a National Monument, and is less well marked. When two coworkers and I set out to find it on my last weekend adventure, Google Maps on my iPhone failed to find it. Well, it found it, but placed it well north of the actual location out in the middle of nowhere. At least the drive was scenic.

To actually find it, drive west of Custer on Highway 16, and you’ll see signs when you start getting close. Parking is free, as is admittance onto the grounds and use of the facilities. You pay for the cave tours, and that’s it.

There are four available tours, ranging from the 20 minute Discovery tour ($4) which is access to one large room of the cave accessible by elevator and friendly to those with limited mobility or small children, to the extremely strenuous 3-4 hour Wild Caving Tour ($27) which requires special equipment and crawling around on your hands and knees. These tours cover a very small fraction of the cave system. In fact Jewel cave has not been fully explored yet, it’s currently rated the third longest cave in the world. To learn more about the monument and available tours, the official Jewel cave website is:

jewel-cave-sd2For 2013, advanced reservations are only available for the Wild Caving tour due to construction projects and expected disruptions in service. When I went there wasn’t any construction going on that was causing service disruptions, but I guess that’s subject to change.

Because there are no advanced reservations available, I will say that arriving early is a good plan. When I got there at 2 pm the next tour was already full. We had to wait around until 4 pm for the last tour of the day. During the wait there was a little presentation given by a Park Ranger on bats to entertain the kids, and there are also restrooms, food and drink vending machines, and hiking trails available.

jewel-cave-sd3We went with the Historic Lantern tour, which lasts about 1 hour and 45 minutes and uses the historic cave entrance discovered in 1908. It costs $8, and is the next most strenuous after the Wild Caving tour with about 600 steps on a steep narrow stairway while holding an old gas lantern, ducking and bending are required. It has been years since I’ve been in a cave, it was a lot of fun.

Jewel cave gets it’s name from the abundant calcite crystals found within. Calcite is relatively soft, only about as hard as a fingernail, and is not considered a true ‘jewel’ and has no monetary value. It sure is pretty to look at though. Pictures were hard to get in the low light with only my phone camera, but I did what I could.


Near the end of the tour, our guide Brian took those of us who were willing through a narrow but short passage requiring some crawling around. It opened up into a small room that had a few bats roosting in it, pretty neat.

When we left the cave, I was amazed at the wall of heat and smells that hit me. Jewel cave is a near constant 49 degrees winter and summer, and there is very little odor to it. Compared to that the blooming flowers and trees outside seemed extremely pungent. The thunderstorm that had been brewing off in the distance during the cave and lantern safety talk at the start of the tour was about ready to roll in, adding the smell of rain into the mix and making for some dramatic pictures.

jewel-cave-sd6All in all, Jewel Cave National Monument definitely gets a thumb up from me. It was a day well spent, and I hope to get back to some of the other caves in the area as time allows this summer.

* * *

I hope everyone is having a good 4th of July! Β It’s looking like rain here and I close tonight at work, but it sounds like the fireworks in Interior are visible from the Lodge (assuming the rain is done by then) so I might catch some of the festivities anyway. πŸ™‚

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At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.


  1. Becky on July 7, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    Hello Kathy!

    Glad to hear that you and Chuck are doing well. I’ve heard that Oregon is a beautiful state, someday I’ll make it there myself. Getting to explore fun places on your days off is one of the best parts about full-timing for me.

    Yes, I’m still enjoying the Badlands and the pool up at Circle 10 finally opened yesterday, woohoo! Things are busy at the Lodge now, guess this is really peak season.

    You two have a good summer as well, I’ll be heading back to Coffeyville after I get done here in October, thinking maybe Big Bend down in Texas after that but it’s still not set in stone.

    Safe travels, and happy trails!

  2. Kathy Paschke on July 6, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    Hi Becky,
    I happened upon your blog and decided to drop you a line. It sounds like you are still enjoying life in the Badlands. we never made it to any of the caves but then Chuck isn’t a fan of caves so it’s not something we would have sought out.

    We are enjoying ourselves in Medford, OR. It is a beautiful area, lots of green, trees, and hills/mountains. We drove up to Crater Lake one day and have explored other quaint little towns around. It’s nice to not have to drive an hour and a half to get somewhere!

    I hope the rest of your summer continues to go well.

    Take care,
    PS we have job offers at Amazon in Fernly unless something better come along!

  3. Becky on July 6, 2013 at 11:27 am

    Well the fireworks are in Interior which is just outside the park. πŸ˜› And yay for escaping the heat! It’s still getting warm out here, but the humidity is nothing like SC was, woohoo!

  4. Pleinguy on July 4, 2013 at 8:47 pm

    Nice report on the caves. I’m surprised they’re planning fireworks in the park. Have a great time. And, I finally made it to the mountains. Temps in the 70s, yea!
    Pleinguy recently posted..Way Down Upon the SuwanneeMy Profile

  5. Kim on July 4, 2013 at 7:00 pm

    Cool! Glad you got to explore the cave. I visited there but didn’t do a tour (caves creep me out). Great photo, BTW, of you and your 2 friends. Happy Fourth!
    Kim recently posted..Home Again!My Profile

    • Becky on July 6, 2013 at 11:07 am

      I’ve always liked caves, and I’ll be doing the other ones in the area when I get the chance. I thought it was a sort of…artistic photo. πŸ˜› And my 4th was good, hope yours was too.

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