The first recorded discovery of Jewel Cave was in 1900 when two brothers, Frank and Albert Michaud, wrote about a hole with cold air blowing out of it. The entrance was too small for a human, so the brothers and their acquaintance, Charles Bush, used dynamite to enlarge the opening. Once they entered, they found passageways filled with sparkling calcite “jewels.” The brothers quickly filed a claim and began to develop the area for tourism. They developed a trail and even built a lodge and dance club nearby. But, the tourists did not come. In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt declared the cave a national monument, and the brothers sold their claim share to the federal government.
Much like other national parks, Jewel Cave was further developed by the Civil Conservation Corp. The entrance to the cave was altered and a new stone stairway was constructed to make it easier for visitors to see the magnificent features hidden deep below.
In 1959, only two miles of the cave had actually been discovered. Today, more than 170 miles have been mapped making it the third longest cave in the world. And there’s more to come. Researchers continue to explore Jewel Cave, and on average, map an additional three to five miles a year.
Ranger-guided tours take visitors through the passageways and rooms of the cave and along the trails located or the surface. The Discovery Talk and Scenic Tour are offered daily during park hours. A Historic Lantern Tour and Wild Caving Tour are only offered during the summer months.
In addition to cave tours, visitors can explore and discover the surface of Jewel Cave National Monument and view wildlife and plants, as well as learn more about the park’s forest fire ecology. In August 2000, the Jasper Fire changed the scenery of the monument when it burned through the surrounding forest. Today, the forest is recovering and is home to an array of species.
Location: Approx. 15 minutes west of Custer on Hwy 16
Hours/Seasonality: The park is open year-round with exceptions; it is closed weekends December through February and closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s day.
Fees/Reservations: The monument is free but there is a charge for cave tours. Tour pricing and times vary by season. Tickets are first come, first serve.