Frequently Asked Questions
In the summer, there is usually about 20 minutes between tours. Visitors should allow ample time to use the restroom, get a jacket, and put on good walking shoes before their tour begins. We stop ticket sales for each tour five minutes before departure time to allow a minimum length of time for visitors to prepare for the tour and to reach the starting point.
How far is it to Mt. Rushmore?
The most direct route to Mount Rushmore National Memorial via U.S. Highway 385 and S.D. Highway 244. It is 41 miles (66 km) and driving time is approximately one hour. Follow U.S. 385 through the town of Custer, 20 miles (32 km) north of the Wind Cave visitor center. Approximately 11 miles (18 km) north of Custer, S.D. Highway 244 branches to the east directly to the Memorial, 10 miles (16 km) away.
A longer, more scenic route to Mount Rushmore passes through Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park on S.D. Highway 87 and U.S. Highway 16A. Follow U.S. Highway 385 north from the Wind Cave visitor center approximately 1.4 miles (2.25 km) to the junction with S.D. 87. Follow S.D. 87 north 16 miles (26 km) to its junction with U.S. 16A in Custer State Park. Follow U.S. 16A to the east. At a distance of 10 miles (16 km), U.S. 16A turns to the north, and is named the Iron Mountain Road. It is a narrow and winding road for the next 17 miles (27 km). U.S. 16A connects with S.D. 244 near the town of Keystone. At this junction, turn west on S.D. 244 and follow this road 3 miles (5 km) to Mount Rushmore. The distance using this route is almost 50 miles (80 km) and takes 1.5 to 2 hours of driving time. There are three small tunnels along this route, each of which frames Mount Rushmore. The smallest tunnel is 12.5 feet (3.81m) high and 13.5 feet (4.11m) wide.
Where are the buffalo (bison)?
There are 400-450 bison in Wind Cave National Park. They are grazers and usually found on the grasslands. There are several good places to see bison along U.S. 385, S.D. 87, and primitive roads N.P.S. 5 & 6. Since the bison roam as they eat, they are never in one place for very long. Many areas of prime prairie habitat are not visible from any roads. There are also large bison herds in Custer State Park.
Bison are large, fast, nimble, and very dangerous. Their behavior is unpredictable. Please observe them from a safe distance. The campgrounds and visitor center are enclosed by fences that keep the bison out.
There is a park map in the brochure and several on display in the visitor center.
There are three self-guided nature trails and eight backcountry trails in the park. An information sheet about them is available at the visitor center information desk. Hiking cross-country is permitted.
How do we get to Rapid City?
There are three frequently used routes to Rapid City. These are described below in order of increasing driving time.
Follow U.S. 385 south, 5.8 miles (9.3 km) from the visitor center. Turn east (left) onto the 7-11 Road at the sign indicating Trout Haven Ranch. This is a gravel road 8.25 miles (13.3 km) in length. 7-11 Road ends at S.D. Highway 79. Turn north (left) onto S.D. 79 and drive 42 miles (68 km) to Rapid City. S.D. 79 enters Rapid City at the southeast corner. There are a few miles of driving to reach the center of town, Interstate 90, and the Rapid City Regional Airport. This is the fastest and least curvy route to Rapid City. The total distance is 56 miles (90 km) and takes about 65 minutes to drive.
There is a similar route to Rapid City that avoids the gravel 7-11 Road. Drive south from the Wind Cave visitor center on U.S. 385, through Hot Springs, to the junction of U.S. 385 with S.D. 79. The distance is approximately 18 miles (29 km). Turn north (left) onto S.D. 79. It is 50 miles (80 km) to Rapid City from this junction. The total distance is 68 miles (109 km) and takes about one hour and fifteen minutes to drive.
There are several northbound routes from Wind Cave National Park to Rapid City that go through the Black Hills and involve using roads with more hills and turns. The easiest route follows U.S. 385 northbound to Custer, 20 miles (32 km) distant. U.S. 385 combines with U.S. 16 eastbound in Custer. Follow the combined routes 15 miles (24 km) to Hill City, then to a junction four miles (6.4 km) north of Hill City. Here, U.S. 16 splits to the east. It is 24 miles (39 km) to Rapid City from this junction.
The total distance from the Wind Cave visitor center to Rapid City using this route is 59 miles (95 km). Driving time will be about 90 minutes. This route has a lot of traffic in the summer and travel may be slow. The advantages to using this route are proximity to Mount Rushmore National Memorial and Crazy Horse Memorial and slightly cooler temperatures.
How do we get to the Badlands?
Drive to Rapid City, and follow Interstate 90 eastbound to Wall, South Dakota. Wall is 50 miles (80 km) east of Rapid City. S.D. Highway 240 leads south from Wall and enters the Badlands in 8.5 miles (13.5 km), near the western end of Badlands National Park. The total distance to this entrance is about 120 miles (193 km) and takes about two hours to drive. A scenic drive of 23 miles (37 km) from the western entrance leads to the Badlands visitor center.
There is an alternate route to the remote southwest section of Badlands National Park that uses mostly gravel roads. From the town of Buffalo Gap, near the junction of 7-11 Road and S.D. 79, drive 45 miles (73 km) east on Fall River County 656 and B.I.A. 2 to the White River Visitor Center. This visitor center is open in the summer, only, but the park roads are open all year.
Who explores Wind Cave?
Wind Cave is explored by experienced cavers who volunteer their time to map, inventory, assist with biologic, geologic, and hydrologic studies, and participate in restoration of areas disturbed by human activities.
Where is the campground? or Is the campground full?
Elk Mountain Campground is located 1 mile (1.6 km) north of the visitor center. It has 75 sites, but rarely fills to capacity.
Where are the prairie dogs?
The prairie dog town nearest the visitor center is on Bison Flats, at the south junction of the visitor center road and U.S. 385, about ½ mile (0.8 km) south of the visitor center. There is a prairie dog interpretive exhibit at the junction of U.S. 385 and S.D. 87, 1.4 miles (2.25 km) north of the visitor center.
How do we get to Jewel Cave National Monument?
Drive 20 miles (32 km) north to Custer on U.S. 385. At the junction of U.S. 385 and U.S. 16, turn west on U.S. 16 and drive an additional 14 miles (23 km) to the Jewel Cave visitor center. The driving time from the Wind Cave visitor center is about 45 minutes. Be aware that there may be long waits for cave tours at Jewel Cave. Visitors are encouraged to make reservations (605-673-2288) or go early in the day.
Did You Know?
Winds caused by changes in barometric pressure are what give Wind Cave its name. These winds have been measured at the cave's walk-in entrance at over 70 mph. The winds at the natural entrance of the cave attracted the attention of Native Americans and early settlers.