Visitor and Resource Protection

Patrol Car in Snow
NPS Patrol Car in Snow

NPS Photo by M. Wilson

Through law enforcement, search and rescue, wildland firefighting, and emergency medical services, we protect the visitors and resources of Wind Cave National Park.

Over a dozen cavers performing cave rescue exercise inside Wind Cave
Cave Rescue Training

NPS Photo

Search and Rescue:

From time to time a visitor may get lost in the cave or in the backcountry. When this occurs it is our duty to find them. Wind Cave is the only cave in the park open to the public and is a complex system of passageways. The cave is closed to visitors without a guide.

Backcountry travel on the prairie may be confusing at times. Be sure to take a map and compass/GPS with you. Be aware that you GPS does not locate the park's visitor center in the correct spot. The visitor center is located about 1 mile off US Hwy 385.

Prescribed Burn in Elk Mountain Campground
Prescribed Burn in Elk Mountain Campground

NPS Photo

Wildland Firefighting:

Prescribed burns are an integral part of the park's management plan.Sometimes, however, a wildfire starts from a lightning strike or other means, and park staff may have to intervene. Check with a ranger to learn about local fire restrictions during your visit.

Lifeflight for Medical Emergency
Lifeflight for Medical Emergency

NPS Photo

Emergency Medical Services:

Every member of park staff is trained in CPR and first aid, including the use of AEDs.Many of our Visitor and Resource Protection staff also are certified as EMTs. To ensure the safety of all our visitors and staff, we invite folks with special needs to arrange special cave tours either ahead of time or at the front desk.


Law Enforcement:

Visitor and resource protection staff enforce all federal rules and regulations from United States Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 36, Parks, Forests, and Public Property, United States Code Title 18, Crimes and Criminal Procedure, and all applicable South Dakota state laws. You are responsible for knowing the rules and regulations of each national park you visit. Failure to comply with such rules and regulations may result in a citation and applicable fine and/or time served. Click following links for 36CFR regulations, USC 18, Superintendent's Compendium, and South Dakota State Codified Laws.


Traffic Laws:

All state traffic laws are strictly enforced.In addition, federal law mandates that you are required to wear a seat belt at all times while in a moving vehicle within a National Park.

Bison Fighting in the Road
Bison Fighting in the Road

NPS Photo by M. Wilson

While U.S. 385 is a major highway, remember there are large wildlife on the roadway. State Route 87 is also home to many large wildlife. Observe the speed limits! Wind Cave has lost more than 90 bison to motor vehicle accidents in the last twenty years.


Stopping/standing in the roadway and obstructing traffic can be a dangerous practice. If you decide to take a photo of the beautiful scenery and wildlife at Wind Cave, please pull off the road before you do so. Be sure to look for traffic before you exit your vehicle for any reason. There have been many close calls for people who just had to have that great shot.

Slow down, enjoy the scenery!

No Hunting Sign. Text reads: "Hunting and Off Road Driving Prohibited"
No Hunting Sign

NPS Photo


Hunting is not allowed within Wind Cave National Park.Transporting lawfully taken wildlife directly through the park (without stopping) on paved highways is permitted.

Retrieving/transporting wounded or dead wildlife from the park is prohibited.If you have lawfully taken an animal that crossed into the park before its death, contact the visitor center (during normal business hours) at 605-745-4600 or call the Custer County Dispatch Center at 605-673-8176 and ask for the ranger on duty.


Access to adjacent lands by foot for the purpose of hunting is permitted in some cases. Contact the visitor center for more information.

The use of artificial light (including vehicle headlights) causes stress on wildlife, and may cause them to change their behavior patterns. Spotlighting is strictly prohibited.

Click here for the recent changes in laws and policies regarding weapons in National Parks.

Bison Fighting on the Prairie
Bison Fighting on the Prairie

NPS Photo

Approaching/Feeding Wildlife:

Disturbing wildlife is a serious offense and can have tragic results to visitors and wildlife.We require a distance of at least 100 yards between our visitors and large wildlife.Though they appear to be docile giants, Bison can move up to 35 mph and are quick to become hostile.

Prairie Dog in the grass
Prairie Dog

NPS Photo by A. ShortBull

Prairie dogs may seem cute and cuddly. but they do bite! Feeding prairie dogs and other wildlife disrupts their normal diet. Prairie dogs, for instance, rely on vegetation for their water source. Feeding them "people food" such as bread and Cheetos will cause adverse reactions to their digestive system.


Our prairie dogs may be home to plague positive fleas. While we have no evidence of any plague related prairie dog deaths in the park, we advise our visitors to use caution around prairie dog towns, and not to approach prairie dogs.

Pile of antlers and rocks which were illegally taken
Illegally Taken Antlers and Rocks

NPS Photo by O. Murnane


Taking rocks, fossils, antler sheds and other park resources is prohibited and strictly enforced.These resources are protected for the enjoyment of current and future generations.The antlers and rocks in this photo were illegally collected by visitors over the course of two days.



Pets must be leashed or restrained at all times. No pets are allowed on any of the backcountry trails; however there are two frontcountry trails available for leashed pets to use. Leaving a pet unattended and tied to an object such as a tree, table, or car bumper is prohibited. For more information on the Wind Cave National Park pet policy, click here.

Mountain Lion
Mountain Lion

Stock Photo


The prairie is home to many dangerous animals and plants.Mountain lions are known to roam the Black Hills and surrounding prairie.Be careful while hiking in the backcountry or camping.

Prairie dog towns are full of holes which house black widows and rattlesnakes.The bites of both these creatures can be extremely deadly.

rattle snake, black widow, and poison ivy
Poison Ivy, Prairie Rattlesnake, and Black Widow

NPS and stock photos


Poison ivy is common in the area. Watch out for "leaves of three."

Summers in western South Dakota can be extremely dry and hot. When hiking in the backcountry, be sure to take a hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water with you.

Lightning and a Rainbow
Lightning on the Prairie

NPS Photo by C. Bollinger

Severe thunderstorms with large hail are common in the park during the summer months. These storms are often slow moving and can release large amounts of rain over a small area. Steep canyons, rock cliffs, and small creeks in our region are prone to flash flooding. Be cautious and move up hill if flooding starts.

If you are visiting during the winter months, dress for the weather. The park averages 30 inches of snow, and temperatures below freezing are common.

Be sure to check the park website or phone the visitor center at (605) 745-4600 for up-to-date park alerts.


You are responsible for knowing the rules and regulations of the National Parks you visit.

Last updated: December 27, 2017

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

26611 US Highway 385
Hot Springs, SD 57747


(605) 745-4600

Contact Us