Are you a spelunker (one who makes a hobby of exploring and studying caves)? Do you want to escape summer’s heat? Are you fascinated by underground passageways? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you need to plan an RV trip to visit these Midwest caves.
There are many good reasons to put “cave visits” on your RV trip to-do list. It doesn’t matter whether the weather outside is rainy or if the temperatures soar to over 100 degrees, cave visits are not weather-dependent like many other activities. You’ll also find that no two caves are the same, and if you take Park Ranger-guided cave tours, you’ll learn a lot!
Here is just a sampling of some wonderful Midwest caves to consider. You’ll need to Google the driving route and/or hiking directions relative to your starting location. Note: Each Midwest state has many other great caves that you can visit. If your favorite one isn’t on my list, be sure to add it in the comments!
Midwest caves by state
O’Brien Ice Caves. (Named for the landowners who have ranched the surrounding land for generations.) The O’Brien cave is the only ice cave in North Dakota. (An ice cave is one that has significant amounts of ice all year-round.) The U.S. Forest Service maintains the Ice Caves Trailhead parking area and trail (an easy hike) to this cave located southwest of Grassy Butte.
Jewel Cave. Calcite crystals helped inspire this cave’s name. Along with the beautiful crystals, you’ll see ribbon-like formations and “cave popcorn.” This is the third-longest cave in the world!
Mystery Cave. This 13-mile-long cave is the longest in Minnesota. You’ll see stalactites (hanging on “tight” to the cave’s ceiling) and stalagmites (mightily growing up from the cave floor). Various tours take you to different parts of the cave and will thrill adults and children alike.
Cave Point. This county park allows scuba divers to explore the underwater caves famous for their limestone formations. Located right on Lake Michigan, you’ll find beautiful scenery no matter where you look—above or below the water!
Crystal Lake Cave. The temperature inside this Midwest cave is a constant 52 degrees—offering visitors a respite from summer’s heat and winter’s freezing temps. Open since 1932, you can tour the cave and then let kids learn about mining as they experience the Gem Mining Sluice.
Indian Cave State Park. Prehistoric Native American petroglyphs extend along the length of the cave wall, and you can also view a partially reconstructed 1853 village. The area surrounding the cave includes 22 miles of hiking and biking trails, 16 miles of equestrian trails, camping, fishing, and boating on the Missouri River.
Kalida Castle Cave. This is definitely a different kind of cave. Kalida Castle was hand-built above ground in 1893. Hoping to immortalize the town of Kalida, James Davidson used native sandstone to build what is now the only structure left of the once prosperous town. While man-made, this cave holds a constant temperature year-round.
Onondaga Cave. Onondaga Cave offers easy access with paved walkways, guardrails, and great lighting. The cave features more than a mile of spectacular passageways and great “rooms” with stunning geological formations. (Missouri has nearly 6,400 caves throughout the state and is known as the “Cave State.”)
Cave-in-Rock. Located in the cliffs far above the Ohio River, this large cave (55-feet-wide) served as a hiding place for notorious crime gangs in the past. The gangs preyed upon merchant ships and travelers passing by on the river below. The area surrounding the cave is fairly commercialized, with a lodge, restaurant, picnic areas, playgrounds, and more.
Marengo Cave. In addition to the two walking tours in this National Landmark, you can also search for gemstones and experience a cave simulator. The Marengo Cave is part of the Four Caves Trail that includes Bluespring Caverns, Marengo Cave, Indiana Caverns, and Squire Boone Caverns. (Bluespring and Indiana Caverns both offer boat rides through the caverns, if that is your preference.)
Skull Cave. Located on Mackinac Island, this small, narrow cave was once a burial ground. Though small, it’s worth a stop while visiting the island.
Ohio Caverns. Crystal King is the highlight of this cave. Billed as the largest and most perfectly formed stalactite in the world, Crystal King is almost five feet long! Two different tours are offered for this cave system, often called “America’s Most Colorful Caverns.”
How to prep for your Midwest cave visit
Research or call ahead before your planned Midwest cave visit. That way, you can be prepared to have the best experience possible. Find out about the cave’s temperature, tour details, and recommendations for your visit. For example, you may need to bring a jacket or wear waterproof shoes or boots. For primitive spelunking, you may want a headlamp, or prefer to wear clothing that allows you to crawl or climb with ease. (Note: Always follow your cave guide’s recommendations and rules. Never touch any “living” formations or wander off on your own.)
Do you have a favorite Midwest cave? Share information about it in the comments so that we can plan to visit it, too!
Editor’s note: It’s usually recommended that you wear clothing that has never been inside a cave before. White-nose syndrome has killed millions of hibernating bats and can be spread into new caves if you bring it in on your clothes or accessories. If you wear one jacket and your glasses to one cave one day, and visit another cave the next day, you’ll need to be in all-new, washed gear. This is not required for all caves, but rangers may ask this of you as a safety precaution.
More Midwest travel ideas:
- 7 of the most unusual, must-visit Midwest tourist attractions
- 5 gorgeous Midwest waterfalls to add to your travel list