Jewel Cave National Monument is one of several National Parks, Monuments and Historic sites located in the Blackhills of South Dakota. The Blackhills combined with South Dakota National Parks makes for an epic All-American bucket list road trip! What are you waiting for? It’s time to start planning a road trip of a lifetime! Here are my tips for visiting Jewel Cave National Monument.
Things to do at Jewel Cave
Jewel Cave Tours is a must while visiting! It’s the third largest cave in the world with over 180 miles of mapped passageways! Did you know that the cave stays a constant 49 degrees Fahrenheit year round? Make sure to pack warm clothes if you get cold easy. Also, keep in mind that tours fill up quickly in the summer. People often wait in lines for hours to try to get a ticket to enter the cave. You must be on a tour to get into the cave and you can only make Advance tour reservations for the Scenic Tour. Scenic Tour Reservations can be made between 48 hours to 90 days in advance and only during the summer season. Cameras are allowed on the Scenic and Discovery Tours, small cameras that will fit into your pocket are allowed on the Historic Lantern Tour. Make sure to leave your monopods, tripods, selfie sticks and GoPro Sticks as they are not allowed in the cave. There are four different tours to choose from.
Discovery Talk. This tour is offered year round and is a short 20-minute tour that is ADA Accessible. The tour is available year round and is 20 minutes long giving you a great introduction to the cave.
Scenic Tour. This is a moderately strenuous 1/2 mile hike in the cave with over 700 stairs to climb so make sure that you are up for this challenge. This tour is also available year round and the only tour that takes advance reservations. Plan on taking 1 hour and 20 minutes for this tour.
Historic Lantern Trail. This tour is offered Early June to Late August and is a strenuous 1/2 mile hike. This tour starts off at the Historic Ranger Cabin and is led with hand-held lanterns, just like the way the cave was originally explored! This hike sounds like a great time but may not be for everyone as there are steep stairs and walking with bending and stooping. The tour is scheduled for 1 hour and 45 minutes.
Wild Caving Tour. This is a strenuous 1/2 mile, 3-4 hour tour that takes you into the undeveloped portion of the trail that few people get to see! This is definitely not for everyone because not only its physical demands but also you go through some tight spaces. How tight? You have to first prove that you can crawl through an 8 1/2″ by 24″ opening a concrete block! You must be a minimum of 16 years old with written permission from your parent/guardian. Wear old clothes for this trip along with soft knee and elbow pads, gloves, lace up ankle high boots with lug soles. Helmets and headlamps will be provided.
Hiking at Jewel Cave consists of three trails above the cave.
- Roof Trail is a short .25 mile 30-minute trail that starts by the entrance of the cave and is a great way to relax while waiting for your tour to begin. Here is a great chance to see what a forest looks like after seeing fire come through.
- Canyons Trail is a 3.5-mile 2-4 hour loop. This is moderate with steep inclines and passes through Lithograph Canyon and Hell Canyon.
- Hell Canyon Trail is a 5.5-mile 2-4 hour loop with outstanding views of Hell Canyon and its surrounding areas.
Visit the Historic Ranger Cabin. This cabin became home to the first permanent Park Ranger to Jewel Cave National Monument in 1941. This is where Rangers began conducting cave tours led with hand-held lanterns like the Historic Lantern Tour today!
Complete the Junior Ranger Program. Plan on taking a walk, cave tour or intrpretative program, be observant and spending time at the visitor center. The payoff is a beautiful Junior Ranger Badge and is available to Junior Rangers of all ages.
Tips on planning your trip to Jewel Cave
Jewel Cave Hours:
Winter Schedule: Visitor Center Hours – Open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (Mountain Time). The Monument is closed on Thanksgiving Day (November 23) and Christmas Day, December 25. There are no cave tours available Mondays – Thursdays, and some Fridays due to limited staffing in the off-season. In the event of inclement weather, visitors are advised to call ahead at (605) 673-8300. Visitor Center hours and tour operations are subject to change during severe weather. Access to Jewel Cave is via a guided ranger tour. Tour times depend on the tour you wish to take. Check out this page on the park website for current tours.
Jewel Cave Location/ how to get to the park:
Jewel Cave is located 13 miles west of Custer and 54 miles from Rapid City.
Items Worn in Other Caves outside of the Black Hills are Not Allowed.
A disease known as White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) is killing bat populations across the U.S. To prevent the spread of WNS – do not wear shoes, clothing, or bring any gear into Jewel Cave that has been in other caves or mines. There is no food service available at the park! Make sure and bring your water bottles and snacks. Depending on the time of year you are visiting there can be a 3-4 hour wait from the time you pick up tour tickets to when you start your tour.
Parks near Jewel Cave National Monument
There are several National Park Sites located in the Blackhills of South Dakota making it one of the best All-American Road Trips in America! Here Listed below are other parks to visit and camping options:
Wind Cave National Park
Custer State Park