the great plains

Great Plains Featured Destination:

Wind Cave National Park & Custer State Park
Hot Springs, South Dakota

Almost exterminated at the end of the 19th century and scattered across North America, the few American bison left needed a safe place to call home. The Wind Cave National Park took in 14 bison in 1913, returning them to their native mixed-grass prairies. Today, there are about 400. More than 1,000 roam nearby at Custer State Park.

The best bet for bison viewing in Wind Cave is a drive past the grasslands on U.S. 385, S.D. 87 and primitive roads 5 and 6. In Custer Park, 10 miles away, bison meander right in front of cars on Wildlife Loop Road. The park is home to one of the largest publicly owned bison herds in the world.

Wind Cave has assisted with the prairie home comeback of elk and pronghorn, too. They can be seen in both parks, along with prairie dogs and other Great Plains animals, while hiking backcountry trails in one of the last mixed grasslands anywhere.

Best Time to Visit:

With the main attraction of one of the longest caves in the world, Wind Cave is open year round, but summers are busiest. The park suggests early morning tours or tours on weekends. There are specific events that you might want to catch in Custer State Park like the Buffalo Roundup and Arts Festival in late September.

What to Do:

According to legend, Sioux Native Americans thought that the wind that blew in and out of Wind Cave was caused by a giant's breathing. Later, the cave became a sacred place, where they left offerings in hopes of huge buffalo herds. On a tour of the cave, today, you'll learn that cave winds are caused by shifts in atmospheric pressure. Descend down 300 stairs to see the cave's unique boxwork, rare limestone formations that look like honeycomb, crisscrossing the complex cave like a maze within a maze. Or, experience the cave by candlelight as early explorers did. Get Directions

Other Great Plains Destinations:

  • Nebraska Sandhills. The largest sand dune formation in the Western Hemisphere, the Sandhills provide a unique habitat for a diversity of prairie life, from Pronghorn Antelope to Greater Prairie chickens and various types of grasses. Get Directions
  • Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. Central to saving the American bison from extinction, this refuge also offers a home to Rocky Mountain elk, white-tailed deer and numerous other prairie animals. Get Directions
  • Chimney Rock. A well-known landmark on the Oregon and Mormon Trails, this unique formation was shaped by erosion of the bluffs near the edge of the North Platte Valley. Get Directions
  • Devil's Tower. America's first National Monument, this massive geological formation rises over 1,000 feet above the Belle Fourche River and surrounding prairie. Get Directions
  • Edward's Plateau & Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. The southernmost area of the Great Plains, this region is home to some of the largest bat colonies in the world — in particular, Mexican free-tailed bats — which reside within the plateau's caves. Get Directions

Explore the Great Plains:

 

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