Bethlehem Cave

Crystal Cave

Useful Information

Location: 10 km West of Piedmont, 29 km North West of Rapid City, 16 km South of Sturgis. I-90 exit 40 or 44 to Bethlehem Rd, turn west into the Black Hills, about 8 km from both exits.
Open: cave closed. [2007]
Fee: cave closed. [2007]
Classification: SpeleologyKarst Cave
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: L=6,500 m, T=9 °C.
Guided tours: Chapel Tour (self guided): L=400 m. Upper Cave Tour: D=90 min, L=2,000 m. Wild Cave Tours: D=180 min.
Address: Bethlehem Cave, Bethlehem Road, Black Hawk SD 57718.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


1876 pioneers called this the Crystal Cave area.
1876 discovered by Adolphus C. and Charles Frederick McBride.
Winter 1889-1890 the McBride brothers discovered the Lakes Region.
1891 a narrow-gauge railroad was being built from Lead down the Elk Creek Canyon. The cave was developed.
1892-1894 cave owned by Keith and Allabaugh.
1892 first cave tours.
1893 many specimens were removed to show them in a so-called model cave at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
Crystal Cave became a regular stop on the Black Hills and Ft. Pierre Railroad.
1919 bachelor's thesis describing Crystal Cave and its mineralogy by J. Harlan Johnson, a student at S.D. State School of Mines.
1919 Loui Storm, a real estate investor, bought the cave.
1920 start of development by Loui Storm.
1923 electric light powered by a diesel engine and generator installed.
02-JAN-1952 deeded as a gift to the Conception Abbey, Order of St. Benedict of the Catholic Church.
02-FEB-1957 operation of the cave was passed to Father Gilbert Stack, OSB. The cave was renamed Bethlehem Cave.
01-OCT-1959 the U.S. Post Office Department authorized Bethlehem, S.D., as a permanent post office, later the ZIP Code 57708 was assigned.
1964 Brother G. Nicholas conducted a considerable study of the geology of Bethlehem Cave in LaSalle College's "Geology of the Black Hills" course.
1968 Conception Abbey transferred the property to The Shrine of the Nativity inc..
1969 Visitor Center built.
1976 survey of the cave by Paha Sapa Grotto.
1977 new discoveries by Matt Wallace.
1981 leased to the "Old Original Crystal Cave Company," a division of the Midwest Land Management Corporation.
1984 accurate survey by Walt Kaminski and others.
2004 cave closed.


The cave was advertised very much a few years ago and had a fine website. It seems it was sold in 2004 and the new owner closed the cave and has no intentions of reopening it. The telephone number is disconnected, email defunct, and the website offline. We are sure it "is no more", "has ceased to be", "bereft of life, it rests in peace", and "this is an ex-show cave".

Bethlehem Cave has numerous speleothems, but once it had much more. Keith and Allabaugh, the owners of the cave, built an artificial cave on the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The "miniature cave", located under the floor of the Horticultural Building, filled a room of 18 to 25 meters. The original description tells about

"300,000 lbs. ... of stalactites, stalagmites, onyx, geodic crystals, dogtooth spar, and sparkling botryoidally masses; of cave pearls, flos Ferri, aragonite and drip-stone stained by oxidation in as many colors as the rainbow..."

The artificial cave had seven rooms, passages and was lighted by 100 light bulbs. This kind of event was typical for this time, when the people believed in future, science and technology. The World Fair attracted thousands of visitors and nobody thought about the destruction of the cave. The comment of the description "...patiently cut out of the rock, so as to not mar or rob the cave of its embellishments..." sounds strange from our point of view, as the removing of the speleothems was an act of marring and robbing. The owners are said to have made a small fortune from their five-cent admission charge and the sale of specimens during and after the fair. It seems they sold crystal specimens on many fairs and exhibitions until 1910.

Fortunately, the cave is really big, and contains an enormous amount of speleothems, so it is still very impressive. The cave was originally named Crystal Cave, and was so successful in the 1920s and 1930s that many commercial caves in the United States were renamed or at last added a "Crystal" to their name. Some of those caves even use the name today, while this cave is now called Bethlehem Cave.