Jewel Cave – Third Longest Cave in the World

A labyrinth of staircases

Custer, South Dakota.

Our goal on this day was to visit both Wind Cave and Jewel Cave, both located near Custer State Park in South Dakota. Roadwork blocked access to Wind Cave so it was temporarily closed, but we did make our planned visit to the Jewel Cave National Monument.

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Jewel Cave Visitor Center

Our tour started just a short distance from the parking lot at the visitor center. It is here where tours are scheduled and you receive an appointment time to meet your tour guide for the escorted trip into the cave.

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Cave entrance

Once we were given a time, we explored the visitor center, then a few minutes before our scheduled time, we walked a short trail down to the cave entrance. We were the first to arrive and we waited until the remaining guests and the tour guide arrived on schedule. The schedules fill rapidly so you would be wise to make a reservation for your tour in advance at https://recreation.gov.

There are several types of tours available, but due to Covid restrictions during our visit, there was only a basic tour with limited access to the largest areas of the cave near the entrance. According to the NPS website here, tours from basic to strenuous are again available.

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Airlock vestibule

That non-descript building constructed in front of the concrete cave entrance contains an airlock to protect the atmosphere inside the living cave. Upon completion of the tour, you will exit the same airlock, and you will be required to walk across a mat with a decontamination fluid that is designed to protect against the spread of White Nose Syndrome, a disease that impacts the bats. The website notes that other cave sites may not allow visitors to enter their cave with the same boots, clothing, or personal devices that were carried into Jewel Cave.

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Cave view

Note that on their website, they provide a list of prohibited items. Photographers should be aware that tripods and monopods (as well as hiking poles or anything that might contact the cave floor) are prohibited. The entire list of items that should be left in your car is included at the bottom of the cave’s guided tour page linked above.

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Cave view

During the presentation, the guide uses a large flashlight to shine on the rockfaces to point out certain features of importance to the guests.

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Cave view

With our limited tour, we were a bit disappointed that the stairs we saw throughout our tour on our few levels were blocked from going deeper into the third longest cave in the world. This viewpoint is as far as we could go. When we make our trip back to Wind Cave, we’ll have to see if we can also do a more complete tour of Jewel Cave. We will have to find out if there are restrictions from entering one cave with the same footwear and clothing as we wore in the other. As we didn’t get to go to Wind Cave, I didn’t ask the question.

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Cave view

All of the images captured here were taken with my Sony RX-100V camera. I captured three exposures for each image and blended them via Lightroom in HDR. The cave is dark so you might wonder why my Flickr site indicates that I only used an exposure of f/5 when the camera supports as low as 1.8 to 2.8. When you pick an image to merge into HDR, you select the range, and right-click on one of the three to choose the HDR option. I picked the middle exposure and that’s the metadata that gets passed along to the final HDR image.

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Cave view

As you can see by the image above, noise at low light levels was a problem. I used Lightroom’s Details tool to set Luminance and Chrominance noise adjustments to between 50 and 70 to strike a balance between noise removal and loss of detail.

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Cave view

Closed toe shoes are required for all tours and booking a tour in advance is the best way to ensure you didn’t waste a trip only to find your tour is sold out. They have four types of tours, a Discovery Tour, a Historic Lantern Tour, a Scenic Tour, and a Wild Cave Tour.

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Cave view

If there are members of your family that find caves to be unappealing, there are three surface trails for hiking. The tours range from .5 miles (.4 km) to 5.5 miles (8.9 km). Trail guides are available in the visitor center. Trail details can be found here.

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Cave View

If you would like to pixel peep or view the photo metadata, you can click on a specific photo to view it on my Flickr site. You can also check out the images in the entire album here. Happy Spelunking!

John Steiner

16 comments

  1. That is an impressive cave John!
    Here in South Africa we visited the Cango caves.
    The Cango Caves are located in Precambrian limestones at the foothills of the Swartberg range near the town of Oudtshoorn, in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. The principal cave is one of the country’s finest, best known, and most popular tourist caves and attracts many visitors from overseas. Although the extensive system of tunnels and chambers go on for over 4 km (2+1⁄2 mi), only about a quarter of this is open to visitors, who may proceed into the cave only in groups supervised by a guide. Wikipedia

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