Jewel Cave

Useful Information

a cleft with the walls covered by dogtooth spars.
Location: Custer, SD 57730.
From Rapid City Hwy 79 south about 29 km, Hwys 36 and 16 southwest about 64 km. 23 km west of Custer on U.S. Hwy 16.
(43.731490, -103.828200)
Open: Visitor Center:
Mid-SEP to mid-MAY Wed-Sat 8:30-16:30.
Mid-MAY to mid-SEP daily 8:30-17:30.
Fee: Discovery Tour: Adults USD 6, Children (6-15) USD 3, Children (0-5) free, Seniors (62+) USD 3.
Scenic Tour: Adults USD 16, Children (6-15) USD 8, Children (0-5) free, Seniors (62+) USD 8.
Historic Lantern Tour: Adults USD 16, Children (8-15) USD 8.
Wild Caving Tour: Adults USD 45.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst Cave SpeleologyGeode
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: L=335,564 m, VR=248 m.
Guided tours: Discovery Tour: D=20 min, Max=20.
Scenic Tour: D=80 min, L=800 m, St=734, Max=30, MinAge=6.
Historic Lantern Tour: D=110 min, L=800 m, St=600, Max=20, MinAge=8.
Wild Caving Tour: D=3-4 h, L=1100 m, St=600, Min=2, Max=5, MinAge=16.
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: yes
Bibliography: Herbert Conn, Jan Conn (1977):
The Jewel Cave Adventure; Fifty Miles of Discovery Under South Dakota,
Illus., 244pp, pb.
Art Palmer (1995): Jewel Cave - A Gift From The Past, 56pp, pb.
James B Thompson (ny): The Geology Of Jewel Cave, paperback, 18 pp illus., published by the Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument.
Address: Jewel Cave National Monument, 11149 U.S. Hwy. 16, Building B12, Custer, SD 57730, Tel: +1-605-673-8300, Fax: +1-605-673-8397.
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.


1900 discovered by Frank and Albert Michaud, and Charles Bush hearing wind rushing through a hole in the rocks in Hell Canyon.
07-FEB-1908 Jewel Cave National Monument was established to protect the small(!) but extraordinarily beautiful cave.
1933 National Park Service assumes management of the monument.
1939 first tours of the cave offered.
1959 Herb and Jan Conn made their first expedition into Jewel Cave. Since then they have discovered and explored many additional kilometers of passages.


an intersection through the dogtooth spars shows us their structure.

Jewel Cave is one of the great show caves around the Black Hills in South Dakota. It is a National Monument and quite exceptional for several reasons. It is famous for its huge calcite crystals called Speleothemdogtooth spars. And then it is the 3rd-longest cave system of the world [2022], with a length of 335 kilometers. Much of this cave system was discovered and surveyed by Herb and Jan Conn, who described the story of this exploration in their book The Jewel Cave Adventure; Fifty Miles of Discovery Under South Dakota. They began in 1959 and the book is from 1977, and it covers the discovery of more than 100 kilometers of cave. And since they retired the new discoveries went on and on. The character of the cave is special, there are huge sections with chambers and huge passages, which are connected by very narrow and difficult intersections. Every time such an intersection is found, the cave size increases substantially.

The cave was discovered by prospectors, since the gold rush 1875–1878 there were numerous mines in the area. The brothers Frank and Albert Michaud and Charles Bush discovered the cave by hearing wind rushing through a hole. The entrance was too narrow to enter, so they had to widen it first with dynamite. They named the cave Jewel Cave because of the sparkling crystals inside. They filed a mining claim on the "Jewel Lode", but they found no valuable minerals, so they tried turning the cave into a tourist attraction instead. The business was never a success, but the cave did attract attention. For a few years the cave was unattended, and the accessible part was destroyed by people taking away the calcite crystals as souvenirs. Fortunately the cave was finally protected by Presidential Proclamation in 1908, when it became a National Monument. This protected the beautiful and extraordinary new discoveries from destruction. In the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps developed the area around the natural entrance and the National Park Service assumed management of the monument. It was first opened as a show cave in 1939.

Jewel Cave is famous for extraordinary speleothems. Most impressive are the so-called dogtooth spars, which are huge calcite crystals covering the walls. Chambers and clefts covered with such crystals all over make the visitor feel like walking inside an extra large geode. Additionally, many rare speleothems were found in Jewel Cave, like boxwork, frostwork, and hydromagnesite balloons.

Today's visitors enter a part of the cave, which was discovered during the mid 20th century. This part of the cave is entered by an elevator directly from the visitors center. The development of the paths was done very carefully to minimize the impact on the cave. The Discovery Tour is a brief 20-minute introduction to the natural and cultural history of Jewel Cave National Monument. Visitors stay in the Target Room, the chamber in which the elevator ends. This includes almost no walking and no stairs, so this is actually a tour for elderly and is also fully wheelchair accessible. This is actually quite exceptional, there are only about a dozen show cave in the world which are actually wheelchair accessible.

The tour for the normal visitor is called Scenic Tour. You enter and exit the cave by elevator in the visitor center, but the tour nevertheless has 734 steps on a 80 minutes round course. This is the tour wher you will see all the different speleothems.

The historic entrance is not part of the regular tours, you may see it on the Historic Lantern Tour. This tour is a bit strenuous and offered only during the summer. The path is not paved, there are wooden stairs and narrow passages. And you have to carry a lantern, we guess a LED headlamp is against the rules.Although there are only 600 steps this is said to be the most strenuous tour. It requires bending, stooping, duck walking, and even some ladders.

The park also offers cave trekking, which is called Wild Caving Tour. It takes 3-4 hours and is a real caving tour, or let's say a beginners tour. There is crawling and some climbing involved, but no spectacular abseil or so.