CORYDON, Ind. — Indiana is full of incredible places waiting to be explored, so Chuck's latest Big Adventure has him checking out great destinations close to home!
Southern Indiana's Cave Trail is one of the most unique in the country. For hundreds of miles, underground caves weave their way under the surface. The Indiana Cave Trail celebrates these caverns with four separate caves and four unique stories associated with them all.
Perhaps you've seen the billboards or read something online about these caves, but to see them in-person is another experience altogether.
Squire Boone Caverns
We began our wild, wonderful adventure at one of our states most historic sites: Squire Boone Caverns.
Squire Boone is one of Indiana's most famous pioneers. He was an explorer, preacher, and statesman. Honored by Congress for his heroism in the Revolutionary War, Boone was a living miracle, having been wounded 11 times.
Squire Boone Caverns
This cave system, which he encountered with his famous brother, Daniel, has kept his name alive for generations.
"Squire and Daniel were out on one of their hunting trips. They discovered the mouth of the cave because there was water coming out, and they wanted that fresh water," said Claudia Yundt, director of Squire Boone Caverns. "They also wanted a place to store their milk and things like that, so they discovered it in 1790."
What we discovered was another world — 20 stories below ground in Mauckport, Indiana. The tour is full of massive stalactites and stalagmites, a huge indoor central cavern, the largest rimstone formation in North America and a tour favorite — the 60-foot tall "Rock of Ages."
According to Yundt, as long as water continues to flow into the cave, this formation will continue to grow.
"We say Mother Nature did all of this. We would have goofed it up as humans, so I truly believe that God had a hand," Yundt said.
From the historic Squire Boone to the new modern Indiana Caverns: This attraction opened nine years ago to the public but is a sneak peek at the longest cave.
From exploring deep darkness in the four-hour underground challenge to the family-friendly walking tours, visitors can mine for gemstones, see rivers and cave life — all while underground.
In fact, one of the highlights of the tour is one of the things that makes the caverns so special: Big Bone Mountain.
Sarah Blevins, who grew up nearby, took us into the giant room.
"You'll see most of the formations and a lot of ice age bones and fossils along the way. The waterfall here is nearly 40 feet tall," Blevins said.
But there is more: From ice age fossils to magnificent photography options, Indiana Caverns is a wonderful stop along the Indiana Cave Trail.
In addition, outside options include zip lining, a freefall experience and an escape room. Teens especially are drawn to this wonderful entertainment venue.
Marengo Cave is our state’s most famous cave and has been declared a U.S. National Natural Landmark since 1984.
Tours of the ancient caverns have been given since 1883, and for years, thousands of Midwest travelers and school children have seen the large rooms and ancient rock formations. One room is so large, it seats 800 people for concerts and events.
Tour guides show guests the same jaw-dropping views that the first visitors saw nearly 140 years ago. In fact, one part of the tour takes visitors into an area lit only by lanterns. It really brings to mind the courage it took to explore these caves in the 1800s.
Our guide, Christina Walton, said there can be a real sense of foreboding.
"It gives you an idea of how walking tours back then before electricity was put inside the cave. You can only imagine all the things they actually missed," Walton said. "What you're seeing now is basically it — the walls you couldn't see, ceiling you could barely see, formations were distant, you couldn't see it all. So, it's a neat thing to travel back in time of what it was like doing one of the very first tours."
What you can see is majestic. The sheer size of the cave, with its huge flowstone deposits and interactive exhibits, is pretty awe-inspiring.
Outside, its new rock shop is a wonderful stop for rare stones and gifts. And if you’re feeling lucky, give the Miner’s Maze a try. Let’s just say I hit a lot of dead ends!
Our last stop didn't last long. Bluespring Caverns is closed for the season, and we didn't get too far due to flooding on the nearby East Fork of the White River.
Of all the caves on the trail, Bluespring is the most unique. It is America's longest navigable underground river and is seen in custom electric boats. Descending 400 feet down, the boat tours offer a rare look at river cave formations.
The cave has 21 miles of surveyed passages. The navigable part of the river is about three miles.
Jim Richards started exploring this cave in 1963. The now-president and CFO of the Bluespring Caverns company wanted to continue his exploration.
"Over the next six to seven years, we explored and surveyed about 17 miles of side passages off the main river here. They were totally unknown before," Richards said. "That's where I started at Bluespring, and then, after about five years of off-and-on college before I graduated, I decided to come down and open the gates to the public. So, we did that, spent about a year in 1974 and [opened] by the spring of 1975."
Since then, thousands of guests have ridden the boats on the underground river near Mitchell, Indiana. Bluespring Caverns will reopen in the spring.
The Indiana Cave Trail is a wonderful way for families to see a part of Indiana they will never forget. Most people will feel some exertion but should have no problem making it up and down the stairs in the caves. Families, couples, anyone will enjoy this trip into ancient history right here in Indiana.