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James and I have been to the Black Hills area of South Dakota a couple different times over the years. Being a hub for famous outdoor attractions like Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Crazy Horse Memorial, and Custer State Park, it’s a pretty common destination for RVers in general and justifiably so. With its treasure trove of quirky little towns, mazes of caves, scenic vistas, and verdant forests, it’s hard not to fall instantly in love with the area.
But never in any of those past visits did we make it into Wind Cave National Park. It was always just a titch out of the way, with most of the Black Hills attractions more to the north. So when we finally made it into Wind Cave National Park, it was like getting to know the Black Hills in a whole new way.
Probably the only downside to the Black Hills area are the tourist crowds. It’s pretty much a given that you’ll share the area with lots of random fellow vacationers from all over the world. So when we rolled into Wind Cave National Park’s campground on a Friday during peak touristy season, imagine our surprise to find it not even half full. With the spaces so generously spread out in some of the loops, we felt like we were somewhere remote and wonderful.
There was pretty much no cell service, and that added to the welcomed solitude. Once Mel spotted a bunny family hanging just outside our site, he was just as excited as us about Wind Cave.
Fun Fact! Wind Cave National Park was the 8th national park and the first one set aside to protect a cave. The park is much more than a cave, though, and we learned that quite well since the cave was closed during our visit!! I know, right? Big Bummertown. But hey, it just means we have an excuse to go back. Keep on the sunny side, friends.
The cave is one of the most complex maze caves in the world and features the largest concentration of rare ‘boxwork’ formations anywhere. We saw some boxwork on display in the museum. It has a webby, honeycomb-looking texture made from thin blades of calcite that project from cave walls and ceilings.
Besides the cave itself, the park protects around 34,000 acres of forest and prairie on the surface, and has around 30 miles of hiking trails. Since we couldn’t do the cave tour, we honed in on the hiking and checking out the trails.
We start every national park visit at the visitor center, because it seems you always learn things from the rangers that isn’t in the literature. Sho ‘nuf! As we were there researching which hikes to do, the ranger let us know one of the trails we were planning was overrun with poison ivy and she recommended a different route. Rather useful information, wouldn’t you say!!!
Downstairs from the visitor center there’s a museum not to be missed. Check out the getup on this mannequin, depicting cave attire for women over 100 years ago. In fact this is also evening attire for women over 100 years ago! And bathing attire! And workout wear! And pajamas!!!
Seriously though, how do you crawl around a cave in a DRESS? Doesn’t it get caught under your knees and make you really angry and prone to snapping at your co-cavers? I’d have the thing shredded in about 10 minutes.
We did get to experience the cave breathing phenomenon at one of the cave vents. The air was blowing out pretty forcefully, and makes an interesting whooshing sound as it does so. That’s how the cave got its name, for the unusual barometric pressure event that happens at its opening… the air is either blowing out or sucking in, like the Earth itself is breathing.
Since we couldn’t tour the cave, we had plenty of time to bust out the bikes. It was hot, so we were thankful for Parky’s Pure3 lithium system since the Wind Cave campground had no hookups. We put the air on for Mel, gave him a few scratches goodbye, and we were off. It was super easy to ride out from the campground to anywhere around and beyond the park.
When you’re not familiar with an area, choosing bike routes can be a challenge! We use Strava Heat Map and Ride with GPS, but those only show us routes others are riding, we don’t get any rider feedback… like if there are shoulders, or how bad traffic is, if there are steep dropoffs (my own personal hangup there). So we set out on a loop ride from Wind Cave to the town of Custer and then back down by Custer State Park, not knowing what to expect. And wow gang, WE SCORED! Here’s a link to my Strava in case you want to save this one for yourselves (do it people!), or if you’re too lazy to click, here’s a screen cap:
This was my favorite ride of the year so far. Awesome shoulders, very little traffic, beautiful scenery, and random roadside curiosities:
That’s one of the big differences cycling vs driving. We’re going so slow on our bikes, we notice our surroundings much more. Much easier to stop and explore.
Here’s another weird and wacky find on our Wind Cave bike route:
Seems like there’s some artistic intention here, but we mostly had fun looking through all the bikes. James was especially excited when he spotted an old Huffy 12 speed just like one he had in high school!
Oh look! Here’s Large Wildlife On Roadway!
The sign I mean, people, not James sheesh.
Wind Cave National Park does have quite a wide variety of wildlife, large and small. You probably can’t tell in this picture but I’m pointing to a buffalo way out there across one of Wind Cave’s prairie dog villages:
Speaking of prairie dogs, we’re headed to Theodore Roosevelt National Park next!!! We’ve been there a couple times before and my favorite part of that park are SUPER CUTE PRAIRIE DOGS EVERYWHERE!!!
Stay tuned for that! I have a feeling Mel’s going to love staring at the prairie dog villages at Theodore Roosevelt NP, too. ALMOST as much as he loved Litterbox Heaven National Monument (also known as White Sands NM).
So yep, we had a blast hanging at Wind Cave National Park, and using the campground as our base camp for visiting the Black Hills. If you want to ditch the Black Hills tourist crowds, put this park on your radars!
And if you’ve been here yourselves, let’s hear about it! Leave your comments below and make my day.
See ya on the road, FitRV friends! Or even better, IN A PARK!