One of the world’s longest caverns lies beneath the 28,295-acres of Wind Cave National Park. Though its dry atmosphere prevents stalagmites and stalactites from forming, the labyrinth system is peppered with boxwork, a web-like calcite structure that resemble honeycombs.
The park was established in 1903 by President Roosevelt and is the country’s seventh named U.S. National Park. Famed for its unique calcite formations, approximately 95 percent of the world’s discovered boxwork formations are found in the Wind Cave.
A must-do activity is experiencing the caves at night for a Candlelight Cave Tour to really get a sense for how the earliest explorers saw the wind cave. The tour is limited to 10 people and the minimum age is eight years old.
Life above ground proves just as fascinating, including the large bison population. In fact, the park is probably the best chance for seeing the creature up close than any other park in the country.
There’s also opportunity to spot elk, black-footed ferrets, mule deer, antelope, pronghorn, and prairie dogs present in conspicuous numbers. These four legged creatures are relatively easy to spot too, seeing as more than 60% of the park is open grassland.
Wind Cave National Park protects a diverse ecosystem and a majority of the terrain is covered by short and tall grasses, but anyone who looks closely can also identify white sego lilies, purple coneflowers and golden sunflowers.
For the scenic route to the park from Rapid City, take US 16 to US 16A and make a detour along S. Dak 87 south in order to see a glimpse of Mount Rushmore along the way. For the faster route follow S. Dak. 79 south from Rapid City straight to Hot Springs.
The park is open all year round, even during the winter.