The Minnetonka Cave is located north-west of Bear Lake near the Idaho – Utah border. This cave is one of the larger limestone caves in the state of Idaho and is open for tours from Memorial Day weekend (weather permitting) until Labor Day. The tours are operated by Scenic Canyons Recreational Services and they have a permit from the United States Forest Service. The same company is also managing the nearby campgrounds located on your way up to the cave.
It was a spontaneous trip to come here, as I found the cave as a suggestion on Google Maps. I was already on a one-day road trip out to Bear Lake when I found the cave on the map. Visiting the cave was a no-brainer, as I love that kind of adventure. Ever since I visited the Ape Cave Lava Tubes in Oregon.
The turn-off from US-89 to the road leading up to the cave is located at the north end of the small city of St. Charles on the northwestern shoreline of Bear Lake. Did you know that Bear Lake is called the “Caribbean of the Rockies“, because of its unique turquoise-blue color, which is due to the refraction of limestone deposits suspended in the lake? The 10-mile drive is on well-maintained and paved roads all the way up to the entrance of the Minnetonka Cave. Watch the speed limit, as there are some tight corners which make it hard to see oncoming traffic. Saint Charles Creek runs parallel to the road for a while on your way up to the cave. Be mindful and share the road with other outdoor enthusiasts.
If you have a larger vehicle like a big RV or a car with a trailer, don’t drive all the way up. There is a sign letting you know to not proceed any further. Parking and turn-around are nearby. You would need to walk or find another way up. The parking lot at the top is not very big and it is almost impossible to turn around, especially if other cars are there. Of course, some stupid guy thought he was smarter and he can drive all the way up. Which ended in a gigantic turnaround-maneuver. SUV’s are no problem, no matter the size. However, come early as the tours fill up quickly and so does the limited parking near the entrance. Also, don’t park anywhere on the road to block other people from using the road to get in or out.
I came here in at the start of the season during the first weekend of June. There were already a few people up here but it was no problem getting a parking spot early afternoon. I checked in and bought a ticket for the next available tour. Tours start every 30 minutes from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. and last about 90 minutes. These tours are not lead by rangers, they are lead by local college students on summer break. Before any of us were able to head to the entrance of the cave, we were asked if we have been in any other cave before. If so, we were not allowed to bring anything with us, which was in another cave, like clothing, shoes, belts, backpacks, hats, cell phones, and more. This is a precaution to stop the spread of the White Nose Syndrome (WNS) which is killing bats all over the country.
You can find basic services right at the parking lot near the entrance to the cave. Flush toilets, drinking water, garbage service, and a small concession stand offering soda and other snacks.
While I waited for my tour start time, I explored the area around the parking lot and took pictures. It seems someone had fun by setting up the smoking area sign and pointing straight to propane tanks. I wonder if anyone else realized that, because the smoking area sign points straight to the tanks and on them are stickers with “No Smoking”.
My tour was guided by Holly-Anne (If you read this, let me know if I spelled your name right) and she explained the history of the cave before we headed inside. She pointed out all the important information and interesting facts inside the cave. This is a living cave, so stay on the trail and only touch the handrails and nothing else. Spoiler alert: You will be allowed to touch a stalagmite on your way out.
It seems they all run the same script as for explaining the history and but the woman who lead my group into the cave was pretty good at pointing out all the important formations and highlights of the cave. All the guides “play” a similar script. Really they all sound the same and it sounds more like a reading of a piece of paper than pure passion. It was still informative for us and Holly-Anne was a pretty good guide. Speaking of the way into the cave. It is about a half-mile trip and you will walk over 444 stairs on your way in and again on your way out. Some of the staircases are steep. It’s recommended to bring good hiking boots. Along the way, you get to see fascinating stalactites, stalagmites, and banded travertine within nine rooms. Minnetonka Cave has a few good examples of cave bacon (officially known as layered flowerstone). Besides these formations, Minnetonka Cave also serves as a refuge for several species of bats. You also get to experience complete darkness, while they turn off the lights briefly. Don’t worry, they will ask for permission before they do it and if anyone is not comfortable with it, the lights will stay on.
Minnetonka Cave has a temperature of 40°F (4,4°C) year-round. So bring a light jacket with you depending on how well you handle the cold. I only wore regular long pants and a polo shirt and wasn’t freezing. But everyone reacts differently. If you are too warm you can always remove it.
Backpacks and handbags are allowed if they are not too big as well is photography. They even allow flash photography but no tripods. Please be always mindful of other people visiting Minnetonka Cave.
Overall a good tour with some great examples of what mother nature is capable of. If you visit this area, it should be on your to-do list.
Peter has a passion for Traveling, Photography, and Geocaching. These are the best ingredients for amazing adventures all over the globe. “Traveling is fun, no matter if you stay in a luxury hotel or travel like a backpacker.” Peter shares his experiences on his Blog www.gatetoadventures.com
Some of Peter’s photos are published on corporate websites, in-flight magazines, travel guides, and much more.