On our second day in South Dakota, Andrew and I knew we wanted to visit both caves that are part of the National Park system. His family was going to join us for Wind Cave, so we began our day at Jewel Cave. We woke up nice and early so that we could get there right when the visitor center opened. Clearly we should have gotten up even earlier, because when we arrived 10 minutes early, there was already a line of 30 people and some of them had even brought lawn chairs. Luckily, we were the last two people to get in on the first tour of the morning at 8:30.
Jewel Cave was really neat because you see all different types of cave formations. From crystals, to stalactites/mites, to boxwork, to “bacon,” this cave as a little something for everyone. The tour was filled with over 700 steps, but it was so worth the walk.
Following our tour at Jewel Cave we made our way over to Wind Cave National Park. After our experience waiting in line that morning, we made a quick run to Subway so we could eat lunch while waiting for our tour time if need be and we made a quick call to Andrew’s family to see if they wanted us to get everyone tickets. We made the original plan to just wait until we were all there to get tickets. Shortly after arriving in the visitor center parking lot, it was clear that that may not have been the best plan. Andrew and I couldn’t find a parking spot anywhere! After our third time looping through, he dropped me off and told me to get in line and get the 6 tickets. The line inside was super long! I quickly asked a nearby Ranger what the availability for tours looked like. He said the soonest would be 1pm. It was currently 11. The nice thing was I did get all 6 tickets and we toured their museum area and gift shop while waiting, plus ate our lunch.
We opted to go on the Natural Cave entrance tour. It was amazing to think that such a small hole on the outside opens to miles and miles of cave underneath. This tour was shorter than Jewel Cave and had far fewer stairs. Most of the tour you saw boxwork so there wasn’t as much variety. But…Wind Cave is home to 95% of the world’s boxwork in caves so that is pretty impressive.
After spending a good portion of our day in caves, we were ready for some outdoor time! Since we had our week long pass to Custer State Park handy, we decided to drive up to the Northwest corner of the park and check out the Sylvan Lake area. If any of you are National Treasure movie buffs, you might know that Sylvan Lake is the lake they used to film the end of the second movie when they are at the lake “behind Mount Rushmore.” The area was absolutely beautiful! We walked the mile loop around the lake and had some fun climbing on the rocks.
By the end of our walk, we were all ready to go search for some dinner. We went into Custer and ate at Pizza Works. It was really tasty! We had a great, full day of adventures, but we also learned a big lesson: Whenever there are tours available for National Park sites, you need to get there super early to ensure your chance at getting said tickets!