After leaving Glacier National Park we headed southeast to Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park. This place was incredible and I would definitely recommend it. Even if you aren’t going to be camping here, I definitely recommend taking the cave tour.
This was our FIRST campground we stayed without electricity or water – dry camping! We had been wanting to do this – but wanted to get our feet wet living in the trailer first. Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park does have spots with electricity – but when we made the reservations online they weren’t available. Dry camping here was awesome and much easier than I expected.
We have solar panels on the top of the trailer – that soaked up the sun and kept our battery at almost full power after two full days of camping. When dry camping you can’t run things like the TV or the air conditioner or the microwave – but it’s actually a welcomed break from the buzzing of electronics and we didn’t miss it at all. We have two Honda generators, but we never pulled them out.
The kids LOVED the playground here – they spent a lot of time over the three days at the park. Located in the center of the campground, it’s near the bathrooms and showers in the central building. It cost about $3 to take a shower at the campground (use the local change machine to get quarters) – and it was one of the best showers I’ve had on the road – awesome water pressure and hot temperatures. It’s funny now that I don’t have a big bathroom how much I appreciate these little things. 🙂
The views and the sunsets at the Lewis and Clark State park were incredible. Lots of birds to watch and some great hiking trails. I loved waking up to this view.
Our first day there, we ended up taking one of the hiking trails near the campground, toward the DanMore Gypsum Mine – and ended up walking a bit further through the foothills. We were cautiously aware – for rattlesnakes – staying on the path and not letting the kids run ahead – but didn’t see any on the trail.
Along the path you can look back (toward the campgrounds) and see the Jefferson River Canyon. The sign says, “You are viewing the route of Lewis & Clarks epic journey to the Pacific Ocean in 1805. The Northern Pacific Railway was built on the North Side of the river in the late 1880’s and the Milwaukee Railway on the south side of the river in 1900. The highway was constructed on the north side of the river in 1929.”
Up higher into the hills we spotted some deer, right around dusk. Can you see both of them? I think they are mule deers because of the big size of their ears.
The next day happened to be Amazon Prime day – so I drove an hour, each way, to get to a free wifi spot in Belgrade, Montana. Although many days it feels like (and looks like) we are vacation – I still have a commitment to my readers to keep Queen Bee Coupons up and running – with the very best online deals. My Verizon hotspot didn’t work at the state park, so I got up at 4:45 a.m. and headed to work. The sunrise on my way to town was amazing – I had to pull over and take a photo. 🙂 I worked for about six hours and drove back just in time to meet my sister- and brother-in-law (and their adorable kids) to tour the Lewis and Clark Caverns!
To see the caverns you drive past the campround area a couple miles into the hills. The road is winding and there is quite an incline. If possible, I’d recommend not towing a trailer or driving an RV up the hill – the visitor’s center at the base of the hill does have trailer parking. And by the way, there are two visitor’s center – one at the base of the hill, near the entrance of the campground and one up by the caves.
The visitor’s center near the caves has some great displays and resources about the caves.
And you’ll find some educational displays around the parking area. You’ll also find bathrooms, a restaurant and a gift shop up near the caves entrance. If you plan to go on the cave tour – use the bathroom here – it will be a full two hours before you will have access to the bathroom again.
So let’s talk about the tour. Cave tours leave every 30 minutes (check website for opening/closing times). Tour costs are $12 for adults (12 yrs. and up), $5 for children (6 yrs. – 11 yrs.), 5 yrs. and under are free. The tours get cold, so bring an extra layer/coat. We filled up our Camelbaks – and I’m so glad we did. It was a hot day and the hike to get to the tours is about 3/4 mile uphill.
The view from the cave entrance is beautiful and worth the trek up! That’s the campground in the valley below.
There are benches along the hike – if you need to take a breather. If you get to the cave entrance before the guide, you just hang out and wait. Our kids were tickled to be on the tour with their cousins (who we don’t get to see often because they move often for the military).
The cave tour was amazing. I won’t spend a lot of time sharing the things we learned. What a fascinating place – all natural and made by Mother Nature over many thousands of years.
The different rock formations all have names. The tour guide explains them all. Some grow from the ground up – others grow from the roof down.
The fasted growing formations in the cave grow about an inch every TEN years. Others grow an inch every 100 years. Can you imagine the time needed for this cave to be created?
There are a LOT of stairs throughout the tour. Lots of ducking (watch your head!), some duck walking through low ceilings and even a little slide at one point.
You aren’t suppose to touch ANY formations in the cave. The oil from your hands is like poison to the formation which immediately stops growing. It can never grow again – so keep your hands off the formations. 🙂
You go deep into the cave, where the only lights are spotlights on the rocks. At one point the tour guide turns out the lights and you’ve never seen a darker, dark in your life!
It can be difficult to photograph the caves because it’s so dark. Flashes are not allowed in the beginning of the tour because of the bats – it’s not good for them. The bats just happened to have had BABIES the week before we toured the caves – how cool is that!?!
But as you get down into the depths of the cave you can use a flash – because the bats don’t go that far down into the caves. I left my flash off and although I took a lot of blurry photos – I did have better luck where the formations were backlit. You cannot bring a tripod on the tour – you wouldn’t want to juggle with it anyway.
In terms of being kid-friendly, our kids loved the cave tour. You’ll have to decide if it’s a good fit for your kids. Things to consider – it’s a 2-mile round-trip hike with lots of stairs and the dark can be scary for them. The first 3/4 mile is up a dirt path toward the cave entrance. I think it would be hard to go through the tour with an infant in a carrier or a young toddler – the narrow stairways and low ceilings would make it a bit tricky. I recommend hiking shoes or tennis shoes, layers (it’s hot walking up to cave, cold inside cave), a camera and a Camelbak.
So that’s a sneak peek into the Lewis and Clark Caverns tour – doesn’t it look magnificent? Honestly, the photos don’t do it justice. If you haven’t, I hope that you get a chance to see this magical place!
On our third day at Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park our kids turned in their Junior Ranger books. We had picked them up on the first day and we worked on them a little everyday.
The kids learned all about caves, bats, Montana wildlife and plants – and earned their Montana State Park Junior Ranger badges!
I’m definitely putting this state park on my list for a future stop – I’d love to stay here again!
Have you toured the Lewis and Clark Caverns before? Have you toured other caverns? Leave a comment and let me know.