Exploring the underground goes from creepy to cool (and downright chilly) in the Minnetonka Cave, situated below the St. Charles Canyon near Bear Lake, Idaho. Guided tours allow visitors to take a break from the summer heat in this 40-degree limestone cavern.
The cave formed over millions of years. As water dissolved the limestone, cracks and faults formed, creating the areas visitors can explore today. The walls feature formations including draperies, flowstones, stalactites and stalagmites from mineral deposits. Guides also point out fossils from the Mississippian Period, more than 300 million years ago.
Several species of bats have made the Minnetonka Cave their home. Their presence keeps the mosquito population in check, which makes them an important part of the ecosystem. In order to protect them from contamination, the U.S. Forest Service requests that visitors not wear any clothing or items that have been in other caves.
The hike itself lasts up to 1.5 hours and contains nearly 900 stairs. A new tour begins every half hour between 10:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. during the summer season, which starts in the second week of June and lasts through Labor Day.
Visitors can camp in the nearby Cloverleaf, North Fork or Porcupine campgrounds. St. Charles Creek, hiking trails and wildlife watching can make for a full camping trip.
Make sure to bring cash on your trip, because the tour service can’t process credit or debit cards. To learn more about Minnetonka Cave, find their page on Visit Idaho’s website at visitidaho.org or look it up on the U.S. Forest Service website at fs.fed.us.