Cave tour visitation was up nearly 10 percent in 2015 when more than 109,000 people toured the world’s sixth-longest cave. This is the most people through Wind Cave since before tours were limited to 40 people.
Park spokesman Tom Farrell explains.
“We used to let as many people as possible go on the cave tour,” Farrell recalls. “The record is 210 people traveling through the cave. An area that nowadays we limit it up to 40. And back in the day Highway 385 used to run right in front of the Visitors Center…so we got a lot of drive-through traffic coming in that way. Nowadays it’s routed round the Visitors Center…so those numbers form back in 1968 when they had 138,000 people touring the cave…we just don’t think we’ll ever eclipse that.”
Farrell adds that though some have questioned the number of people who visit the cave as being low compared to visitation numbers for the park itself, he’s not surprised by the stats.
“We estimate that only 1 in 5 visitors actually stop and tour the cave,” comments Farrell. “You have to realize that we have our 30,000 acres of mixed-grass prairie and Ponderosa pine and a very dynamic wildlife population on the surface. So we know that there’s a lot of people that don’t stop in the cave but they enjoy some of the other resources in the park.”
Farrell notes that a South Dakota Department of Tourism survey indicates that Wind Cave’s higher numbers last year may have been due to reduced gas prices combined with increased travel.