Jewel Cave offers three different tour packages to the public requiring a differing level of experience. The Scenic Tour is a basic tour that most people can handle. You do have to walk up and down 723 stairs but they are divided up through the 1/2 mile tour and there are a number of places to rest along the way (but you do have to keep up with the group). The steps in places can be very steep and if you have a serious fear of heights you may want to factor that in to your visit. The pathways are some of the best in the park service, and the metal platforms are clean and offer good traction. Expect to take about 1-1/2 hours on the tour. You can not make reservations for the the scenic tour in advance, so you should try to arrive early in the day, afternoon waits of two to three hours are not uncommon. If your schedule does not allow, you can buy a ticket for a time later in the day and come back, but be sure not to miss your tour! The scenic tour is open to children of any age, but again due to the stairs strollers will not be allowed on the tour.
A 1-3/4 hour Historic Tour is also offered. The Historic Tour is a 1930's style adventure carrying lanterns provided by the Monument. The tour enters and leaves the cave through the historic entrance and views the cave from an unpaved trail. This tour is considered strenuous and you should be in good physical condition. At a 1/2 mile long the route includes some steep steps, and will require a degree of bending, stooping, and flexing. Children under six years of age are not permitted on the Historic Tour.
During the summer months park rangers dress in historic 1930'ies uniforms when they conduct the tours. It is an interesting view into our past. Jewel Cave has an incredible amount of manganese in it, so if you go on the historic tour you should wear clothes that you are willing to get dirty.
A Spelunking Tour is also offered for those visitors seeking a true caving adventure. This 4 to 5 hour tour twist and turns through 2/3 of a mile of Jewel Cave. The park service will provide you with your headlamp but you will be required to provide all other equipment. You will have to pass a number of tests, including wriggling through a 18" X 24" passageway before being allowed to enter the cave. People with a fear of heights or claustrophobia should take those concerns into account. Children under 16 are not permitted and advanced reservations are required. This is the ultimate caving experience offered in the Black Hills.
If you are a true caver, there are exploration opportunities at Jewel Cave. The current "cave commute" to get to uncharted territory is about six hours one way, and current exploration missions last about 20 hours. You will have to provide all of your own equipment while on an exploration expedition and should have a lot of caving experience. This is a rare opportunity for an average citizen to explore uncharted territory in an ongoing research product. Most exploring is going on in the southeast section of the cave, where most of the airflow indicates large sections unexplored.
Above Ground Activities At Jewel Cave National Monument...