Jewel Cave National Monument, South Dakota

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Jewel Cave National Monument

The world’s third longest cave, Jewel Cave National Monument has over 170 miles of mapped passageways.

  • Jewel Cave National Monument is the third longest cave in the world, and new passages are continually being discovered. 
  • Located just outside of Custer, South Dakota. 
  • A variety of tours cater to visitors of all types. 
  • Open year-roun.

Named for its sparkling calcite crystals, Jewel Cave National Monument is the third longest cave in the world. With a long history of exploration and tourism, today the cave is visited by avid cavers, speleo-neophytes and curious tourists hoping to see the stunning stalactites and -gmites, frostwork, calcite crystals, gypsum needles, hydromagnesite balloons and other speleothems.

Exploration of Jewel Cave continues today, with new tunnels and passages being mapped all the time. Rangers lead a variety of guided tours – everything from easy walks along lighted walkways to lantern lit walks along historic routes to the Wild Caving Tour’s full-on caving experience.

In addition to the below-ground activities that attract most visitors, above-ground hiking trails and guided walks through the Ponderosa Pine forest are available.

Tours

The National Park Service offers four main tours of Jewel Cave:

  • The Jewel Cave Discovery Talk (easy) is a short, 20-minute introduction to Jewel Cave and its history, one of the larger rooms and some of the calcite cave formations. Offered year-round. $4 per adult (16 and over).
  • The Scenic Tour (moderately strenuous) is Jewel Cave’s most popular tour. Over the course of 1.5 hours, you’ll stay to the lit, paved trail while discovering fascinating speleothems. This tour climbs and descends the equivalent of 40 flights of stairs. Offered year-round. $12 per adult (16 and over), $8 youth (ages 6-16), and free for children 5 and under.
  • The Historic Lantern Tour (strenuous) is a 1.75-hour-long 1930’s caving adventure. You’ll carry all your light in the form of a lantern as you follow an unpaved trail from the historic cave entrance along wooden staircases and through the Dungeon and Heavenly Rooms. Available May through August. $12 per adult (16 and over), $8 youth (ages 6-16), with a minimum age of 6.
  • The Wild Caving Tour (extremely strenuous) is a 3-4 hour long exploration of some of Jewel Cave’s wildest and undeveloped passages. Strap on a headlamp and get ready to crawl and climb your way through tight passages and steep walls to get to the stunning underground rooms that aren’t otherwise accessible. Offered June to October. $31 per adult with a minimum age of 16.

History

Jewel Cave was first explored in 1900, when two brothers enlarged a small natural opening and attempted to create a commercial tourist attraction. Although they were unsuccessful, word of the cave reached President T. Roosevelt, who established the area as a National Monument in 1908. The area was eventually sold to the National Park Service in 1933, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that the husband and wife duo of Herb and Jan Conn began exploring the cave, mapping over 60 miles in the next 10 years. Today, just over 170 miles of passages have been mapped, with countless miles remaining unexplored.

Location and Hours

Jewel Cave National Monument is located just outside of Custer, South Dakota and about 40 minutes (35 miles) from Rapid City, along US-16/US-385.

Jewel Cave National Monument is open year-round, with tours offered daily. Tour and Visitor Center hours vary by season (see the complete schedule here), but tours are offered throughout the day and the Visitor Center is always open from at least 8:30-4:30.

Jewel Cave National Monument can be contacted at 605-673-8300 or by visiting the National Park Service website.

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