Wonders Await in South Dakota's Jewel Cave National Monument

By Heather Crowley

The Black Hills region of South Dakota is often noted for Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Badlands National Park, Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park. But nestled in heart of the Black Hills is one of the best-kept secrets in the country, rivaling all the above destinations in interest and beauty: Jewel Cave National Monument.

Right off Highway 16 sits a cave full of wonders beyond your wildest imaginations. With stunning beauty and a total of 166 mapped miles, making it the third longest in the world, the cave derives its name from its sparkling natural formations.

Currently open and new for the summer of 2013, the monument is proud to showcase new exhibits and displays to help visitors connect with Jewel Cave in a variety of ways. Observe and learn the geological background of the surface and subsurface of the cave. New wall murals and wildlife dioramas in the visitor center provide guests with the context of the world that exists outside of the cave.

Families can let their children enjoy the cave crawl-through and get the feeling they are actually exploring the walls of Jewel Cave itself. Informative new touch-screen podcasts provide further educational information about the cave. Once you’ve learned about the cave and what to expect, go explore it for yourself on a tour!

Tours at the monument range from, short 20-minute tours to 3 or 4-hour adventures that are rather strenuous. It is important to pick a tour that is right for not only your time constraints but is also physically appropriate for your entire group. For a complete list of cave tour availability, prices and descriptions, please visit the official park website.

One of the most thrilling ways to experience Jewel Cave is by taking one of the Wild Caving tours! Throw on your hard head and headlamp and attempt to scramble, squeeze and crawl through some of the most scenic parts of the cave. Be prepared to get dirty and experience closed spaces. See all the rooms and formations: from the Hurricane Corner to Roller Coaster to Brain Drain, you’ll experience what it’s like to wiggle your way through the caverns of Jewel Cave.

The Wild Caving tour does have some requirements, as it is 3-4 hours in length and is considered extremely strenuous. Participants must be 16 years of age or older and be able to pass through an 8.5 inch by 24 inch crawl space before the tour starts.

Due to planned construction for Highway 16 and parking lot construction near the visitor center, there may be delays coming to and from the monument. For this reason, advanced ticket reservations are not available in 2013. All cave tours will be available on a first-come, first served basis.

So while you’re driving through South Dakota, don’t forget to plug Jewel Cave into your GPS and make a pit stop. It’s an experience you’ll never forget.

Photo Credit: NPS Photo