This was easily one of the most grueling treks I’ve taken to get to a cave. Unlike most of the other commercial cave systems I’ve been to throughout the country – where you enter the cave from the inside of a building, Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park has a 3/4 mile walk outside, throughout the mountains from the visitor’s center up to the cave mouth itself.
I was on the first tour of the day, shortly after 9am, and it was already getting really hot out. No clouds in the sky, and the hateful sun was doing everything it could to ensure that I expired on my way up the trail. I kept being surprised that the trail kept going, and going… and going. Ah, yes – my workout for the day.
It’s all uphill, with a collection of switchbacks, but the view during the walk is stunning. You have a fantastic panorama that dips steeply into a canyon with several hills and mountains throughout. One of the couples that I met along ‘the long walk’ was from Hollowtop Mountain, just across the way – they pointed it out, and it looked as if it was an old mini caldero.
After the walk, from which most of the tour group was breathing heavy, we finally found ourselves in the cave mouth itself. Just inside was a small colony of bats that our tour guide, a very cool, laid back guy named Demetrius, pointed out with his flashlight. In the first portion of the cave, there is a skylight in the form of the initial entrance to the cave, which had been barred up to keep people from utilizing that entrance.
At one point years ago, we were told that a rickety, wooden spiral staircase was placed in the caverns – in the spiral stairway shaft that led down to ‘the bottom of the pit’.
There are many ‘low bridges’ throughout the caverns, and to get through some passageways, some creative maneuvering is needed – at one point, there’s a smooth rock slide that’s about fifteen feet long that you have to slide down.
There are many stairs, both up and down, throughout the cavern, and there are a fair number of places where you need to either duck down a little, or duck walk to get from one section of the cave to the other.
The upswing? The walk back is not at all challenging, for which I was very grateful.
The entire place is completely beautiful, and it’s actually one of my favorite cave systems now, for sheer beauty. The first is still Cave of the Mounds in Wisconsin.
If you dig commercial caves and you’re in the area at some point, GO. It’s SO worth it.