Wind Cave National park with kids

Tips for Visiting Wind Cave National Park with Kids

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If you are planning a road trip through South Dakota, Wind Cave National Park should be a part of your itinerary! The park offers a unique combination of above-ground prairie and forest ecosystems, along with one of the longest and most complex caves in the world. Keep reading for what to do when visiting Wind Cave National Park with kids.

Wind Cave National park with kids

How to get to Wind Cave National Park

The closest airport to Wind Cave National Park is RAP, about an hour away. Since we were doing a road trip through South Dakota with kids, we came to the park after visiting nearby Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park.

Best time to visit Wind Cave National Park

The best time to visit Wind Cave National Park is in the summer months. Late spring and early fall can be great too, but the area gets lots of snow and very cold temperatures in the winter so it’s not advisable to visit then. We came in mid July and even then, it was freezing! Our daytime temps barely got past 62 so keep that in mind when planning a trip to South Dakota.

Where to stay when visiting Wind Cave National Park

Camping near Wind Cave National Park

The Elk Mountain Campground is near Wind Cave National Park and is open year round. You can make reservations from May through September and it’s first come, first served at all other times of the year.

Best family-friendly hotels near Wind Cave National Park

While there are no hotels in Wind Cave National Park, there are lots of options nearby. Since we were coming from Custer, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Custer which was just 25 minutes from Wind Cave National Park.

Custer family friendly hotels

Hot Springs is also very close to Wind Cave National Park, so you can also stay there.

If you want to see other hotels in the area, check out the interactive map below.

Things to bring when visiting Wind Cave National Park with kids

  • National Parks Journal: We bring ours on every trip to stamp and put a sticker in.
  • Front baby carrier: Keep in mind that strollers and back carriers aren’t allowed inside the cave tours.
  • Sweatshirt, even in the summer months, as the cave can be quite cool.
  • Shoes with good traction. The ground is slick in places!

Books and games about Wind Cave National Park

Trekking the National Parks board game

Junior Rangers National Parks Opoly

Things to do in Wind Cave National Park with kids

Go on a cave tour

The most popular thing to do when visiting Wind Cave National Park is to go on a cave tour. The park offers several different tour options for all abilities. Keep in mind that tickets for many tours are only sold at the park at a first come, first served basis. Which means in the summer, you’ll need to arrive long before your planned tour time to purchase tickets. You can then explore the park or head into Hot Springs to visit the Mammoth Site while you wait for your tour to start. You can reserve tickets in advance for the following tours at recreation.gov:

Garden of Eden Tour: This tour is suitable for families with young children. It lasts about an hour and covers easy-to-moderate terrain, making it accessible for most visitors.

Natural Entrance Tour: A bit longer and more strenuous, this tour lasts about 1.25 hours and includes a visit to the cave’s historic entrance.

Fairgrounds Tour: This tour is more challenging, lasting about 1.5 hours and covering more difficult terrain. It’s suitable for older children who can handle the hike.

Wind Cave National park with kids

Best kid-friendly hiking trail in Wind Cave National Park

Aside from doing a cave tour, Wind Cave National Park also has some hiking trails for all abilities. Here are some kid friendly hiking trails in Wind Cave National Park.

  • Prairie Vista: This easy 1 mile trail begins at the visitor’s center and takes you on a stroll through the grasslands.
  • Elk Mountain: This trail is also 1 mile and goes around the Elk Mountain Campground.
  • Rankin Ridge: If you want a nice view of the park, head to this 1 mile trail which is the highest point in the park. On a clear day, you might even see the Badlands off in the distance.
  • Lookout Point Trail: This 2.2 mile trail can be combined with the longer Highland Creek and Centennial trails to make it a 4.7 mile loop.
  • Cold Brook Canyon Trail: If you want to see prairie dogs, there’s a great chance to see them on this 2.8 mile out and back trail.

Junior Ranger program in Wind Cave National Park

Just like all other National Parks, Wind Cave National Park has a Junior Ranger program. Be sure to pick up your activity booklet when you arrive so your kids can earn their Junior Ranger badge.

Go see the wild prairie dogs

While driving around Wind Cave National Park, you’ll see a huge open prairie. Park your car and listen for the prairie dogs. There were hundreds of these little guys when we went, just going in and out of their dens.

Where to eat with kids near Wind Cave National Park

There are no restaurants or convenience stores in Wind Cave National Park. For food, you are going to have to go to Custer (25 minutes away) or Hot Springs (15 minutes away). There are lots of restaurants in both of these cities.

While we enjoyed exploring Wind Cave National Park, this is not a park I would make a special trip for. We were already in the area for our South Dakota road trip so we added Wind Cave to our South Dakota with kids road trip itinerary. Want to read this later? Pin one of the images below.

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