By Anietra Hamper
Posted On: Jun 1, 2022
As I walk down the staircase to the entrance of Ohio's largest cave at the Ohio Caverns, my mind shifts between two trains of thought. First, I wonder what it must have been like for the farmer who accidentally discovered this massive and elaborate cave system below the land that he was tending in 1887 in rural Ohio. I ponder the amazement and confusion he must have felt uncovering this complex cave network that remains one of Ohio's most stunning natural resources. My second train of thought shifts to my own exciting moment of discovery. I wonder what I can expect when I cross through the small entrance into the winding and narrow cave that remains a consistent 54-degrees year-round.
The Ohio Caverns is just the beginning of some of the 400 caves in Ohio that are made up of elaborate tunnel networks below ground. Many of the caves are inaccessible to the public, but there are few that you can explore to get a glimpse of the fascinating underworld of stalactites, stalagmites, and minerals that have crystallized over thousands of years.
Exploring some of Ohio's exciting natural resources within the cave systems requires no previous experience and all of the caves that are open to the public offer trained guides to lead the way. If you have ever wanted to feel like a true explorer, check out these unique caving opportunities in Ohio.
Ohio Caverns in West Liberty
Ohio's largest cave system at Ohio Caverns has nearly two miles of narrow passageways bordered by damp rocks that occasionally open to wide chambers and underground streams. The guide's small light illuminates the stalagmites and stalactites as we navigate what's otherwise pitch darkness. The varying depths of the cave range from 30-feet below ground to 103-feet at its deepest point. Every step reveals something incredible from the ancient "graffiti" on the limestone walls with inscriptions by young explorers to the occasional drip of water on my head that is filtered through the cave system.
There are large and small caverns and colorful mineral formations in vibrant shades of orange and brown that design sections of the passageways. The crystals come in every size and formation culminating with the Crystal King, a five-foot-long, 400-pound stalactite that's more than 200,000 years old!
Rock House in Logan
The Rock House in the Inviting Region of Hocking Hills is actually a wide arch, but is considered a cave because of its 25-foot high ceiling. It's one of the coolest adventures to seek out in Hocking Hills, and a bit different from the other caves in Ohio. The half-mile trail takes about 45 minutes. While at the Rock House, you'll see a cliff with windows and experience the cave system that Native Americans who lived in the region once used. The tunnel at the Rock House is 200-feet long and 40-feet wide.
Not quite ready to take the cave plunge? Start out at Old Man's Cave and Ash Cave in the Hocking Hills State Park where you can explore the complex of grottoes, gorges, and overhangs on your own. Many of the caves mentioned above are open year-round for tours, but check online for daily times and tour schedules.
Perry's Cave in Put-in-Bay
Exploring Perry's Cave is one of the top things to do in Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island, part of the Shores & Islands Inviting Region of Lake Erie. The cave is part of a complex of activities, but an exciting adventure 52-feet below ground. The short 20-minute tour is an easy introduction of caves if you've never experienced one. It's 208-feet long, so not as extensive in comparison to other public-accessible caves in Ohio. And it's perfect for kids to get a taste of exploration and see stalactites and stalagmites as well as other minerals and calcium deposits that have formed there over millions of years.
Crystal Cave in Put-in-Bay
Also on Put-in-Bay is Crystal Cave that runs below Heineman's Winery. The cave was discovered in 1897 while workers were digging a well for the winery. One of the unique features of this cave is that it's believed to be the world's largest geode - with crystals that are up to 18 inches long! Tours of the cave helped the winery stay-in-business and were instrumental to its survival during prohibition. Tours run on specific days, so check the schedule for availability.
Zane Shawnee Caverns in Bellefontaine
The Zane Shawnee Caverns are operated by the Shawnee Nation in South Wind Park. The cave is open year-round, but check the schedule for dates and availability. It's one of only seven caves in the world that has naturally occurring cave pearls. Guided tours are approximately 50 minutes in length and take you through the cave to see the cave pearls for yourself, along with unusual stalactite and stalagmite formations that are natural works of art below the ground.
Olentangy Indian Caverns in Delaware
The Olentangy Indian Caverns were formed by an underground river that cut through the area millions of years ago. There's a vast network of passages accessible to the public, descending through three different levels at 55-feet, 75-feet, and 105-feet below the surface. Tours (which run from March 28 - Oct. 31) through the limestone caverns take you to several large chambers including the Echo Chamber, Cathedral Hall - with stunning fossils on the walls - and the Indian Council Chamber that was used for ceremonies by the Wyandot that once inhabited the area. There are many more miles of passageways that are still unexplored.
Seneca Caverns in Bellevue
Seneca Caverns is a Registered Natural Landmark, and it's one of the largest caves in Ohio! Plus it just happens to also have one of the most educational caves tours available. The cave system was discovered in 1872 when two boys who were rabbit hunting with their dog fell through a natural sinkhole into one of the cave's passageways. Seneca Caverns has a fascinating underground stream referred to as "Ole' Mist'ry River" - located 110-feet below the ground. It's just one of the many exciting discoveries you'll see during a one-hour guided tour, which start in May.