Park Geology

View across the surface of Wind Cave National Park with dark hills in the background and rolling grassy hills dotted with ponderosa pine trees under a blue sky with scattered puffy clouds.
Wind Cave is situated in the southern Black Hills.

NPS photo

The Black Hills are a dome-shaped area of crustal uplift, and the rock units exposed at the surface are shaped like a "bullseye" around the center of the Hills. Pre-Cambrian aged granites and gneisses form the interior core of the Hills. Moving outward from the center of the Hills, rock units of limestone, shales and sandstones are expressed at the surface. Wind Cave National Park straddles the older interior Hills rocks younger rocks, covering about 2 billion years of earth history. Due to this, Wind Cave National Park offers prime opportunity to witness a slice of Black Hills geological history. Scroll down to see a geological map of the park.
Pink granitic rock with linear black minerals.
Granites like this one are found in the northwest portion of the park along South Dakota Highway 87.

NPS photo

The Oldest Rocks

The oldest rocks are exposed in the northwest part of the park. These are schists and pegmatites. The schists are metamorphic rocks which formed under heat and intense pressure during an early episode of mountain building, about 2 billion years ago. They have almost parallel bands, or foliation, caused by the growth of mica crystals under pressure.

Pegmatites are made of large crystals of glassy-gray quartz, pink feldspar, silvery micas, and shiny black tourmaline. Pegmatite is an igneous rock, similar to granite. It hardened from magma and hot fluids. In places, the pegmatite intruded into the schists. This proves the pegmatite is younger than the schists, but still very old at 1.7 billion years. The emplacement of the pegmatite probably occurred during another mountain building event.

Layers of sedimentary rock titled from upper left to lower right next to a small stream at the bottom.
Tilted sedimentary rocks along Cold Brook Canyon trail.

NPS photo

Sedimentary Rocks

To the southeast of the igneous and metamorphic rocks, progressively younger layers of sedimentary rocks are at the surface. They span a time from the origin of abundant sea life, about 600 million years ago, to the end of the age of dinosaurs, about 60 million years ago. During these years, seas advanced and retreated over this region many times. Periods of deposition of sediments alternated with periods of erosion. About 65 million years ago forces within the earth produced another period of mountain building, raising the "modern" Black Hills.

Shaping the Landscape

Since that uplift, weathering, erosion and minor uplifting have been shaping the Black Hills. Sediments produced by the erosion filled some valleys within the park and spilled outside the Hills to the east, forming the layers now visible at Badlands National Park. Rocks more resistant to weathering and erosion, like pegmatite, limestone, and sandstone, form ridges or plateaus. Weaker rocks, like schists and shales, form valleys. Examples of limestone, sandstone and shale are visible in Beaver Creek Canyon, Wind Cave Canyon, and Red Valley. Schists and pegmatites are visible along South Dakota Highway 87.
A geological map of Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave National Park geological map. The current extent of Wind Cave is represented by the dark lines beneath U.S. Highway 385.

Last updated: September 3, 2023

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

26611 US Highway 385
Hot Springs, SD 57747


605 745-4600

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