Jewel Cave National Monument
Hidden in the Black Hills just 13 miles west of the town of Custer, SD, you’ll find Jewel Cave National Monument. The third longest cave in the world!
This underground wonder snakes beneath the hills for 168 mapped and surveyed miles; scientists believe there is yet more to be discovered. Within the cave is a sparkling world of calcite formations from which Jewel Cave takes its name. First discovered in 1900, the cave was named a National Monument in 1908, and came under the control of the National Park Service in 1933.
The initial discovery of 2 miles of cave space has continued to grow into the warren of passages that is known today. Cave tours allow visitors to experience the magic that lies just beneath the Black Hills.
Jewel Cave Tours
Park rangers offer several different tour options ranging from easy to very difficult, allowing people of all ages and abilities to enjoy the caves. All of the tours include expert guides and take you into the cave to view beautiful calcite formations.
- The Scenic Tour is a 1 hour and 20 minute tour that takes you down into the caves via elevator. It’s considered moderately strenuous and involves walking and over 700 stairs, taking you into section of the cave with electric lights and paved trails. This tour is for all ages, but children may find the stairs difficult.
- The Discovery Tour is the easiest of the tours, making it a popular choice for families with young children. This all ages tour lasts 20 minutes and involves only a few steps, visiting one large room of the cave via an elevator.
- The Historic Lantern Tour takes you on a visit through the caves as 1940s visitors might have seen it. This strenuous 1 hour 45 minute tour takes you over about 600 steep stairs and involves wooden ladders, ducking, and bending; it’s not recommended for young children or those with health problems, and the minimum age is 6 years old. Visitors will be provided with lanterns to carry on the tour, which runs in the summer months.
- The Wild Caving Tour is for the truly adventurous, and takes you deep into the heart of the cave. Only for those 16 and over and in good health, this tour involves crawling through small spaces and the use of a safety gear including a helmet and headlamp, which are provided. You’ll need to provide the rest of your clothing and gear. The 3 to 4 hour tour takes a maximum of 5 people to places few eyes have seen.
Exploring the Surface at Jewel Cave
Above the cave you will find plenty to see and do in the 1279 acre park, with hiking trails available and a wide array of wildflowers, birds, and other natural wonders. Just outside the Visitor Center you will find the A Walk on The Roof trail, a quarter-mile easy trail over the surface of the cave that meanders through pine trees.
Also found near the center is the trailhead for the 3.5 mile Canyons Trail, which offers views of the surrounding area including Hells Canyon and Lithograph Canyon, as well as the cliffs, forest, and wildlife in the area.
The longer U.S. Forest Service Hells Canyon Trail starts about a mile from the Visitor Center, and is a 5.5 mile trek that offers fantastic views of the canyon and the landscape.
Visiting Jewel Cave
It costs nothing to visit the outside portions around the monument, where you can explore the trails and learn more about the cave and the Black Hills above. Guided tours are subject to fees, which vary depending on the type of tour you choose to take. Tours take place throughout the day, and schedules vary by season.
Jewel Cave is open throughout the year, but not all tours are available in the winter months. The Visitor Center is closed on weekends from the beginning of November through early March, and may close during the week in the case of inclement weather; it’s recommended that you call ahead.
Getting to Jewel Cave National Monument
Jewel Cave National Monument is found on Highway 16 in between the cities of Newcastle, Wyoming and Custer, South Dakota. It’s a 13 mile drive from Custer and a 53 mile drive from Rapid City, SD, where you will find the nearest major airport. A variety of accommodations are available in Custer as well as other small towns in the vicinity of the Cave.