The Discovery Tour At Jewel Cave National Monument
- Date Visited: August 2021
- Address: 11149 US-16 B-12, Custer, SD 57730
- Phone: (605) 673-8300
- Hours: Varies By Season
- Price: $6
Jewel Cave was discovered in 1900 and President Theodore Roosevelt declared it a National Monument on February 7, 1908.
It is located near Custer, South Dakota and offers numerous cave tours and even some hiking trails for visitors to enjoy today. It is the third longest cave system in the world with over 210 miles of mapped and surveyed passages.
All tours at Jewel Cave are ranger guided and a total of four different tours are offered here. These tours include the Discovery Tour, Scenic Tour, Historic Lantern Tour and Wild Caving Tour. Tour times and the type of tours offered vary throughout the season.
For more information visit their official website for times.
Visitors are encouraged to make advanced tour reservations through Recreation.gov, because time slots and tour size is limited. Some Discovery Tours and some Scenic Tours are available on-site, in person, on a first come, first served basis though. We just got there early and got in line for our tickets.
The temperature inside Jewel Cave is 49 degrees Fahrenheit year round. So if you get chilly I suggest bringing a light jacket or long sleeves. It was quite warm on the day we visited and we wore shorts and t-shirts on our hike, but wore a jacket in the cave.
Sandals and open toed shoes of any kind are absolutely NOT permitted to be worn during the cave tour. So make sure you are wearing tennis shoes, sneakers, or hiking boots when you visit.
Jamey and I both had our Chaco hiking sandals on and were told we would not be allowed on the tour. We luckily always carry tennis shoes in our truck though so after a quick wardrobe change we got our tickets.
Head on over to their website to get all the rules and regulations for what you need to know for a successful cave tour.
We were limited on time and wanted to hike the 3 1/2 mile Canyon Trail at the monument as well so opted to do the short and cheap Discovery Tour.
This particular ranger led tour was only $6 and 20 minutes long and is limited to 20 people. Truthfully, they seemed to be slow that day and our group asked a lot of questions so it ended up being closer to 40 minutes.
This is an introduction to Jewel Cave’s natural and cultural histories and takes place in one large cave room called the Target Room.
Two types of calcite crystals, nailhead spar and dogtooth spar, are seen during this tour. These sparkling calcite crystals are the “jewels” that Jewel Cave got it’s name from. During the tour you will learn how the cave was formed and about it’s discovery.
Normally you would enter and exit the cave by an elevator in the Visitor Center, but they were in the process of rebuilding it when we were there so we had to walk a 1/4 mile trail down to another entrance to the cave. It was an easy downhill hike, but the trek back was uphill the entire time and took a bit more effort.
While the tour was informative and the Target Room was cool to explore we weren’t that impressed.
Two days earlier we had taken a much longer tour at Wind Cave National Park and I think that experience was much better. If you have the time I would highly recommend taking one of the longer Jewel Cave tours that let you explore a much larger part of the cave. On our next time through that’s what we plan to do.
That being said if you have children with short attention spans this is a great and reasonably priced tour that still gives the little ones the opportunity to get inside the cave. It’s also handicap accessible for those unable to go trekking through the caves on a two hour tour.
Also sorry for the poor quality of the pictures. I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t get good pics while we were down there. The cave looks much cooler than what the photos portray.