Jewel Cave National Monument

Jewel Cave National Monument

Activities & Programs

Surface Activities

In addition to the cave tours and Discovery Talk, there are many opportunities for exploring on the surface at Jewel Cave National Monument. The 1279 acre park is located in a Ponderosa pine forest. The Jasper Fire of August 24, 2000 has changed the scenery of the Monument but it is an opportunity to see first hand the forest recovery process. For more information on this fire see our fire page.

Ranger Programs

A variety of talks, demonstrations and guided walks are offered on the surface. Program topics include cave exploration, wildlife, fire ecology, Jasper Fire, wildflowers and plants of the area, and other subjects. Programs are regularly scheduled from mid-June through mid-August, and may be offered throughout the rest of the year. There are no fees for these programs.

Wildflower Viewing

There are 393 plants that occur at Jewel Cave National Monument. Wildflowers can be found at the visitor center, the historic area, and along all surface trails. Enjoy the flowers - look at them, smell them, compare them, sketch them, photograph them - but please do not pick or otherwise disturb them! See the wildflower page for a selection of our flowers.


The bird list contains 120 species of birds seen at the Monument. Some are abundant, like the red-breasted nuthatch, while others, like the bald eagle, are uncommon but are seen occasionally. Pick up a list at the visitor center or print one from the web site and watch for birds while you enjoy the trails.

Jewel Cave Centennial

Jewel Cave National Monument Celebrates 100 Years!

On February 7, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt signed a proclamation that established Jewel Cave National Monument under the authority of the 1906 Antiquities Act. This created the Monument as part of the National Park System to protect the small, but extraordinarily beautiful cave, which became known for the jewel-like calcite crystals that line the cave walls. One hundred years later, exploration has revealed Jewel Cave to be the second longest cave in the world with a current length of over 141 miles. Exploration continues to reveal the hidden miles of passages, beneath the Black Hills, with a variety of amazing cave formations.

During 2008 Jewel Cave National Monument will celebrate its centennial through a series of events, programs, and exhibits that will highlight the theme "Generations of Discovery". In anticipation of this significant milestone in the history of Jewel Cave, the Monument staff has been working on improvements to park programs and facilities that will engage the local communities, as well as the many visitors to the Black Hills.

Come Join Us in the Centennial Celebration.

The centennial celebration will formally begin on February 9, 2008 in the visitor center of the Monument with a special program to commemorate the anniversary. Honored guests and former cave explorers Herb and Jan Conn will present a program on their years of exploration as they mapped over 62 miles of cave passages. Other special guests will join the Conns for this celebration, which will kick off a series of monthly programs focusing on a variety of topics related to the past, present, and future of Jewel Cave. These topics will include:

New programs and activities will be conducted daily during the summer months. These will include:

Jewel Cave National Monument has come a long way since early explorers first discovered the wondrous cave formations. The passing years and exploration of new cave passages have provided many significant milestones to celebrate. We hope you will join us in 2008 as we remember the past, examine our role in the present, and prepare for the future generations of discovery.

Hiking Trails

There are two self-guided trails at Jewel Cave National Monument, and one U. S. Forest Service trail which begins approximately 1 mile from the Jewel Cave visitor center. Printed information on all three trails is available at the visitor center year-round, and at the historic ranger cabin in the summer. The trails are diverse: from a ¼ mile (.4 km) to over 5.5 miles (8.9 km), from level to steep and rugged, and everything in between. There is bound to be at least one trail just right for you.

When venturing out please keep in mind the following trail courtesies:
1. Please stay on designated trails and don't cut switchbacks.
2. Tell someone your planned route and carry a first aid kit.
3. Pack out your trash and if you find trash along the trail, please pick it up.
4. Carry drinking water with you on the trail.
5. Be prepared for weather changes.
6. Please do not pick the wildflowers.
7. Natural features must remain undisturbed.
8. Watch for poison ivy, rocks and other hazards along the trail.
9. In summer, check your body and clothing frequently for ticks.

A Walk On The Roof Trail

Length: ¼ mile (.4 km) loop. Allow 30 minutes for the walk.

Location: The trail begins at the covered patio area outside the visitor center lobby and returns to the north end of the visitor center.

Features: This trail lets one discover how the monument's surface and sub-surface resources interact. As you wind your way through the Ponderosa pines, imagine the cave below you, stretching in every direction. An overlook located approximately 100 yards (91 m) from the visitor center provides a magnificent view of the forest and canyons.

Conditions: Moderate inclines. Not handicapped-accessible.

Canyons Trail

This trail is rough and uneven due to the washouts that occur during heavy rains, please be prepared for this if you hike the trail. Please check at the visitor center to see if trail is open.

Length: 3.5 mile (5.6 km) loop trail. Allow 2-4 hours to travel the loop.

Location: The trail begins at the covered patio outside the visitor center lobby and winds its' way down into Lithograph Canyon. Turning right at a fence the visitor enters Hell Canyon and strolls along a combination of unpaved road and meadows to a sign that leads to the historic area. From there it is 9/10 mile back to the visitor center.

Features: This trail provides an opportunity to become more familiar with the surface resources and geologic features at the monument. Lithograph Canyon, Hell Canyon, the limestone cliffs, ponderosa pine forest, deer, wildflowers, birds and bats are just a few of the resources the National Park Service has been entrusted to protect at Jewel Cave National Monument.

Conditions: Moderate to steep inclines. Not handicapped-accessible.

Hell Canyon Trail

U. S. Forest Service Trail adjacent to Jewel Cave National Monument

Length: 5.5 (8.9 km) mile loop trail. Allow 2-4 hours to travel the loop.

Location: From Jewel Cave National Monument, the trailhead is approximately 1 mile (1.61 km) west of the monument visitor center entrance on Highway 16. The trail begins just west of the parking area and the first ½ mile (.8 km) climbs at a steep pitch. From there on grades are level to easy. The last 2 miles (3.2 km) follows a two-track road along the bottom of Hell Canyon.

Features: The trail follows a bench below limestone cliffs and provides outstanding views of Hell Canyon and the surrounding area

Conditions: Elevations are from 5,400 to 5,700 feet. Trail condition varies from fairly strenuous to easy. Not handicapped-accessible.

Scenic Tour

As Jewel Cave's most popular tour, the Scenic tour route provides an opportunity to visit chambers decorated with calcite crystals and other speleothems as you walk along a paved trail with electric lighting. This tour is moderately strenuous and lasts 1 hour and 20 minutes. The tour enters and leaves the cave by elevator in the Visitor Center.

The tour route involves walking up and down 723 stair steps along a 1/2 mile loop, (equivalent to 40 flights of stairs). During the tour, you will see the "jewels" of Jewel Cave. Known as dogtooth spar and nail head spar, depending on their shape, these calcite crystals line the walls on the Scenic Tour route. You will also get to see boxwork, cave popcorn, flowstone, stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, and a long piece of cave bacon.

Low-heeled, rubber-soled shoes and a light jacket or sweater are recommended for the tour. The cave temperature is 49 degrees year-round. Persons who have heart or respiratory problems, have recently been hospitalized or have a fear of heights or closed-in spaces should talk with a park ranger before selecting a tour. There is a limit of 30 persons on each tour. During holidays and spring and summer months this tour will frequently sell out. Please call ahead for tour availability and check the daily tour schedule before your visit to Jewel Cave.

Jewel Cave Discovery Talk

This 20-minute talk is an introduction to Jewel Cave's natural and cultural histories. Participants view one large room of the cave. This easy cave visit enters and exits the cave by elevator in the Visitor Center, and involves walking up and down fifteen stair steps. This talk is also handicapped accessible for people who have trouble negotiating stairs.

During the introduction, you see two types of calcite crystal, which are the jewels of Jewel Cave. You also see manganese and paleofill, which are not cave formations, but are important to the geology of Jewel Cave. You will learn how the cave was discovered as well as the theory on how Jewel Cave formed.

Guided Tours

The Jewel Cave Discovery Talk and Scenic Tour are offered daily, except for Thanksgiving Day, December 25, and January 1. The Lantern Tour is offered the second week of June through Labor Day. The Spelunking Tour is offered the second week of June through the middle of August. Fees are charged for cave tours. Prices are listed under the Fees & Reservations link.

Visitors must be on a ranger-led tour to enter Jewel Cave. Cave tours must have a minimum of 2 participants. Tickets may be purchased at the Visitor Center or by phone. All cave tours and talks can sell out at any time of the year. Visitors are encouraged to call ahead for tour availability. Phone number and tour schedule are available under the Operating Hours & Seasons link.

Lantern Tour

Step back 70 years into the past. The Lantern Tour is a 1930s-style adventure giving you a sense of what it was like to tour the cave in earlier days. Visitors enter and leave through the historic entrance and view the cave from an unpaved trail. The only light is provided by a lantern each visitor carries. Tour guides on this tour wear historic uniforms and take you on a visit to passages called the Dungeon and Heavenly Room, among others.

The tour route is approximately 1/2 mile long, and includes steep wooden steps, bending and stooping. This tour is considered strenuous. The tour lasts approximately 1-3/4 hours. Participants must be at least 6 years old.

There is a limit of 20 persons on each tour. Tickets are sold on a first come, first served basis. This tour is offered early June through Labor Day. Please call ahead for tour availability and check for fees and reservations at least seven days in advance. Tickets for the Lantern Tour must be purchased or picked up at the visitor center. Low-heeled, rubber-soled shoes or boots, long pants and a light jacket or sweater are recommended for the tour. The cave temperature is 49 degrees year-round. Persons who have heart or respiratory problems, have recently been hospitalized or have a fear of heights or closed-in spaces should talk with a park ranger before selecting a tour.

Spelunking Tour

Do you have a sense of adventure?

With hard hat in place and headlamp turned on you are ready to experience the cave in its natural state. Feel the wind at the world famous Hurricane Corner, ascend Martha's Kettle, crawl through the Roller Coaster and squeeze into the Brain Drain. See the place where hydromagnesite balloons were discovered, including the most famous balloon, the earring. In fact, if you look around, you will see hundreds of these beautiful and fragile cave ornaments on the tour route.

At 2/3 of a mile long, the tour is a real caving adventure. You scramble over cave "breakdown," chimney between cave walls, use a handline to climb a nearly vertical wall, and belly-crawl through tight passages. Along the way you learn about low-impact caving, caving techniques and safety. The tour lasts 3-4 hours and is extremely strenuous. Anyone having a fear of closed spaces or heights should not attempt this tour.

You must be 16 year of age or older. You are required to provide proof of age, upon request. A parent or legal guardian is required to sign, on the day of the tour, a waiver of responsibility for any 16 or 17-year-old participants and should remain at the monument throughout the duration of the tour. You must be in good physical condition and are required to pass through an 8-1/2 inch by 24-inch crawl space before beginning the tour. Refunds are not given for those visitors unable to negotiate the block.

This tour is offered early June through mid-August. New in 2007-2008: A Spelunking Tour will be available on two Sundays of the month through the winter season. The tour will be available on the following dates: 3/9, 3/30, 4/13, 4/27, 5/11, and 5/25/08. The monument provides a hard hat and headlamp to each person taking the Spelunking Tour. You provide: sturdy, above ankle, rubber-soled, lug-soled, lace-up boots; long pants or coveralls; a long-sleeved shirt; gloves;knee and elbow pads; a change of clothing and shoes; and a plastic bag for carrying soiled clothes and boots from the visitor center after the tour. Clean clothes and shoes must be brought to the visitor center when you check in for the tour. Clothing and footwear will be permanently stained by black manganese deposits encountered during this tour.

Reservations are required and can be made up to one month in advance. Tour size is limited to a minimum of 2 visitors and maximum of 5 visitors. Tours may be canceled due to lack of the required number of participants or due to emergencies at the Monument. For more information on this tour you may call the visitor center at 1-605-673-2288.