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National Park Adventures

Bringing Dogs to Wind Cave National Park

Located in western South Dakota only a couple hours from the Badlands, is Wind Cave National Park. This lesser-known national park is one of America’s oldest national parks. Wind Cave was signed into being by Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, becoming the nation’s 8th national park. 

Wind Cave National Park’s rolling prairie grasslands are home to bison, elk, and other wildlife. But below the prairies, is the main attraction: one of the longest and most complex caves in the world. In fact, this national park is named for the barometric winds found at the entrance of this cave.

The cave system in Wind Cave National Park is one of the largest mapped caves in the world. The sixth-largest in the world and the United State’s third-largest. Over 142 miles of cave passages have been mapped. 

Besides its size, a unique feature of Wind Cave is the boxwork formations. Wind Cave contains over 95% of the world’s known boxwork formations.  Interested in learning more about Wind Cave’s boxwork – head over to the Wind Cave National Park official website.

Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed in the cave, but there are a few areas of this national park that dogs are allowed to explore with their humans. 

Dog-Friendly Activities in Wind Cave National Park

Dogs are welcome at Wind Cave National Park with several limitations. 

  • Dogs must be restrained on a leash no longer than six feet. 
  • Pets should not be left unattended (and they do check. We had the RV parked near the visitor center and had two staff members walk up to check the dogs until they saw us inside with the pups). 
  • Pet waste needs to be picked up. 
  • Dogs are not allowed in the backcountry, in the cave, or on most hiking trails

As long as those regulations are followed, pets are allowed in the following areas:

  • Grassy Areas near the Visitor Center
  • The Elk Mountain Campground and the Elk Mountain Nature Trail
  • The Prairie Vista Nature Trail, located near the visitor center. 

The nps.gov site also offers a list of boarding options for those who want to visit the ranger-led programs, cave tours, public buildings and backcountry/hiking trails beyond the two trails listed above. More details about the pet rules and regulations at Wind Cave National Park can be found on the official website.

During our visit, we hiked the Elk Mountain Nature Trail with our two dogs. One of the great perks about both of the dog-friendly nature trails is that they are within fenced areas. This means that you don’t have to worry about encountering buffalo herds during your walk. The downside to them being in fenced-off areas is that they are shorter trails. Both are about a mile in length. 

The Elk Mountain Nature trail provided a nice mile walk through some prairie grasses and a small forested area. The Prairie Vista Nature trail is reported to be a roughly 1-mile hike through prairie terrain. 

Dog-Friendly Camping at Wind Cave National Park 

There is one campground in Wind Cave National Park. Elk Mountain Campground straddles the edge of a ponderosa pine forest and open prairie. The campsites are first-come, first-served. There are a total of 61 sites. Flush toilets and drinking water are available from late spring to early fall. Campsite fees are half-priced when water is not available. 

While we did not camp at Wind Cave National Park, we did walk the Elk Mountain Nature Trail. As a result, we were able to see the nicely spaced campsites spread through the edge of the pine forest and among the prairie grasses. Overall, it appeared to be a nice campground. 

Where did we end up camping before and after our visit to Wind Cave National park? 

The night before, we found a free campsite in the town of Douglas, Wyoming. This free city park was amazing and right along our route from Grand Tetons National Park. There was a common area with lush thick grass for picnicking on. The park was quiet. We were able to grill our dinner on the park grills and then take an evening walk around the historic downtown. 

Below are some pictures of our campsite in Douglas, Wyoming.

To top it all off, there was also a free spot to dump and fill our RV. So if you are traveling through Douglas, Wyoming, consider an overnight in this quaint town. And don’t forget to grab a donut at the local bakery – they were fantastic! Find out more about this location at freecampsites.net.

We visited Badlands National Park on the same day we visited Wind Cave, so our campsite after Wind Cave was located just to the west of Badlands National Park. We found a campsite in Wasta, South Dakota that included electricity and a dump/fill station for $10/night. Here is the link to the freecampsite.net details for our Wasta, South Dakota campsite.

Dog-Friendly Activities in the Surrounding Area

If you are looking for dog-friendly hiking in this region, we recommend visiting Custer State Park. Custer State Park encompasses 71,00 acres in the Black Hills. If you decide to explore this state park, please note: you may want to bring your car (rather than an RV) on this trip so you can take full advantage of the scenic drives.

Filled with granite peaks, rolling plains, mountain waters, and open prairie, Custer State Park has something for everyone. And leashed pets are welcome throughout this state park. 

We visited Wind Cave National Park at the end of our road trip and were on a little bit of a time crunch to get back to Minnesota, so we didn’t take the time to explore Custer State Park. But GoPetFriendly.com has two articles about visiting this area of South Dakota. Check out their blog posts “The Black Hills/Custer State Park” and “Pet-Friendly Custer State Park in South Dakota.”  

If you are looking for nearby national parks to explore, head northeast to Badlands National Park or drive up to North Dakota to explore Theodore Roosevelt National Park. 

Overall Dog-Friendliness of Wind Cave National Park

Honestly, while we enjoyed driving through this park and taking a short hike along the Elk Mountain Nature Trail, we were unable to visit the main attraction of Wind Cave National Park – the cave itself. As a result, Wind Cave National Park is near the bottom of our list of dog-friendly national parks. 

If you truly want to explore the cave, consider utilizing one of the boarding facilities located just outside of this national park. But don’t skip the area completely, there are a lot of dog-friendly activities in the Black Hills region of South Dakota.

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