Looking to go underground on your next camping adventure? Go spelunking! Spelunking will add adventure to any hike and show you the interesting beauty that lies just under the surface. As a sport, spelunking can offer extreme thrills for seasoned cave dwellers. As a science lesson, it offers up-close, hands-on experience inside a cave that a textbook just can't compete with.
What is spelunking?
Spelunking is cave exploring. It’s also known as caving and, in some countries, potholing. People who go spelunking want to experience the natural beauty Mother Nature has to offer right beneath our feet. While spelunking you can see rock formations, sediments, and creatures that can rarely be seen above ground. The level of difficulty and danger can be adjusted depending on the ages and experience levels of your group. There are open caves for leisurely family strolls and there are more difficult caves with tight spaces for extreme cave exploring. Make sure you research your cave before you enter it and follow all safety precautions.
Spelunking Safety Tips!
Like any sport, spelunking has its dangers. And the deeper you go into a cave, the higher your risk of danger. Obviously, when you venture into a dark cave, you run the risk of falling and tripping in the cave, having objects fall on you from above, and getting lost or stuck inside the cave. But other risks exist too. If you're going spelunking in rainy conditions, talk to a local expert first about the risk of the cave flooding from heavy rains. Also, spelunking puts you at risk of hypothermia. The temperature inside a cave is much lower than the surface temp, and you can lose heat quickly if inside a cave for too long. For this reason, make sure to wear layers and bring extra clothes just in case. Never go cave exploring alone! You should always have at least 3 people. If one person were to become stuck or injured, one could stay with them while the other goes to get help. If you were to get hurt while spelunking alone, no one would know where to look for you.
Even when going as a group, let someone know where you plan to go and when you plan to come back. It would be a good precaution to give this person an extra copy of the map of your cave with your planned route highlighted. This way if your entire group finds themselves in trouble, you have someone on the outside that will notice if you don’t return on time and have a general idea of where to send help.
Research what the cave is made of before you enter. Knowing if you will be walking and climbing around on hard stable rock or soft brittle rock could make a huge difference on how you proceed. Either way, take your time and don’t rush. Always look where you are about to step and test it out with a little weight before putting all of your weight on it. This way if something is going to break or cave in you will know before all of you is caving in with it.
Using proper spelunking gear could mean the difference between a fun cave adventure and a disastrous one. There are specific things you should wear as well as things you should bring with you. From proper clothing and shoes to a first aid kit and glow sticks, every item is just as important as the next.
You never want to just wander into a cave and start poking around unprepared. Make sure you have what you will need to make your exploration as easy and safe as possible. Here is the gear we recommend taking on your next spelunking adventure.
What to wear/have on you:
|Helmet with headlamp|
|Shirt & pants|
You will also want to have a pack with the following items in it:
|Map of the cave|
Candles and matches
First aid kit
Spelunking in Michigan
Bear Cave is located near Bear Cave RV Campground in Buchanan, MI. This cave was formed over 10,000 years ago by the glacial movement that carved the Great Lakes. This is a great cave for beginners as it is small in size and is relatively easy to make it through. Bear Cave is a beautiful cave and has many different types of formations and fossils that can be seen throughout. The coolest part of this cave is that there is actual history here! There is a secret room in the back of the cave called the “Slave Room” where slaves were hidden on their way to freedom on the Underground Railroad. This cave would be great for a “road school” field trip. Fun for the whole family and educational for the kids!
Another small cave that is great for beginners is Skull Cave located on Mackinac Island. Waters of Lake Algonquin carved this cave after the glaciers were gone. After the capture of Fort Michilimackinac by Native Americans from the French in 1763, Alexander Henry, fur trader and survivor of the capture, used the cave for refuge. To his surprise, he found himself surrounded by years' worth of human bones. The Native Americans used this small cave as a place to lay their dead, which led to its eerie name. You can find this historic cave (now free of human remains) in Mackinac Island Park. While you’re on the island, you can also check out Eagle Point Cave, which was also carved by the Algonquin waters!
Ice caves are an amazing sight to see in Michigan in the winter, and they draw curious visitors from near and far. In the Upper Peninsula, just outside Marquette County, is Eben Ice Cave. This cave forms when the snow melts, runs over the side of the cliff, and then freezes. There’s a bit of a hike to the cave, but it’s well worth it. You can also bring your furry friends if you want! Ice caves can also be found in other parts of Michigan, such as Grand Island Ice Caves and Pictured Rocks!
Want to check out some Native American history? Find your way to Spider Cave, also known as Burnt Bluff Cave, where you can see old pictographs on the rocks! This cave is also located in the UP near Fayette. The full history of what this area was used for by Native Americans is unknown, but there are many different theories. Depending on the current water levels, you will access the cave in one of two ways. If the water levels are high, you will need to take a boat to the cave. If the water levels are low, you can get there from a staircase built for visitors.
If you’re interested in exploring underwater caves, Michigan has those too!! These caves can be found at Alger Underwater Preserve, the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the Thumb Area Underwater Preserve, and Hendrie River Water Cave.
Go explore this beautiful Mitten we live in and see for yourself all the wonderful, natural beauty it has to offer. Just be sure to follow the safety precautions and travel in groups!
Have you gone spelunking in Michigan? Tell us where you like to go in the comments!