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What Is Wind Cave National Park?

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  • Written By: Daphne Mallory
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 07 November 2016
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Wind Cave National Park is located in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It’s known for having one of the longest cave systems in the world. The area within the park’s boundaries encompasses 28,295 acres (about 11,450 hectares). Above ground, the park’s features include grassland prairie and ponderosa pine forests. There are also abundant forms of wildlife at Wind Cave National Park, including elk, bison, and mule deer. No one knows exactly how far Wind Cave extends underground, and it is still being explored to this day. The cave derives its name from the fact that the tunnels within it generate winds up to 70 miles per hour (about 112 km).

Native American stories about Wind Cave date back several centuries. White settlers located the cave in 1881 by following a whistling sound. When Jesse and Tom Bingham approached the cave entrance, the wind coming from the tunnel blew Tom’s hat off. The winds from the cave actually change direction based on the difference in barometric pressure between the cave and the surface. Mining claims were established at the cave, but did not produce anything of value. Claim owners then began offering paid tours to see the cave system. The cave became a popular tourist attraction, and President Theodore Roosevelt designated Wind Cave National Park in 1903.

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Visitors often come to take ranger-guided tours at Wind Cave National Park. The cave’s tunnels have been mapped at more than 136 miles (about 218 km) as of 2011, and more of it is being explored each year. As of 2011, it is the fourth longest cave that has been discovered in the world. Tours of the cave are available year round. Visitors are able to tour about one half mile (less than 1 km) of the cave. An elevator and steps have been built within the entrance. Park rangers warn that visitors should take extra care when touring the cave, because the steps can be damp and slippery. The park becomes crowded with tourists in the summer, and there is often a wait to purchase tickets to tour the cave.

Camping is an option when visiting Wind Cave National Park. There are campgrounds available for both tents and mobile homes. Water and flush toilets are available from spring through fall at the campgrounds. Visitors can stay for up to two weeks to view the wildlife, forests, and prairie grasslands at the park. More than a dozen nature trails are maintained for visitors to go hiking. Other activities include educational programs with park rangers and handicap-accessible tours of Wind Cave.

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