When one thinks of caving, the first state that comes to mind is typically Kentucky. But our area also has its fair share of caves ready to explore!
Caving, often also called spelunking, involves heading under the earth to walk, crawl, climb and even swim through wild cave systems. It’s not at all as spooky as it might sound, and can quickly turn into a thrilling hobby.
Most nearby caves are formed from limestone slowly dissolving over thousands of years. The product is a network of rooms and corridors adorned by various calcium formations (stalactites, stalagmites, etc). For those wanting to explore caverns, there are two options: commercial caves and wild caves.
Commercial caves include a few different options depending on your interests. The lighted cave tour includes a guided walk on paths through parts of the cave that are easier to access and navigate. This experience is for those who just want to see what a cave is like but do not want to get down and dirty. Most commercial caverns also offer backcountry cave tours that include crawling and getting dirty and require helmets, headlamps and coveralls.
Wild caves are those that do not have any lights, toilets or a gift shop, but have plenty of opportunity for exploration and wonder The variety of technical skills and knowledge to safely and responsibly explore these caverns is greatly aided by joining a local caving organization.
Best time to go:
Most caves maintain constant, cool temperatures throughout each season of the year. However, some caves are on private property, and it’s best to call ahead to ensure access privileges.
National Speleological Society
Caving Destinations (in a general four-hour radius from Columbus, in order from near to far):
Ohio Caverns is Ohio’s largest and most beautiful cavern. The cavern is almost two miles long and ranges in depth from 30 feet to 103 feet. Guided tours are available for groups under 7.
Caving, guided historic tours
The large, beautiful caverns allow for lots of exploring and fun spelunking to be had. Also known as “The Caviest Cave,” a huge crystal-clear stream flows all through the middle. The cave is not open during the winter months of October-April.
Gem mining, guided caving
This cave is located up by Lake Erie and is an Ohio Natural Landmark. The natural limestone cave is well protected and lies 52 feet below the surface of South Bass Island in Lake Erie. The cave also boasts a rare underground lake that rises and falls with that of Lake Erie. Tours are available in the Summer months.
Caving, gem mining, climbing
LAUREL CAVERNS, PA
Laurel Caverns is home to Pennsylvania’s largest cave. The caverns’ mission is to preserve and protect the Laurel Caverns property and use it for educational purposes to teach geology and environmentalism.
LOST WORLD CAVERNS, WV
This West Virginia cave is 120 feet below the surface and opens into a vast world of stalactites and stalagmites. The tours are self-guided and take 45 minutes. The cave is about a half mile long and stays chilly throughout the whole year.
MAMMOTH CAVE, KY
Rolling hills, deep river valleys, and the world’s longest cave system make up Mammoth Cave. This huge cave has tons of history and have miles of tours to explore. Tour reservations are required and can be made on the National Park website and also at the park office.