Take a Day Trip (or a Weekend) and Explore Ohio’s Caves and Caverns
In addition to the well-known caves of the Hocking Hills, the Buckeye State has several underground cavern systems that make a fun family outing.
Ohio is home to many significant landmarks, but did you know that multiple caverns make the list?
Most Columbus-area residents are familiar with the caves of the Hocking Hills, but the state also has several major cavern systems that are open to the public. A cavern, essentially a large underground cave, typically features mineral deposits called speleothems, which include stalactite and stalagmite formations.
Regardless of your geological knowledge (or whether you could tackle speleothems in a spelling bee), caverns are beautiful, natural wonders that can provide a great family outing. With stops all over the state, from Delaware to Put-in-Bay, these destinations offer a wide range of activities for all ages.
2210 E. State Route 245, West Liberty; 937-465-4017; ohiocaverns.com
Open year-round and deemed “American’s most colorful caverns,” Ohio Caverns is roughly 50 miles northwest of Columbus. The caverns, discovered in the 1890s, feature 2 miles of passageways traveling as deep as 103 feet underground. They’re the largest in the state and boast Ohio’s largest stalactite. Even if you visit in the dead of winter, you’ll find the caverns at a steady 54 degrees.
Multiple tours—most lasting just under an hour—are offered depending on the season, including a wheelchair-accessible Limestone Tour from May to September. Finish your visit with a trip to the gift shop, or spend time mining for gems and fossils for an additional fee.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily May 1 to Sept. 30; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily Oct. 1 to April 30
Cost: Prices vary based on the tour and time of year. The Natural Wonder Cavern Tour, Historic Cavern Tour or Winter Cavern Tour are $20 for adults, $10 for children ages 5-12. Rates for the Combo Tour (both tours in the same day) are $30 and $15.
1779 Home Road, Delaware; 740-548-7917; olentangycaverns.com
It is said that the Wyandot tribe used the Olentangy Caverns for multiple purposes, including shelters and ceremonies. The self-guided tour—a plus for little ones with shorter attention spans—starts and ends at the museum, where Native American artifacts are on display. Along the tour, you’ll find seven audio stations that provide information about the caverns, which descend as far as 105 feet deep and maintain a 55-degree temperature.
A popular stop for kids is the 50,000-square-foot petting zoo with animals such as deer, goats and pigs. Olentangy Caverns’ conservation efforts include raising San Clemente Island goats, an endangered breed. Other attractions include mini golf, gem mining and a treasure hunt maze.
Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily April 1 to Oct. 31
Cost: The self-guided cave tour is $9.95 for ages 13 and older, $6.95 for children ages 3-12. An all-access pass, which includes the cave tour, gem mining, mini golf, maze and petting zoo, is $24.99 for ages 13 and older, $21.99 for children ages 3-12.
Hocking Hills State Park
19852 State Route 664, Logan; 740-385-6842; ohiodnr.gov
The Hocking Hills, about 60 miles southeast of Columbus, is full of hiking trails that can be used to explore multiple caves carved into the sandstone. Much like Olentangy Caverns, this area was home to Native American tribes as recently as the 1700s.
There’s something for everyone at Hocking Hills, whether you’re an amateur hiker or well-seasoned. Ash Cave Gorge (easy) and Ash Cave Rim (moderate) are both quarter-mile trails, and Ash Cave Gorge is ADA-accessible. For a longer outing, try the 1-mile, moderate Old Man’s Cave trail. The most challenging, Whispering Cave, is a 4.5-mile route, but the payoff is the region’s second-largest cave (Ash Cave is the largest) and a 105-foot waterfall.
Also in the area is Saltpetre Cave State Nature Preserve, admittance to which requires a free permit from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Note: Saltpetre Cave operates seasonally; it is closed Nov. 1 to April 1.
Hours: A half-hour after sunrise to a half-hour before sunset.
15248 E. Township Road 178, Bellevue; 419-483-6711; senecacavernsohio.com
Seneca Caverns, open to the public since 1933, was initially discovered in 1872. Visitors can descend 110 feet below the surface during the one-hour guided tour and view Ole Mist’ry River, an underground stream that maintains a constant temperature of 48.9 degrees—slightly cooler than the 54-degree cavern. Note that this tour is not ADA-accessible.
In the summer, a special Lantern Tour on select Fridays and Saturdays is a fun experience for those 12 and older. Visitors traverse the cavern by lantern and headlamp and learn more about its history.
Seneca Caverns is about 100 miles north of Columbus.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays in May; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays after Labor Day through mid-October. Closed November through April.
Cost: $20 for ages 12-61, $18 for ages 62 and older, $10 children for ages 4-11. The Lantern Tour is $28.
978 Catawba Ave., Put-in-Bay; 419-285-2811; heinemanswinery.com
Venture to Put-in-Bay to visit Crystal Cave and get a two-for-one experience from the cave’s owner, Heineman’s Winery.
The cave was discovered in 1897 when workers were digging a well for the winery. During the Prohibition era, cavern tour proceeds helped keep the winery afloat. The cave’s walls are covered in celestite, a mineral made of strontium sulfate; during the tour, visitors can see crystals up to 18 inches long.
The tour starts with the cave, then continues through the winery. Adults get a glass of wine as part of the tour, while kids can sip on grape juice.
Crystal Cave is about 130 miles north of Columbus.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. The season runs April 30 to Oct. 16.
Cost: $10 for adults, $5.50 for children ages 6-11
This story is from the Spring 2022 issue of Columbus Parent.