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The Wind Cave National Park Camping Guide: Plan Your Next Adventure!

Underground explorers, wildlife enthusiasts, and hikers unite! Wind Cave National Park camping has it all!

At Wind Cave National Park, you’re not just getting one park with your visit… you’re getting two; one aboveground and one below.

Boasting one of the world’s longest caves—so long its depths are still being discovered—Wind Cave has a rich history that is waiting to be uncovered on your Wind Cave National Park camping trip!

Wind Cave National Park Camping

The History of Wind Cave National Park

One of the most fascinating things about Wind Cave is that, despite being a 300 million-year-old cave, there is still so much unknown to unearth.

Indigenous tribes that lived in the Black Hills region of South Dakota were the first to discover the Wind Cave. Stories passed down from generation to generation refer to the cave’s only natural entrance as the entrance to the spirit world.

In 1881, the Bingham brothers, the first settlers to find Wind Cave, followed a booming whistling noise to the natural entrance of the cave. Wind billowed out of the small cave entrance so hard that it knocked one of the brother’s hats off!

That same wind that drew the brothers to the cave can still be felt at the natural entrance today.

The first official expedition into Wind Cave happened in 1959. Later expeditions led to the discovery of underground lakes, giant open pockets, and 50 miles of winding tunnels. Now, each year, an average of seven new miles is surveyed in Wind Cave National Park’s vast underground.

It is estimated that only 5% of the total cave has been discovered.

Camping at Wind Cave

What to Expect from Wind Cave National Park Camping

Aboveground, expect South Dakota’s ponderosa pine forests and vast mixed-grass prairies to be brimming with wildlife. If you’re a hiker definitely take some time to explore the trails of the 34,000-acre park.

Belowground, the cave tours are an absolute must for your Wind Cave National Park camping trip.

Park Entrance Fees

Entrance to the park is free!

The Best Time of Year to Visit Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave is a sight to see any time of year, but to make sure you get everything there is to offer, planning your Wind Cave National Park camping trip for the summer season is your best bet to avoid any closures due to weather.

The Elk Mountain Campground

The Elk Mountain Campground is a beautiful 62-site campground—with two handicap-accessible sites and 48 RV sites—that is open year-round. It is the only campground in the park.

Reserve campsites online for stays between the months of May and September. If you’re traveling to Wind Cave another time of the year, sites are reserved on the day of on a first-come, first-served basis. Camping fees are $24.00/night and $12.00/night in the off-season. Seniors pay half-price.

Backcountry Camping

With a free permit from the Visitor Center, backcountry camping is permitted in the northern section of the park.

Tent Camping at Wind Cave National Park

Other Campgrounds Surrounding Wind Cave National Park

Bordering Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park has both campgrounds and motels. If you’re planning to stay at Custer State Park, just remember camping reservations have to be made through them!

Underground Cave Tours

Cave Tour Reservations and Fees

Ready to head down into the cave? Of course you are! A Wind Cave National Park Camping trip wouldn’t be complete without heading underground.

Wind Cave tour reservations can be made online.

If you aren’t able to book in advance, don’t fret! You can still grab your tickets at the park on a first-come, first-served basis.

Adult (16+) tour prices are $14 for the Garden of Eden Tour and $16 for both the Natural Entrance and Fairground tours. Accessibility tours are $6.

Children (6-15) and seniors (62+) pay half price.

All cave tours for children under five are completely free!

Safety in the Underground of Wind Cave National Park

To ensure your safety while you’re on your Wind Cave National Park camping trip, all tours are guided by a Wind Cave National Park ranger.

Before you hop down into the underground, make sure you’ve got on some non-slip walking or hiking shoes to keep your feet firmly planted on the ground as you navigate the caves. And be sure to leave the bulky coats or t-shirts behind! At a constant 54°F (12°C), a light jacket or sweater will keep you the most comfortable.

Garden of Eden Tour

The Garden of Eden tour is an hour-long, 1/3-mile hike. Starting with a descent into the cave by elevator, this is the least strenuous of the underground tours and is perfect for those looking to enjoy the caves at a leisurely pace.

Boxwork Cave Formation at Wind Cave

Along the Garden of Eden tour, you’ll spot multiple rock formations including boxwork (honeycomb-shaped), cave popcorn (button-like), and flowstone (sheet-like).

Natural Entrance Tour

The Natural Entrance tour is an hour and 15 minutes long and is perfect for all the history buffs out there looking for a more strenuous trek!

On this 2/3-mile tour, you’ll make your way to the natural entrance of the Wind Cave. Throughout your journey, your guide will brief you on the significant history of the cave.

Fairgrounds Tour

For the experienced adventurer, the Fairgrounds tour at Wind Cave National Park might be your go-to! Fairgrounds is the most strenuous of the regular tours. You’ll spend an hour and a half exploring 2/3 miles of the underground and braving around 450 steps.

This tour explores both the middle and upper levels of Wind Cave.

Accessibility Tour

The accessibility tour is a half-hour long. This tour is accessed by elevator and has wheelchair-accessible parking available near the elevator building.

Specialty Tours

Specialty Tour Reservations and Fees

Planning your Wind Cave National Park camping trip for the summer? Then the Candlelight and Wild Cave tours should be on your list of things to do!

The Candlelight Tour costs $16 and is open to ages eight and above.

The Wild Cave Tour costs $45. It is for adults only or, for ages 16-18, with signed permission from a parent.

Reservations are required for specialty tours.

Candlelight Tour

Imagine yourself as one of the first people to shimmy their way through Wind Cave. It’d be dark, daring, and incredible.

Candlelight in Cave

Well, the Candlelight tour is your chance to experience all of that! So seize the opportunity to explore a less developed, unlit section of the cave by candlelight.

This tour is strenuous and for adventurers who aren’t afraid of the dark (or stooping under low ceilings)! Before heading out on this epic expedition, make sure you’re prepared:

  • Dress in long pants and a long-sleeved shirt that you haven’t worn in any other caves (to prevent the spread of White-Nose Syndrome; a disease that impacts the bat population).
  • Sport non-slip, lace-up boots or shoes (ideally hiking boots).

Wild Cave Tour

Interested in trying out real caving on your Wind Cave National Park camping trip?

If your answer is yes, then the Wild Cave specialty tour will be the highlight of your trip!

Most of this four-hour-long tour is spent crawling on your hands and knees in an undeveloped part of Wind Cave. A challenge like no other, the Wild Cave tour provides participants with an introduction to safe caving and the true experience of what it’s like to explore Wind Cave just like cavers and scientists do today.

To participate in this epic tour, you must:

  • Be able to fit through a small space (10 inches tall and three feet wide).
  • Wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Leggings and sweatpants are not allowed. Clothing must not have been worn in other caves.
  • Wear non-slip, lace-up hiking boots with strong ankle support.

Helmets, kneepads, and headlamps are provided to participants.

Hiking at Wind Cave

Trails for Beginners

From grasslands breezing above Wind Cave to the highest point (and most spectacular views) in the park, there are plenty of options for the beginner hiker at Wind Cave National Park. Find a list of trails to get you started below!

Prairie Vista

  • Distance: 1-mile round-trip
  • Distinguishing features: prairie grasslands

Elk Mountain

  • Distance: 1-mile round-trip
  • Distinguishing features: elk sightings in the early fall

Rankin Ridge

  • Distance: 1-mile round-trip
  • Distinguishing features: highest point in the park and the historic fire tower (not open to the public)

Wind Cave Canyon

  • Distance: 1.8 miles
  • Distinguishing features: limestone cliffs and nesting birds
Hiking Near Wind Cave National Park

Moderate Trails

With forests, wildlife, and rolling hills, the moderate trails are a do-not-miss for the more seasoned hiker looking for a bit more of a challenge on their Wind Cave National Park camping trip.

Cold Brook Canyon

  • Distance: 1.4 miles
  • Distinguishing features: ponderosa forest, prairie dog towns, prairie falcons, and other raptor sightings

Lookout Point

  • Distance: 2.2 miles
  • Distinguishing features: rolling hills and lookout point

Strenuous Trails for Experienced Hikers

If you’re looking for the toughest treks the park has to offer, there are five strenuous trails at Wind Cave National Park just for you!

From panoramic views on the Easy Bison Flats trail to Boland Ridge, where Elk are often spotted, each trail offers a special experience for hikers.

Easy Bison Flats

  • Distance: 3.7 miles
  • Distinguishing features: steep climbs and panoramic views


  • Distance: 3.6 miles
  • Distinguishing features: crosses a prairie dog town


  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Distinguishing features: part of a 111-mile trail connecting different parks in South Dakota

Highland Creek

  • Distance: 8.6 miles
  • Distinguishing feature: longest trail in the park and crosses nearly all wildlife habitats

Boland Ridge

  • Distance: 2.6 miles
  • Distinguishing feature: one of the most secluded trails in Wind Cave National Park where elk are sometimes spotted in the mornings and evenings

Wind Cave National Park Open Hike Policy

Need even more adventure? Wind Cave National Park allows guests to explore and hike off-trail.

Wildlife and Vegetation at Wind Cave National Park

Aboveground Wildlife

If you’re a wildlife enthusiast looking to spot some big mammals on your Wind Cave National Park camping trip, you’re heading to the right place!


Wind Cave boasts an impressive array of animals that are often seen by parkgoers thanks to the open grasslands and rolling hills. Take to the trails to see bison, prairie dogs, deer, elk, and pronghorn—the fastest land animal in the Western Hemisphere and the second fastest in the world.

Bird Watching at Wind Cave National Park

Home to over 100 species of birds—and even more during migration season—Wind Cave National Park is overflowing with life in the sky. Without even stepping foot off the campsite, spot red-headed woodpeckers and northern flickers right from your tent while enjoying the yellow-breasted chat’s song.

Away from the campsite, the limestone cliffs at Wind Cave National Park are home and nesting grounds for many species, including cliff swallows, canyon wrens, and great horned owls. Prairie falcons and other raptors can also be spotted along park trails.

Wherever you are in Wind Cave National Park, one thing’s for sure, there are plenty of things soaring above, so bring your camera and snap some great shots!

Cave Creatures

Speaking of soaring above, Wind Cave National Park also has a whole network of a certain creature soaring below.


Nine species of bats, including the threatened northern-long eared bat, call Wind Cave National Park their home. Wind Cave National Park provides an important and necessary habitat for these bat species and is doing everything possible to ensure the cave remains a safe place for them.

While on your Wind Cave National Park camping trip, wear gear that hasn’t been in any other caves to limit any spread of White Nose Syndrome (a fungal disease that kills bats) and save the bats!


In the park, which is situated on the southern end of the South Dakota Black Hills, two primary ecosystems dominate: the ponderosa pine forest and the mixed-grass prairies.

If you enjoy the forest, Wind Cave National Park is filled with birch, aspen, and white spruce trees that typically cover the higher-elevation portions of the park.

Grasses cover the prairies creating a sea of green. Speckled amongst the sea are flecks of color—the wildflowers. Wind Cave National Park is home to hundreds of species of colorful wildflowers that paint the park in pinks, yellows, reds, and whites. From lilies to sunflowers, the scattered wildflowers will brighten your day!

Best Trails at Wind Cave to Spot Wildlife

This National Park is teeming with wildlife. So, and I say this honestly, any trail you choose on your Wind Cave National Park camping trip will probably leave you with a fond memory of spotting a beautiful creature.

If you’re looking to spot one animal in particular though, this handy list has got you covered! Though not guaranteed, these animals have been known to pop up in these spots:

  • Elk: Elk Mountain Trail, Boland Ridge Trail
  • Prairie dogs: Prairie Vista Trail, Cold Brook Canyon Trail
  • Pronghorn: Boland Ridge Trail, Lookout Point Trail
  • Bison: Easy Bison Flats, Centennial Trail
  • Birds: Wind Cave Canyon Trail
  • Raptors/birds of prey: Cold Brook Canyon Trail

Packing List

Equipment to Bring

Depending on which season you’re setting out on your Wind Cave National Park camping trip, your clothing needs will change. In the winter, expect snow and freezing temperatures, so dress accordingly. Winter jackets, snow pants, snow boots, hats, and gloves are an absolute must for outdoor activities!

Spring and fall have variable weather that can range from warm and sunny to cool, windy, and rainy. To stay comfortable on the hiking trails, pack layers for warmth and rain gear just in case.

In the summer, Wind Cave National Park gets hot during the day, but temperatures dip at night. Bring clothes for both warmer and cooler temperatures.

Hiking Boots

If you’re hiking down in the caves you’ll want to bring some specific gear to keep you safe and warm. A sturdy, above-the-ankle pair of hiking boots will keep you stable on the slick cave floors. Long pants and long sleeves are required and a light jacket or sweater will keep you warm in the cooler underground.

And remember, to keep the bats safe, if you’ve been in any other caves, be sure to bring fresh clothes for your Wind Cave exploration!

Other items to consider bringing to Wind Cave: first aid kit, flashlight, water bottle, sunscreen, bug spray, sleeping bags, food, and a shelter (tent or RV) if you’re camping.

Amenities On-Site at Wind Cave National Park

The Elk Mountain campground at Wind Cave National Park has year-round trash and recycling collection, bathrooms, and firewood for sale. Seasonally there is potable water and flush toilets.

Amenities Nearby

Before your Wind Cave National Park camping trip, make sure to grab your groceries and gas in the nearby South Dakota towns of either Hot Springs or Custer. Lodging and restaurants are also available in town.

Wind Cave National Park Camping FAQ

Still have some questions about Wind Cave National Park? Here are the answers to some common ones!

Can I bring my dog on my Wind Cave National Park camping trip? Yes, but they must remain on a leash and are only permitted near the Visitor Center, at the campground, and on the Prairie Vista and Elk Mountain Campground trails.

Is horseback riding permitted at Wind Cave National Park? If you have your own horse you may ride it at Wind Cave National Park with a free permit from the Visitor Center.

How is the cellphone service? Cellphone service is spotty. Free wifi is available at the Visitor Center.

Does Wind Cave have a National Park Passport Stamp? Yes! It can be found at the Visitor Center store.

There are no more reservations for my date. Is the park sold out? The park is not sold out, you can still book on a first-come, first-served basis on the day of your visit.

Are there restrooms in the caves? No.

Is photography allowed underground? Photography is allowed on some cave tours. It is not permitted on the candlelight tour.

Wind Cave National Park Awaits Your Visit

With a rich history that vastly predates written records, and an underground yet to be explored, Wind Cave National Park is one of the most unique parks in the country.

So grab the gear you need for your Wind Cave National Park camping trip, hop in your car, and get ready for an adventure aboveground and below!

If you love camping, hiking, and all things outdoors, don’t skip all the other national park guides on the blog.