Exploring the Black Hills: Caving in Winter

Want a new activity that the whole family can enjoy, even when it’s cold outside? Did you know that the Black Hills have several landmark cave systems? Caves are excellent places to explore any time of the year but during the winter caves are not plunged into cold like the rest of the outdoors!

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 In fact, most caves will remain around 49-54 degrees during the winter months. It’s a great excuse to explore the Black Hills. You’ll learn about geology and enjoy physical activity during our cold season.

 Nearby caves include Wind Cave, Jewel Cave and Rushmore Cave, along with several smaller cave systems. Each of these caves and caverns offer spectacular opportunities to learn about our history and region and many offer guided tours for inexperienced spelunkers.

 Want to know the difference between stalactites and stalagmites? Stalactites start at the top and travel down to the floor of the cave. Stalagmites start on the floor and creep up – they MIGHT (haha get it – mite?) make it to the roof of the cave if they keep growing.

 Here are some hints for caving in the wintertime:

  • Prepare: Call to see which caves have tour packages available in winter and map out the trip in advance. While cave interiors remain comfortable during winter, roads around them may still be an issue. Check on road and weather conditions before you leave home.

  • Book in advance: Check on tour schedules. You don’t want to drive all the way out to Jewel Cave or any other destination only to find they’re closed. If you’re a novice spelunker, be sure to ask them what you need to do or bring.

  • Dress: Caves aren’t dirty but they can be dusty. Plan to dress in multiple layers of thin sporting apparel. Make sure you also have a backpack for each person so you have a place to put items that you remove. Tie back longer hair and wear appropriate footwear (rubber-soled shoes with a good grip). Hands and other extremities may get cold so take gloves or hand-warmers.

  • Cameras and other equipment: Most local caves allow for flash photography but ask in advance. Cellphone service will not work inside the caves so plan to post your candid photos to social media after you return to civilization. And of course, be sure to have some bottled water.

  • Length of time. It’s always a good idea to let your friends and family know where you’ll be on weekend trips into the Hills. Since you won’t have cellphone service in the caves, be sure to plan your trip in advance including finding out how long you can expect to spend inside the caves as well as the drive to and from.

 So, if you’ve never been caving in our region, you’re in luck! Winter time is an excellent season to explore the beautiful Black Hills. Caving is also a fun cold-weather recreation for the whole family that doesn’t involve freezing your toes off!