What’s my top choice for the must-see-destination in the US for 2014? Hot Springs, South Dakota. Ok, I know what you’re thinking, is she crazy? Let me clarify, specifically, Wind Cave National Park is my top choice for the must-see-destination in the US for 2014. Wind Cave NP is the first cave in the world to be named a National Park. It’s also the sixth place in the United States to be named a National Park. With such lauded sites as Yellowstone, Sequoia, Yosemite, Mount Rainier and Crater Lake National Parks holding the first five spots, Wind Cave certainly is in good company. So why haven’t most people heard of it?
I’ll go ahead and state the obvious; South Dakota is not the top of everyone’s list as a great vacation spot. Most people think of South Dakota and either their mind goes blank, or it goes straight to Wall Drug, I-90 and Mount Rushmore. The bikers in the crowd think of Sturgis. Trust me, there is way more to South Dakota. It is not a place to be overlooked. South Dakota is home to some incredible scenery, great wildlife, and plenty of opportunities for adventure. And, as mentioned above, it is home to Wind Cave National Park.
I’m beginning to digress. Let’s get back to Wind Cave and why it’s a must-see destination for 2014. Here are a few quick facts to bring you up to speed on the cave:
- It was established as National Park 1903 by Theodore Roosevelt (who happened to establish one of our other favorite national parks as well.)
- Wind Cave is the sixth-longest cave in the world, with over 140 miles of explored passage ways
- It also contains 95% of the world’s boxwork (really awesome calcite formations, which you can see in the photo below).
- Wind Cave got its name for two reasons:
- The Lakota Sioux talked about a hole in the earth that “blew air.” They believed Wind Cave was sacred and was the place they came out of the earth after the creation of the world.
- The first settlers to discover the cave were peering into the hole when a gust of wind came out and blew one of their hats off. (Scientifically speaking, all caves “breathe” in order to keep constant pressure between the inside of the cave and the outside air. Wind Cave has fewer openings to the outside world, and therefore its breath is a lot more noticeable.)
- Wind Cave National Park consists not only of the cave, but the prairie land above it, which serves as grazing land to bison, elk, pronghorn, and other wildlife. In fact, the Bison herds of Wind Cave are one of only four free-roaming, genetically pure herds in North America (thanks Wikipedia, and hooray to our other favorite NP mentioned earlier for also being on the list).
Now that you know a little more about the cave and park, which may be reason enough to book a trip, why else should you go? Here are three more reasons:
- Get off the beaten path and see a new part of the country. As I’ve mentioned, South Dakota isn’t on the top of everyone’s travel list. In my mind, that makes it a hidden gem. You can combine a visit to Wind Cave with hikes in the Black Hills, bike rides along the Mickelson Trail, visits to Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorials, and a night in Deadwood. It’s the perfect combination of nature, history, and over-all awesomeness.
- Preserve a Park: There are plenty of ways to see this area of South Dakota. I may be a little biased, but a South Dakota adventure vacation with Austin Adventures is a great way to do it. Not only does it take away the hassle of planning and executing your vacation, but it really benefits the park. Every year, Austin Adventures chooses a national park for its Preserve a Park Program. Ok, you’re saying, but what does that mean? For every person that books a South Dakota vacation package with us, we will donate $100 to Wind Cave NP and the non-profit Friends of Wind Cave organization. Pretty cool, huh?
- Feel the wind in your hair. Underground. As you already know, Wind Cave got its name for a reason. Don’t you want to experience it for yourself?
So there you have it, a totally cool national park that you might not have known about or thought to visit – until now. When you’re making your summer plans, I suggest you consider a South Dakota vacation that highlights Wind Cave National Park (wink, wink). Your significant other, friends, kids, or whoever you’re traveling with may question the choice at first, but they’ll be on bended knee thanking you as soon as they realize what a totally cool part of the country you’ve taken them to.
See you there!