Birth of a National Park - Early Explorations

Photograph of Wind Cave's most famous formation: the lattice-patterned boxwork.
Wind Cave Boxwork

NPS Photo

Candles and a String

In 1881, Charlie Crary of Custer squeezed through the small Natural Entrance and became Wind Cave's first known explorer. Using candles for light, and string to mark their route, he and friends scrambled on their hands and knees into the darkness. In their flickering candlelight, they were probably the first people to see a rare cave formation known as boxwork.

A cave passageway with two cavers standing in it
Exploring the Cave

NPS Photo

Party Loses Cave

Becoming lost in a cave is always a possibility, but in the early days, losing the cave was a reality. In the fall of 1881, a party lead by Frank Herbert searched an entire day trying to find the small opening in the bottom of the gully mentioned by Tom Bingham. After finding it, they squeezed into the cave and followed Crary’s string deep into the depths while viewing several rooms and many cave formations.

Historic sepia-toned photograph of two men standing at Devil's Lookout in Wind Cave
Devil's Lookout

NPS Photo Archive

The World's Biggest Basement

The chief obstacle to initial exploration was the small 8 by 10-inch hole comprising the cave's Natural Entrance. With the help of friends, the Binghams created a larger opening adjacent to the original one. They later constructed a small cabin over both openings allowing the cave's cool breeze to serve as an air conditioner for the cabin's residents.

Historic black and white photograph of several men sitting in front of the cabin that was constructed over the entrance to Wind Cave
Cabin on right is located over Natural Entrance. Building on left was constructed in 1890 over present entrance.

NPS Photo Archive


Last updated: February 21, 2018

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

26611 US Highway 385
Hot Springs, SD 57747


(605) 745-4600

Contact Us