• Explore and Discover One of the Last Frontiers in the World ...

    Jewel Cave

    National Monument South Dakota

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  • Caution - Roadwork on Highway 16 - Expect Delays

    Construction projects both along highway 16 and the Jewel Cave parking lot are planned during this summer season. The visitor center will be open daily, 8:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. Tours are scheduled throughout the day. No reservations for cave tours. More »

Cave Exploration

Current Jewel Cave Statistics:

Length: 169.90 miles / 273.43 km [As of 3/11/2014]

Depth: 631 feet

Largest Room: The Big Duh. 570 feet long, averages 90-180 feet wide and 30 feet high.

Tallest Passage: Wall Street. 136 feet.

Why explore Jewel Cave?

The physical and mental challenges of cave exploration address a deep-seated human desire to venture beyond the known into the frontier. Exploring cave passages where no one has ever been before is certainly exciting, and it also provides information essential for managing both cave and surface resources. For this reason cave explorers must meticulously survey each passage that they find, and create a detailed map.

 
A cave explorer looks into a large, dark passage

A cave explorer looks into the unknown, becoming the first person to ever see this large, dark passage.

NPS Photo

Who explores the cave?

Cave exploration and mapping is done entirely by volunteers. Those wishing to participate in the exploration of Jewel Cave must have prior caving experience, possess a strong cave conservation ethic, be able to fit through tight spaces, and have the endurance for long caving trips. All trips are led by qualified trip leaders who have been approved by the Monument's cave resource management staff.

How far does the cave extend?

Jewel Cave is under about three square miles of surface area. More than 45% of the known cave is outside the Monument boundaries, under the Black Hills National Forest.

How long is the cave?

At more than 166 miles in length, Jewel Cave is currently the third longest cave in the world. Airflow studies indicate that there is a lot of cave yet to be discovered.

What is the depth of the cave?

The elevational range of Jewel Cave spans 631 feet. This is its official "depth." The highest point in the cave is 5,408 feet above sea level, and the lowest point is at 4,777 feet.

The cave's depth below the surface varies greatly, due to the thickness of overlying rock layers and characteristics of the surface topography. The cave intersects the surface in Hell Canyon, at the only natural entrance. The deepest point in the cave is 749 feet below ground.

Where is most exploration taking place?

Several recent exploration trips have focused on the southeastern area of the cave, where there are many "leads" (unexplored passages) with strong airflow. Airflow within the cave is the single best indicator that large areas of the cave are yet to be discovered.

How long does it take to reach the "end" of the cave?

Travel to the work area can take more than 6 hours, one way. Exploration trips often last 16-18 hours, and most of this is travel time. To faciliate exploration, a base camp was established in 1997. It takes 7 hours of one-way travel to reach the camp, and the leads at the end of the cave are now up to 3.5 hours beyond that! Cavers spend as many as four days underground on camp expeditions.

Did You Know?

A caver measures wind speed at the Humdinger / NPS file photo

Due to changes in barometric pressure, strong winds blow through Jewel Cave’s passages miles from the natural entrance. Areas in the cave where the wind is exceptionally strong or loud have names like Hurricane Corner, Whistle Stop, Exhaust Pipe, Humdinger, and Drafty Maneuver.