Ohio’s oldest attraction is new to many. It’s a natural wonder that has added many offerings over the years. And it remains one of the most economic day-trips central to just about anywhere in the state.
Welcome to Ohio Caverns where fun is unearthed daily, dating back nearly 120 years when this underground movement began in West Liberty, Ohio. Ever since, it has been a rite of passage for generations of families. There is no height minimums so the whole family can enjoy this adventure together. And whether it’s a hot summer afternoon or frigid winter morning, the natural thermostat is set at a constant 54 degrees.
“Many folks remember us as that nostalgic family day-trip that sparked intrigue and much conversation on the way home in the station wagon,” said Eric Evans, manager of Ohio Caverns.
But these aren’t your great grandparents, grandparents or even parents’ Ohio Caverns! It now features gorgeous picnic grounds, a gem mining sluice, a stunning new entrance and section of caverns that are handicap accessible.
Instead of entering the caverns down a long staircase hidden behind a non-descript door, you may take a leisurely and scenic stroll down an 800-foot serpentine ramp overlooking the beautiful Mingo Valley to the new section of caverns. This is where you gain access to a subterranean exploration that is now handicap accessible. The project was 10 years in the making and required the removal of more than 2,000 cubic yards of material including several tons of mud, silt and rock which had to be dug by hand. Now the entrance provides a beautiful photo opportunity from the pedestrian bridge showcasing a spectacular backdrop.
“It is so rewarding to see folks with limited mobility flash a broad smile when they find themselves cave-dwelling,” said Eric Evans, manager of Ohio Caverns. “Not all of the tours are handicap accessible. But they all loop back so families can reconnect no matter which tour they take.”
During the tour, cave dwellers are treated to views of some one-of-a-kind discoveries and rare finds. The Crystal King is the largest and most perfectly formed pure white crystal stalactite found in any cave. It is nearly five feet long after 200,000 years of growth. Other rare stalactites found at Ohio Caverns are called helactites or “soda straws.” These resemble curly straws hanging from the ceiling but somehow defied gravity, twisting in weird directions. One of the more intriguing formations is the “Old Town Pump,” which looks just like it sounds, right down to the dripping water. These are the only known caverns in the country where dual formations are found. These unique formations consist of iron oxide tipped off with milky white calcium carbonate. It is a mystery as to why the two minerals remain distinctly separate, refusing to blend colors.
But there is one prevailing reason people love to visit here time and again – its wide-array of color. In addition to black and white – stalactites, stalagmites, columns and other formations come in a variety of color that include hues of yellow, orange, red, blue and purple. The colorful climax is best seen in the “Palace of the Gods” where there is an array of translucent crystals.
Rock collecting has surged in popularity. A demand that Ohio Caverns is pleased to meet. It has gained a reputation as a premier rock shop in the U.S. Whether one is a seasoned geologist or an amateur collector, Ohio Caverns has pieces ranging from a dollar to $10,000 in value. Ohio Caverns has machines to crack or saw stones like geodes and smooth them to perfection. Stones are offered in many shapes and sizes, polished or raw. Some people like buying raw stone and polishing it at home. Others seek the finished mantle-piece or high-dollar Pakistan Onyx stemware.
“We pride ourselves on the unique, hard-to-find gifts and of course Ohio Caverns and State of Ohio souvenirs, including antique signs,” said Evans. “Teachers enjoy the store because they discover, often after a field trip to the caverns, that there is great variety and support at the shop for classroom tools, lessons, books, mineral samples and the “fossil digs.”
This large and diverse gift shop also provides five pound bags of rough to sift for treasure outside at an impressive wooden mining sluice. The sluice consists of a 13-foot wooden tower and 80-foot wooden flume. The water is piped out of the tower, descending through staggered planks of narrow chutes. Along its course, wooden plates slide into grooves at the sides of the channel just like those used to recover minerals in mining operations. Visitors pan for real gem stones and minerals. There are about a dozen types of ornamental stones commonly found, including emeralds and (fools) gold. The mining sluice is also handicap accessible.
Older parts of the cavern system had been closed off for more than 70 years. It has only been over the past decade that visitors could once again visit the original portion of the Ohio Caverns known as the “historic tour.” It includes a colorful natural rotunda named “The Palace of Natural Art” and “The Giant’s Coffin,” among other fascinating sites. This is different from the new section of the caverns and requires a short shuttle ride to get there. The regular tour spans 45 minutes and one mile, reaching a depth of 103 feet. Many primitive forms of sea life are fossilized into the ceiling from the Devonian period and Paleozoic Era.
The anomalies found throughout this natural wonder have mystified visitors for nearly 120 years since its accidental discovery in 1928. And it is always growing because so much of the subterranean maze promises more to come with each spelunking adventure that breaks through a small hole to reveal a newly discovered expanse of the cavern system. No wonder it’s been dubbed one of the six best caves overall in the US, as well as America’s most colorful caverns by various national media over the years.
Families and groups often make a day of their visit to Ohio Caverns. There are outdoor pavilions with scenic overlooks and nearby restrooms. This rural 35-acre park nestled in the west central Ohio countryside offers a top-notch playground, and other amenities that allow families or groups to spread out and enjoy a picnic, Frisbee and unwind. It is perfect for hosting family reunions, scout troops, school groups, tour bus groups and other group outings both large and small.
Ohio Caverns is open year round. From April 1–October 31, it is open daily from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. It closes at 4:00 p.m. from November 1 – March 31. Tours range in time and price. Value passes and special group and school rates are available. Ohio Caverns is located at 2210 East State Route 245 in West Liberty, Ohio. More information is available by calling 937-465-4017 or visiting www.ohiocaverns.com.
Come, unearth Ohio’s oldest tourist attraction and build new memories.