Located a couple of hours north of Yellowstone National Park is Montana’s first state park — Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park. Proclaimed as a national monument in 1908 by Theodore Roosevelt, it was subsequently transferred to the state of Montana in 1937. It features one of the largest known limestone caverns in the northwest. Encompassing 3000 acres, the park also offers a picnic area, two visitor centers, gift shop, a Civilian Conservation Corp museum, hiking trails, rental cabins, and a campground.
There are 18 campsites with electricity and 22 others with no hook-ups. Having made our reservations just about two weeks ago, we were left to choose from the sites without hook-ups. We chose site 3. It had a shade tree. At night, the temperature cooled dramatically making it comfortable for sleeping. We stayed for three days.
There is no cellular service, but a weak wifi signal can be found at the Main Visitor Center; otherwise a trip to Whitehall can get you service. At least it worked for us with our Verizon service. We made the 30-minute trip one afternoon to upload pictures of the truck damage to the insurance company. You can read about this mishap with a deer in our previous blogpost.
The Jefferson River, located across State Road 2, flows past the state park. Though not directly on the river, the state park does provide an area with fishing access. There is no evidence Lewis and Clark ever saw the caverns that bears their name, but their expedition took them along the Jefferson River in 1805 where they camped within a mile of the caverns. The caverns were long known to the native tribes, but the discovery by European settlers was not until 1882.
During the New Deal era, the Civilian Conservation Corp developed the state park for visitors. They blasted a new 538-foot exit in the caverns, carved stairs into the stone, built buildings, improved the roads including a granite keystone bridge, and made hiking trails. A small museum at the Cave Visitor Center details the work they did.
Guided cave tours are available daily. There are a limited number of tickets sold each day and they are only available at the on-site ticket booth. Two different tour types were available at the time of our visit — the Classic Tour and the Paradise Tour.
The Paradise Tour is approximately 1 mile long and takes about 1½ hours to complete. The tour guide will led you to the largest and most decorated room in the cave — the Paradise Room. Decorated, in this case, refers to the speleothem or cave formations in the cave such as stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone, helictite, soda straws, cave popcorn, rimstone dams and draperies. This tour is better suited for visitors with small children, people with mobility challenges and those who can’t wear a facemask. The cost is $15.00 with discounts for children and seniors.
We opted for the longer more adventurous Classic Tour. We started by climbing a ½-mile steep hillside to the cave entrance, then a 2-mile journey through the cave that included more than 600 stairs with some tight spaces and low clearances where we had to crawl, slide, and squeeze through. I thought Grammi was going to bust a gut when she turned around to see me slide down backwards on my backside tumbling over at the bottom.
The cave speleothem was impressive, especially the cave popcorn. This was a very beautiful cavern. The tour lasted over two hours. Our tour guide was great. She was very knowledgable and we learned so much about caves from her. We have toured a lot of caves in the past, but none were a fun as this one. We had a blast! The cost for this tour was also $15.00, but there were no discounts offered.
We saw Western Big-eared bats that live in the cave. They hung from the ceiling. A few were flying around. Whenever a bat was spotted the tour guide had us put on our facemask. I’m not sure if it was for our sake or the bats.
Traveling in a camper for months sometimes comes with challenges. One such challenge is conserving water, especially when we are without hookups. I decided that one way I can conserve water was to get a haircut. I haven’t had one since COVID-19 struck. It takes a lot of water to shampoo and rinse long hair. So I finally convinced Grammi to cut my hair. She was not sure how to do it. I think see did a great job. What do you think?
So until next time — happy days and safe travels.