The first recorded discovery of Jewel Cave was in the 1900s 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 didn’t 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 144 miles have been mapped making it the fourth longest cave in the world. And there’s more to come. Researchers continue to explore Jewel Cave, and on average, map an additional three miles a year.
Ranger-guided tours take visitors through the narrow passageways of the cave and along the trails located above the surface. The Discovery Talk and Scenic Tour are offered daily during park hours. A special lantern tour and spelunking tour are only offered during the summer months.
In addition to cave tours, visitors can explore the surface of Jewel Cave National Monument and view wildlife, plants and learn more about the park’s forest fire ecology. In 2000, the Jasper Forest Fire changed the scenery of the monument when it destroyed the surrounding forest. Today, the forest is recovering but the dry, grassy meadow above the ground is changing the cave below. The lack of pine trees allows more rain water to seep into the cave, accelerating the natural erosion of the calcite.
Location: Approx. 15 minutes west of Custer
Hours/Seasonality: The park is open year-round with the exception of 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.