The Best Caves in South Dakota, USA: Complete List

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Beware: You should never explore wild caves alone or without proper gear. Consider getting in touch with a Grotto of the National Speleological Society at or a qualified cave club. These groups are skilled and will train you. Without sufficient knowledge, preparation, and equipment, cave exploring can lead to serious injury or death.

People love to visit South Dakota’s Black Hills to witness the magnificent Mount Rushmore in person. People looking for the best caves in America might not be aware that South Dakota offers some great sites. But as you’ll see in this article, there are certainly some great caving locations to visit here.

The Missouri River runs through the middle of the state, with lakes, fertile farmland, and hills on either side. The Great Plains feature canyons and small hills, while the state is also known for something called the Badlands. Here, explorers have discovered the remains of saber-toothed cats, three-toed horses, and even marine life from a sea that no longer exists here.

South Dakota was once one of the top locations for gold mining in America. Today, limestone, gravel, and sand are its most-mined resources.

While Mount Rushmore remains the biggest attraction, cavers visit some of these caves by the hundreds of thousands each year. Let’s take a look at some of these sites.

Bethlehem Cave Wild Adventure Park

This is a cave that has been closed due to new ownership, although this one may never open again.

Featuring some incredible speleothems across its walls that included stalactites, stalagmites, onyx, geodic crystals, and more, it was a small cave that certainly carried a lot.

However, likely due to its smaller size and low appeal relative to some of the other caves in the region (as well as Mount Rushmore itself), we can’t expect this one to ever be available again.

Black Hills Caverns

Black Hills Caverns was discovered back in 1882 by gold seekers. But centuries before this, the Lakota Indians had visited for its calcite crystals.

Today, the Adventure Tour and Crystal Tour offer a chance to explore the multiple levels of these caverns. Whether you’re going for a leisurely stroll (Crystal Tour), or a more in-depth and exhausting expedition (Adventure Tour), you will surely enjoy your trip to the Black Hills Caverns.

Gemstone panning is another activity offered here, where you get to identify various rocks, minerals, gems, and fossils found in the region.

Since these caves are just 15 minutes from the city’s center, you can easily make a trip when you find yourself in the Black Hills. The temperature here is about 48 F (8.9 C) year-round, and the caves are open between June and September.

A sign says "River of Ages, Please Do Not Touch", placed in the Black Hills Caverns by some unique formations.

Jewel Cave National Monument

Jewel Cave National Monument truly is a gem, when you consider the fact that it features the third longest cave in the world. If you’re wondering, Mammoth Cave in Kentucky is the longest cave in the world, at 367 miles (592 km). Sistema Ox Bel Ha comes in at 2nd place.

With approximately 215 miles (347 km) of mapped passageways, you just know you’re going to see a lot at Jewel Cave. There are massive rooms with boulders and glittering calcite crystals, as well as tight crawlways and dark fissures that will make you watch your step, twice.

Located in Custer, South Dakota, Jewel Cave National Monument is easily one of the best caves to explore in the state.

The caves are about 49 degrees year round, and guided tours of all kinds are available everyday. These include wild caving tours for you and your friends, but also historic lantern tours, scenic tours, and discovery tours for the more casual cavers.

If you want to learn more about Jewel Cave, we’ve dedicated a separate article to it here.

An image of one of Jewel Cave's massive formations, viewed from below.

Ludlow Cave

Located in Buffalo, Ludlow Cave holds some ancient history that will delight history enthusiasts. Back in 1874, explorers found walls coated with images. The Native peoples from generations ago had decorated these caves with bones, drawings, arrows, and more.

However, in the 1900s, a later expedition revealed that sandstone had broken off and crumbled from the walls, defacing many of these old images. Some of the pictographs remain, showing animals, totemic signs, and more.

Around the general region, many cave-like entrances can be found, but Ludlow Cave is well-known due to its history.

As you go deeper in the cave, the sunlight no longer illuminates the space, and that’s where the signs of the Natives ends. But for what it’s worth, it’s certainly fascinating and something to behold in person.

An image of some ancient scribbles on the wall inside Ludlow Cave.

Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave National Park is located about 30 miles away from Jewel Cave, but it’s another must-see site in South Dakota’s Black Hills. It’s one of the last remaining prairies in the country, with native wildlife that includes bison, elk, mule deer, coyotes, and more.

There are smaller crowds here than at most other national parks, which is a plus in my eyes. In addition, there’s plenty to explore here too. Wind Cave features 150 miles (241 km) of surveyed passages and a series of lakes hundreds of feet below the surface. The deepest area of these caves was last accessed in 1999.

It’s safe to call this one of the most underrated National Park in the country. It’s easily one of South Dakota’s best caves when you consider the size, and the bonus of less crowds is something worth considering.

An immaculate display of natural cave formations and the size of the Wind Caves in South Dakota.

Wonderland Caves

Some discovered artifacts proved that Wonderland Cave was frequented by Native Americans back in the 1800s. Today, this commercial cave offers tours of more than two dozen rooms.

Wonderland Cave is located in the city of Nemo, and it offers something most caves don’t. One of the largest variety of crystal formations in the Midwest awaits you. Something you might have noticed is that the caves in South Dakota offer lots of crystals, calcite in particular, and this cave is no exception.

Tour lengths are 45 minutes to an hour, and you will have to climb some steps (about 110), but it is worth it nonetheless.

You can see impressive formations like dogtooth spar, popcorn crystals, flowstone, and more. But plan your trip carefully, as Wonderland Cave is open only from May through October.

A beautiful blue and red lit display of the massive calcite formations in the Wonderland Caves of South Dakota.

Rushmore Cave

Rushmore Cave earns its name due to the fact that it’s the closest cave to the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. This is the ninth longest in South Dakota, but certainly one of the more fun caves in the state. It makes for a great second destination when you’re visiting the monument.

Over a process that took over 360 million years, which would have placed its beginnings in the Mississippian period, this cave gradually formed into what it is now.

Back then, there was a massive inland sea, covering the entire Black Hills area that we see now. Sea creatures and crustaceans that died there sank down to the sea floor, and their compressed bone fragments hardened to form the limestone that eventually gave way to create the cave.

Today, Rushmore Cave also features the Rush Mountain Adventure Park, with guided tours. In addition, there’s a spelunking adventure tour, which is only open in June and July, for the more extreme cavers. They probably mean you, right?

An image shows the massive stalactites and other formations in Rushmore Cave, one of the longest caves in South Dakota.

Sitting Bull Crystal Caverns

This majestic limestone cave is located near Mount Rushmore. Sitting Bull Crystal Caverns underwent a change in ownership, so it is unfortunately is no longer accessible to the public.

It’s a bit tragic, because it was known for its massive dogtooth calcite formations, and is already fitted with stairs for tourists to explore the dungeons below. We can only hope that the new owners will reopen it for public access soon.


South Dakota offers plenty of extraordinary sites for the whole family to enjoy. When you’re done with Mount Rushmore, and perhaps want even more caving opportunities than the ones listed here, consider some of the neighboring states for an extended trip.

Iowa Caves

Minnesota Caves

Montana Caves

Nebraska Caves

North Dakota Caves

Wyoming Caves

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