When my family visited Bear Lake on the Utah-Idaho border last summer, I was excited to take them to Minnetonka Cave, just a few miles away. I had toured this cave before, when I visited Bear Lake with friends in my early 20's.
One big difference between Minnetonka Cave and the other caves I listed is that they are managed by the National Park Service and Minnetonka is not. Minnetonka Cave is located in a National Forest, but tours and facilities are operated by a private contractor.
Instead of park rangers, tours are given by local college students on break for the summer. The tour script may be a bit more humorous – dare I say cheesy? – than at other caves. The young woman who gave our tour last summer had the personality to pull it off.
I love cave tours, and our guide did a good job of telling the history and pointing out the unique features of Minnetonka Cave. Cave bacon is my favorite, and Minnetonka has several good examples.
The 90-minute tour covers the basics – stalagmites, stalactites and columns and will teach first-timers how to tell the difference. It also includes some fun demonstrations, including briefly turning the lights off for total darkness and the impressive acoustics in one section of the cave.
I'm sorry to say that my 11-year-old daughter did not enjoy the tour as much as I did. She didn't want to go in the first place, was worried or bored through most of the tour and was not glad she did it at the end. In her words, “Um, I guess it was OK. Caves aren't really my thing.”
I appreciate that she “took one for the team.” You may want to make alternate arrangements for family members who are claustrophobic, anxious or will have a hard time staying on the path and not touching the delicate cave features.
Here are a few IMPORTANT things you need to know before you head for Minnetonka Cave.
- You cannot wear any clothing or gear (including cameras) that have EVER been inside another cave. White Nose Syndrome is killing bats in caves throughout the U.S. and it is very contagious. When we were there, it had not yet reached Minnetonka Cave, and they would like to keep it that way. We did not actually see bats in Minnetonka Cave. They don't perform for tourists.
- Minnetonka Cave DOES NOT take reservations (except for large groups) and tours often fill quickly. Arrive early in the day for your tour, or send a representative in the morning to buy tickets for later in the day. We decided to take our chances on the afternoon of a rainy weekday in July and waited about an hour for our tour.
- Wear a jacket! It is always 40 degrees (F) inside the cave.
- There are 444 stairs inside the cave and you will step on every one of them twice – once on the way in and again on the way out. Normally, I would worry about the prospect of climbing up and down 888 stairs at high altitude, but I had no problem on the Minnetonka Cave tour. There are plenty of stops that will give you a chance to catch your breath.
Good To Know
Where: Caribou-Targhee National Forest, near St. Charles, Idaho. Take U.S. 89 north from Garden City, Utah, or south from Montpelier, Idaho, to St. Charles. Drive 10 miles west from St. Charles along Forest Road 412. The road is paved to its end at Minnetonka Cave. We did not have any trouble finding the cave.
When: Memorial Weekend through Labor Day Weekend (late May-early September). Tours are offered daily, every 30 minutes from 10 am – 5:30 pm.
- $8 Adult
- $6 Youth (age 6-15)
- FREE for ages 0-5
- $32 Family Pass (Parents and unmarried children living at home)
How Long: Tours are 90 minutes. Tours can fill quickly and reservations are not accepted, so you may need to wait for your tour to begin.
Amenities: modern-ish bathrooms, drinking water, a few drinks and snacks are available for sale.
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