Keystone is full of family friendly adventures; our location is central to all the top attractions in the Black Hills. Among those are several National Parks, including the first cave to receive the National Park designation: Wind Cave.
Wind Cave got its name from the sound of air rushing out of one of it’s smaller openings. Legend has it that the force of the wind blew the hat off of Tom Bingham, one of the first white explorers to discover the cave. All caves “breathe” when the weather changes; it’s a side-effect of the pressure inside and outside of the cave equalizing. Wind Cave simply has smaller openings than most, which causes a more pronounced wind effect. It was this same wind that may have inspired Lakota legends that hold Wind Cave as the origin of their people.
The first record of someone entering Wind Cave was in 1881 when Charlie Crary started exploring it. In 1890, the South Dakota Mining Company filed a mining claim and hired J.D. McDonald to manage it. Mining was unsuccessful, but McDonald and his family saw potential for tourism and began expanding exploration of the cave. They filed a homestead claim and worked on enlarging the entrance and passageways to accommodate tourists.
By summer of 1891 they had established a tourism business at Wind Cave, but a few short years later the McDonalds were taken to court for ownership of the cave. In 1901, the land around Wind Cave was withdrawn from its homesteading and mining claims, and shortly after in 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt officially designated the land as Wind Cave National Park. It was our nation’s eighth national park, and the first one that protected a cave. The initial land area was small, but expanded throughout the years to include almost 34,000 acres.
Today, Wind Cave National Park is the world’s seventh longest cave, with more areas being discovered all the time. Tours of the cave run daily, but they are first-come-first-served, so you’ll have to get to the park early in the day to secure a spot. There are several tour options, from the 1 hour Garden of Eden tour to the hour and a half Fairgrounds tour. They do also have an accessible tour for guests with limited mobility or other special needs. You can find information on the distance and difficulty of each tour on the Wind Cave National Park website. Entrance to the park is free, so you can explore the grounds while you wait for your tour to start.
If you don’t like to be underground, the amazing variety of terrain and wildlife offer plenty of reasons to visit the park. Bison, prairie dogs, pronghorn, elk, deer, and more call the park home. You may even glimpse the endangered black-footed ferret if you’re lucky. There are over 30 miles of hiking trails in the park, not to mention bike paths and the impressive Beaver Creek Bridge. There’s so much to do in the park, you may need more than one day to truly experience all of it!
Wind Cave National Park is truly a can’t-miss experience during your trip to Keystone. The park’s visitor center is only an hour from town, which makes it an easy day trip. Not to mention you’ll get to drive through the beautiful Black Hills National Forest on your way.