Jewel Cave National Monument in South Dakota

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A cave explorers stands in a passage near the Crushing Deep during the 175th mile exploration trip in Jewel Cave

A cave explorers stands in a passage near the Crushing Deep during the 175th mile exploration trip in Jewel Cave

See something called “cave bacon” when you take the popular Scenic Tour in the depths of Jewel Cave National Monument located 13 miles from Custer, S.D.

Cave Bacon in Jewel Cave National Monument. This piece is over 10 feet long and can be seen on the Scenic Tour.

Cave Bacon in Jewel Cave National Monument. This piece is over 10 feet long and can be seen on the Scenic Tour.

As the world’s third-longest cave, Jewel boasts 182 miles of mapped passages. Rock climbers Herb and Jan Conn, who stopped at Jewel in 1959, mapped more than 60 miles of the cave from 1959-81. Prior to the Conns, the cave was thought to be small. Short in stature and big on adventure, the Conns spent more than five decades living in a stone house with no electricity or running water near Custer, rock climbing in the Needles and crawling through Jewel. Herb Conn, who died in 2012, had a favorite caving T-shirt that read, “No end in sight.”

Fortunately, for the rest of us, there are guided tours on established trails for us to explore. On the Scenic Tour, you’ll spend an hour and 20 minutes on a half-mile paved loop with electric lighting and 723 steps. Dress in closed-toe shoes and warm layers. The cave is 49 F. Tickets for this tour are first-come, first-served, can only be bought at the cave and often sell out before noon. Others have age limits and reservation requirements. Park entrance is free, but cave tours have fees.

Learn more at nps.gov/jeca

Underground at Jewel Cave National Monument

Underground at Jewel Cave National Monument

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