Avoiding the Crowds
The highest visitation at Jewel Cave occurs June through August. With around 1,274 acres above the surface and annual visitation of approximately 105,000, Jewel Cave is rarely overcrowded, even at the height of the season. However, because space on each tour is limited and more than 90,000 visitors participate in a cave tour annually, you should anticipate a wait to enter the cave. If you want to keep your wait to a minimum, reservations are strongly recommended.
The visitor center has books and brochures, and park rangers can assist travelers in planning their visit, pointing out interpretive programs, and answering questions about the park's cultural, historical, and geologic resources. Up-to-date cave information and tour tickets are available at the center, which is open daily year-round, except for Thanksgiving, December 25, and January 1.
There is no entry fee for the national monument, but there is a charge for all cave tours. The Scenic and Lantern tours cost $8 ($4 for children ages 6-16); the Discovery tour is $4 for adults and no charge for children under 16; the Wild Caving tour is $27. Reservations can be made by calling tel. 605/673-8300. Holders of the National Park Pass and their immediate families can take the Discovery tour free of charge, but not the other tours. Holders of the Senior Pass and Golden Access Pass and up to three family members can take the Discovery tour with no charge. If the holder wishes to take the Scenic, Lantern, or Wild Caving tour, only the cardholder may receive the benefit of a half-price tour.
SPpecial Regulations & Warnings
Low-heeled, rubber-soled shoes are highly recommended because trails can be slippery; stair-climbing is required on each tour. A jacket, sweater, or sweatshirt will keep you comfortable in the 49°F (9°C) year-round temperature of the cave. Persons with respiratory or heart problems or who have been recently hospitalized, have lower joint problems, or have a fear of heights or confined spaces should talk with a park ranger before selecting a tour. Damaging or even touching cave formations is prohibited because of the fragile and irreplaceable nature of the formations. Pets and smoking are not allowed in the visitor center or the cave. Cameras are permitted on cave tours, but tripods are not.
Tips from the Chief of Interpretation
"Jewel Cave is one of the most structurally complex caves in the world and it is still being explored," according to Chief of Interpretation Bradley Block. "This is not a cave that has been fully mapped, and it's probable that it will not be fully explored in any of our lifetimes." He adds, "To this point, we have been very successful in developing a visitor experience that allows people to enjoy the cave in a relatively pristine state."
For travelers with children over 6, Block recommends the "adventurous experience" of a Historical Lantern Tour into the cave, the park's Junior Ranger Program, and the variety of surface programs that augment the cave tours.
Fall, winter, and spring are ideal times to visit the cave, Block says. Even with arctic blasts on the surface, temperatures within the cave are constant at 49°F (9°C), with humidity averaging 98%. "In the middle of winter, it can actually be quite pleasant in the cave," says Block.
The National Park Service publishes brochures covering a variety of topics, such as bats, birds, surface trails, wild caving tours, and the history and exploration of the cave. Also refer to the park website at www.nps.gov/jeca.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.