5 Things to do at Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave National Park isn’t just cave tours and bats. Check out this adventure packed park and add this family friendly park to your South Dakota Bucket List.

Our most recent trek to the west brought us to Wind Cave National Park. We’ve been into cave tours lately, so this was a great place to explore, but it’s not just cave tours that brings visitors to this unique park in South Dakota; the hikes and wildlife are amazing, too!

1. Hiking

Wind Cave has over 30 miles of hiking trails available to visitors. If that’s not enough for you, it is also an open hike park. This means that hikers can explore off trail. If choosing to participate in this type of exploration, bring enough water, a map and keep an eye on surroundings, especially the roaming wildlife.

I highly recommend Hiking Rankin Ridge. We hiked this trail while waiting for our designated cave tour time. It’s only 1 mile, but it’s packed with views, both at the highest point in the park and all along the way. At the peak of this hike, there is a historic fire tower. Unfortunately, climbing it is not allowed. It’s cool to see nonetheless.

Be sure to stop along the drive to different hiking locations for a look around. The pull off areas have a lot to be explored. The kids really enjoyed climbing about on some of the rocks and getting a look around. Not to mention the scent in these secluded areas, the trees smell so refreshing!

2. Stop at the Visitor’s Center

The Visitor’s Center is chalk full of educational and interactive displays. The kids had fun exploring and learning about the park’s animals and environment. The gifts shop had several neat items and a junior ranger booklet.

There is a Tipi on display in front of the building, so fun for the kids to check out!

3. Garden of Eden Cave Tour

One cannot visit Wind Cave and not do a cave tour. That’s just silly! There are 6 tour options at Wind Cave ranging from easy to strenuous. Check out the descriptions on the NPS website to make sure you select the appropriate tour for your party. During the summer months, reservations are highly recommended. I can see why, we already had our tickets purchased and still needed to wait in a line to check in. There are park rangers available for questions on where to meet for your tour and they are quite helpful and friendly.

We chose the Garden of Eden tour as it is the least strenuous tour available, aside from the accessibility tour. We were traveling with a two year old, so simple is better. This tour did not disappoint! We were able to see multiple formations like cave popcorn, boxworm and flowstone. Sandy even got some cave goo on her, she found that to be quite neat! There are 150 stairs on this tour, not too bad when considering the fact that we were so far underground. This was a great tour option for kids, we saw a lot in a shorter amount of time.

The tour starts with a ride on an elevator taking visitors deep underground, then winds along a concrete path. The stairs have hand rails and the steps are lined with yellow paint. The tour guide made her way back and forth to change the lighting in the cave as we went along. She was very informative and had a few jokes, too. It was a very enjoyable tour.

4. Learn about the Black Footed Ferret

We had a very informative park ranger at the Visitor Center gift shop explain the importance of the black footed ferret to us while Sandy was purchasing a black footed ferret Wind Cave National Park sticker. The park ranger spoke with passion and explained the efforts of bringing this important piece back to the ecosystem puzzle.

The park was able to reintroduce a small population of 8 ferrets back into the ecosystem in 2007. The population has grown and maintains at about 40 ferrets. We weren’t able to spot any on our excursions, but it’s worth a shot. They are adorable!

5. Observe the Wildlife

Wind Cave reintroduced a number of species that now call this park home. During the westward expansion, many of this animals were hunted out. Now they are roaming free on in this land that was their ancestors home. Check out animals like elk, pronghorn and the big one, bison. Prairie dog towns are settled alongside the road, with a great viewing area. We stopped with the kids and got out to observe the little fellas. They barked at us, it was so cute! We stayed on the walking path and backed off so we didn’t disturb them any further.

Predators: There are a couple of predators in the park. Most prominently, the coyote. They hunt the prairie dogs and are the most amongst the predators. The other predators are of the kitty variety. Mountain lions and bobcats are present in the park, but it is very unlikely to see one.

DON’T PET THE FLUFFY COWS: Keep your distance from the bison. They may look docile, lumbering, and slow. Don’t be fooled, they can and will run faster than you. 2000 pound of angry bison is not something to mess with. Keep your distance and respect them in their home. You are the guest.

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