Wind Cave National Park

South Dakota – June 2016

Treasure Above and Below

There is a National Park where you can take an elevator ride to the depths of the earth and enjoy ranger guided tours through one of the longest caves in the world! Go to Wind Cave National Park to see enchanting cave formations that grace the underground labyrinth where park rangers will guide you and your little spelunkers. Go to wander horizontally and vertically through the darkness, sometimes in narrow passageways that open into towering cathedral rooms. Intricate, weirdly wonderful cave formations like stalactites, popcorn, bacon, and box work are visible nearly everywhere. This place is a magical wonderland where imagination commingles with profound learning opportunities.

The topside offers its own beauty set in the Black Hills of South Dakota where American bison and other wildlife are easily discovered. Pine trees and grass prairies abound, and scenic pull offs offer many a great opportunity for that perfect photo.

American Bison Windcave NP

Junior Ranger Badge

Pick up a Junior Ranger Activity Book from the Wind Cave Visitor Center and let your children complete the booklet. When completed, return it to a park ranger for them to take the park pledge and earn a Junior Ranger Badge! Don’t forget to drop some money in the donation box to pay for the expenses. At Wind Cave, children will learn about:

  • Cave Discovery
  • Habitats and Diversity
  • Water’s journey
  • Fire Ecology

Windcave NP Junior Ranger

Extra Tips

To enter the cave, you must purchase a guided tour ticket at the Wind Cave Visitor Center. Tours begin at the visitor center. Tours do sell out, so it is best to arrive early in the day to purchase your tickets. It is possible to make reservations ahead of time for both the Candlelight Tour (minimum age 8) and the Wind Cave Tour (minimum age 16) by calling 605-745-4600. Other tours are available including: Garden of Eden, Natural Entrance, and Fairgrounds. In order to select the appropriate tour for your family, please visit the park website for tour descriptions. The park website discusses tour features including recommendations and restrictions.

For our trip, we made advanced reservations for the Candlelight Tour. Make reservations at least one month prior. Our children were 10 and 13, and so our family met the 8-year-old age restriction. Small buckets with candles, tipped sideways, are used as lanterns. Everyone (including children) carries their own candle bucket. No electronic devices, including cameras are allowed. The tour was thrilling, but somewhat strenuous and the surface was very uneven. No sandals are allowed. The kids were enthralled with the deep sense of adventure. The intense quiet and dark of the cave left a surreal feeling of peace for a long time, even after we left. Beyond the adventure and learning about the science and history of the cave, that peaceful feeling was an unanticipated bonus!

Comfortable, stable, closed toe walking shoes are an absolute must. Bring a jacket. The ground surface in the cave is uneven and can be slippery. Also, it can be quite chilly underground, even when warm and sunny on the surface. Bring a jacket or sweatshirt.

Control your children – yes, I really did write that. If you cannot, a cave tour isn’t for them. It is dark down there, like pitch black. You don’t want kids darting away from you or getting in the path of other visitors. The trip underground can be disorienting and for safety reasons, everyone needs to be able to concentrate on the traverse and not worry about errant children.

Parking becomes more limited later in the day, especially for RVs. If you are driving a motor home or pulling a travel trailer, we highly recommended that you arrive early.

Remember

Do not wear shoes or clothing that have been in any other cave, except Jewel Cave or Wind Cave. A mass extinction is currently underway in the United States. White-Nose Syndrome has killed over 5 million bats since 2006. Bats might not be particularly cuddly creatures, but they are essential to pest control and critical to a healthy ecosystem. White-Nose Syndrome is caused by a fungus that disturbs the bats during hibernation causing them to essentially starve. Spores may easily travel on your clothing or other items, so please protect the bats in your national park sites and follow these park rules.

Where to Eat

There are no restaurant or grocery services available in the park. The best itinerary includes arriving when the visitor center opens, purchasing tickets, and then a picnic lunch before finding time to hike in the park, or explore other nearby areas. See itinerary below. If you head to Hot Springs afterwards, check out  Woolly’s Western Grill  located at 1648 US HWY 18 Hot Springs, SD 57747; 605-745-6414.

When to Go

You just cannot beat South Dakota for Independence Day fun! Plan a complete summer vacation, including a visit to Wind Cave National Park during the first week of July. The weather is fantastic and there are so many things to do! For more information, we highly recommend you obtain a South Dakota Travel Vacation guide. You can either download at https://www.travelsouthdakota.com, or give them a call at 1-800-732-5682 and they will mail one to you.

Where to Stay

There are so many exceptional places to stay in the area! From tent camping to luxurious lodging, the Custer, South Dakota area is comprehensive in accommodations.  The Elk Mountain Campground is the only campground within the Wind Cave National Park boundaries and sites are first-come, first-served. Outside of the park, nearby Custer State Park offers plentiful campgrounds, and other lodging including motels and cabins.

Our Itinerary

I am an obsessive planner when it comes to our vacations! I usually keep us on a packed schedule, with scheduled down-time. We our providing our itinerary as an example, only. There are so many variables that you must consider for your own family but this may give you a start in planning your own excellent Black Hills vacation.

Driving Time Activities (July 3, 2016)
Badlands to Wind Cave Leave @ 6:30 Drive to: Wind Cave National Park (2.25 Hours) Hwy 44 W thru Scenic to Rapid City, Route 79 S. approx. 50 miles to U.S. Route 385. Right onto U.S. Route 385 North, then continue through Hot Springs. U.S. Hwy 385 another 6 miles N. and into Wind Cave National Park.
  8:00 – 10:30 Wind Cave Visitor Center located 11 miles north of Hot Springs off U.S. Hwy 385, about 1/2 mile west from the highway. Do not use your GPS to find the visitor center — you will get lost.
  10:30-12:30 Wind Cave Candle Light Tour – Reservations are accepted beginning one month before the tour and must be made by phone or in person. Please call 605-745-4600 Reservations for Candle Light Tour @ 10:30 (Long Pants, Shirt, Boots & Mittens)
  1:00 Packed picnic lunch in parking lot @ Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave NP to Mammoth Site 1:30-3:30 Drive to Hot Springs, SD and tour Mammoth Site 1800 US 18 Bypass Hot Springs, SD 57747; 605-745-6017
Walk to Wooly’s Western Grill 3:30-4:00 Ice Cream at Woolly’s Western Grill 1648 US HWY 18 Hot Springs, SD 57747; 605-745-6414
Mammoth Site to Fort Welikit 4:00 – 5:00 Fort Welikit Family Campground 24992 Sylvan Lake Rd Custer, SD 57730; 888-946-2267
  5:00 – 6:00 Set up camper and quick dinner
Drive to Bismark Lake (near Stockade Lake) 6:00-Sunset Fly fishing at Stockade or Bismark Lake 

89 South 16A East

Badlands National Park

South Dakota – 07/2016 (17 out of 61)

An Unexpected Beauty

Badlands National Park Vistas

Take you kids here to summit colorful dirt hill. Badlands National Park offers a glimpse at the remnant West. Stunning colorful vistas, abundant wildlife, and unique geology await you in Dakota territory. Your family will have the opportunity to watch wild bison languidly grazing in green valleys. Bighorn sheep can be spotted throughout the park; and prairie dog towns offer insight into animal social structures. Burrowing owls are frequent visitors too!

The geologic history of the area offers budding fossil hunters ample opportunity to spot finds. With the substantial rate of erosion of the soft surrounding matrix rock, the re-mineralized fossils stand out sharply. Go for a long hike and try spotting rhino, horse, camel, saber-tooth cat, turtle, crocodile, and snail fossils that lived here over 50 million years ago! Don’t touch, but instead snap a picture and fill out a find form at the Paleontology Lab in the Ben Reifel Visitor Center! A ranger will examine your photo, take location information, and try to identify it if possible. When you’re ready to grab some souvenirs. The gift shop adjacent to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center features beautiful Northern Plain Native artwork.

Junior Ranger Badge:

Pick up a Junior Ranger Activity Book from the Ben Reifel Visitor Center and let your children complete the booklet. When completed, return it to a park ranger for them to take the park pledge and earn a Junior Ranger Badge! Don’t forget to drop some money in the donation box to pay for the expenses. At Badlands, children will learn about:
• The Lakota
• Rattlesnakes
• Plant Adaptations
• Stratigraphy
• Paleontology

Remember

It is illegal to take fossils from within park boundaries. According to 36 CFR Chapter I “…the following is prohibited: (1) Possessing, destroying, injuring, defacing, removing, digging, or disturbing from its natural state: (iii) Non-fossilized and fossilized paleontological specimens, cultural or archeological resources, or the parts thereof. (iv) A mineral resource or cave formation or the parts thereof.
Please, do the right thing and leave treasures where you find them.Educate your children as well. Remember, park rangers carry binoculars. If you are caught, you will be prosecuted.

Badlands National Park Fossil

Extra Tips

Enjoy ranger programs. There is so much knowledge to be gained in a national park and park ranger programs are a fun way for kids to learn. Ranger programs we enjoyed included a geology hike and fossil talk. Both events were held in the “field” where kids can look and touch which helps them retain knowledge. Rangers love to answer questions! Always plan to stop at a Visitor Center at the beginning of your trip to find when and where programs will be available during your visit. Beyond ranger programs, they frequently have other unique activities. For example, during our visit we enjoyed an evening performance by the Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble! Free!

Explore other nearby activities. Snag another Junior Ranger Badge as you teach your children about the madness of the cold war at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. Check out the famous Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota, the ultimate roadside tourist trap. Seriously, there is nothing like this place and you must go! Where else can you get a picture riding a jackelope? Other local attractions include the National Grasslands Visitor Center, and the Wounded Knee Museum.

Ride a Jackalope

Where to Eat

Within the park boundaries, you can dine at Cedar Pass Restaurant and enjoy a Navajo Taco! Ok, so, they call them Sioux Indian Tacos here, but I grew up in Utah and they will always be Navajo Tacos to me. Whatever you call these delicious fry bread delicacies, they are a must have treat to look for whenever we are near Indian Territory.

When to Go

Nothing beats South Dakota for Independence Day fun! Plan a complete summer vacation, including a visit to Badlands National Park during the first week of July. The weather is fantastic and there are so many things to do! For more information, we highly recommend you obtain a South Dakota Travel Vacation Guide. You can either download at https://www.travelsouthdakota.com, or give them a call at 1-800-732-5682 and they will mail it to you.

Badlands National Park 1

Petrified Forest National Park

Arizona –  Visited June 2009

Trees Rock

Fossil formation and remnants of the past are abound in this picturesque, remote National Park. These natural processes offer a unique opportunity to excite young minds. In-the-field activities are the most exacting way to understand geological processes in a comprehensive and lasting way. Would your children rather look at pictures of fossils in a book or see them in-situ in the wide expanse of the west?

Exploration of Petrified Forest National Park provides the opportunity to see into the past, present and future. You can look backwards into the Triassic period (245-215 million years ago)! This park offers one of the most continuously preserved portions of this period anywhere in the world. Both plant and dinosaur fossils from this period are found throughout the park. In its present, you can see the scientific processes responsible for our world. We use both the past and present to predict the future of this park as we learn how erosion and altering climate continues to alter these lands.

Junior Ranger Badge

  • Geological Processes
  • Painted Desert and Sedimentology
  • Paleontology (Triassic)
  • Fossil Formation
  • Wildlife
  • Appreciation of Scenic Vistas
  • Archaeology

Reminder

This is a National Park. Federal law prohibits collection or removal of any objects, most especially petrified wood from its setting! Please, leave that pretty rock right where you found it for the next person to enjoy.

Extra Tips

Experience unique cultures and art. Here, you are in one of the most profoundly beautiful, spiritual, and culturally exquisite places in the western United States. The Interstate 40 corridor (aka Route 66) between Albuquerque and Flagstaff offers wide open, colorful scenic views.

In New Mexico, both Gallup and Grants provide the opportunity to shop for artistic treasures made in the nearby Hopi, Zuni, and Navajo Nation Reservations. The prices and people are fantastic. Many of the roadside restaurants in these small towns have exceptional New Mexican (spicy) cuisine with a specialties being chili verde and Navajo tacos. Our favorite place to eat is Aurelia’s Diner located at 2502 East Historic Highway 66, Gallup, NM.

Explore archeological wonders. There are numerous other national treasures in the area that just simply should not be missed. The archaeologic and historic sites in the area are the ‘Machu Picchu of the United States’. One of the best ways to find other parks to explore is to view the index websites available on the National Parks website, which offers both a map and index view simultaneously. The index page for Arizona can be found at https://www.nps.gov/state/az/index.htm and the index page for New Mexico can be found at https://www.nps.gov/state/nm/index.htm.

Where to Stay

Considering the remote location of Petrified Forest National Park, most likely lodging will be found at the beginning or ending of your route in either Flagstaff or Albuquerque. The closest lodging can be found in Holbrook, or Chambers Arizona, which both offer Days Inn accommodations.

Grand Canyon National Park

Arizona – Visited September 2007

Eternal Dirt

The Grand Canyon is expansive, in every possible! The soaring vistas, the precarious recognition of your small self in the larger natural world carry peace from your spirit to the other side. The contrasting colors of the sky and stratigraphy paint images that will last an entire lifetime.

Dirt. How exclamatory that those simple grains of dirt created this miracle. Small, individual grains that slowly found themselves deposited in layers for millennia; and small individual grains correspondingly eventually washed away to places beyond, leaving the great gouge in the earth as the Colorado Plateau lifts higher into the sky. It is the largest canyon on earth at 10 miles wide and one mile deep.

Take your children here. Let them play in the dirt, let them sit on the ground and feel this great geologic connection. Let them eat it, be covered in it, combine with it, know it. In your home, you abhor it. You spend hours vacuuming it, dusting it, mopping it. But here, in this space, in this place it is the stuff of magic.

Extra Tip – Use Pedal Power

Bikes and National Park camping seem to go hand in hand. Bikes offer a quick way to access various locations within the parks, limit vehicular traffic, noise and air pollution, and offer a unique opportunity to enjoy the fresh air while getting from place to place. There are ample paved trails available. With younger children, the bike trailer offered a great way for us to get from the campsite to the rim and all of the activities surrounding. Bike rentals are available on the South Rim and all park shuttle buses are equipped with bicycle racks. There are only two locations where bicycle are not allowed, and you certainly would not want to use them in these locations anyway. They include inside the Grand Canyon (below the rim), of course silly. You may also not ride along any paved or unpaved portion of the Canyon Rim Trail, because it’s a long way down. Check the NPS website for more information on bicycling in the Grand Canyon.

DSCF0106 (2)

Where to Stay:

There is an abundance of accommodations both within and outside of most national park boundaries. The Grand Canyon National Park is certainly no exception, but due to its extreme popularity, advanced planning is paramount.

Within park boundaries: There are three campgrounds within Grand Canyon National Park, two of which can be reserved through the National Recreation Reservation Service by calling 1-877-444-6777 or online at http://www.recreation.gov/.

Our family stayed at Mather Campground, located on the South Rim accommodating both tent and RV.

When to Go:

October

Junior Ranger Badge – Why Geology, Of Course!

Understanding the geologic processes that provide this mesmerizing expanse is certainly the primary theme. On the large scale, there is the canyon itself, but even on the smaller scale ranger led fossil tours allow children the hands on experience of exploration. Also, don’t miss the opportunity to learn about the incredible animals that call this place home.