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Discover 9 Incredible Caves in Montana

Montana is home to the country’s biggest and wildest natural landscapes. The western region is more mountainous than the east’s endless plains and prairies. From thriving ghost towns and iceberg lakes to spectacular state and national parks, these major highlights are why Montana is famed as the “Last Best Place” and the “Big Sky state.”

Hidden away among its wild and remote realms are incredible caves and caverns formed due to karst topography: this is when an area loaded with soluble rock is eroded over eons by slightly acidic water. Repeated exposure to acidic rain dissolved soft bedrock, such as limestone.

Find more reasons to travel to the Big Sky state with our list of 9 top-rated caves and caverns in Montana.

Big Ice Cave

Big Ice Cave is a remote interpretive attraction situated in Montana. It’s one of the most visited areas because it’s relatively easy to access. Besides, visiting the cave does not require an exceptional caving experience or hiking. The cave features awe-inspiring ice formations.

Water continuously drips out of fractures on the cave walls and ceilings, collecting on the cave floor to form ice speleothems. Air circulation is critical in keeping ice in the cave throughout the year.

Indian Cave

Located within the limestone cliffs that flank the Smith River, Indian Cave is one of the most painted sites in central Montana. When viewed from the river below, the prominent high opening dominates the limestone mountainside. Visitors should take extreme care while exploring the fragile limestone and paintings.

Pictograph Cave State Park

As the name suggests, Pictograph Cave State Park features several ancient red ochre paintings left by early humans. It is a place to contemplate the origins of the early human inhabitants in Montana. The prehistoric hunters who inhabited the caves many years ago left over 100 pictographs and artifacts behind. The oldest rock art in the cave is estimated to be around 2,000 years old.

The area has three caves: Pictograph, Middle, and Ghost. Pictograph is the largest of the three. The forces of water and wind carved the caves from the Eagle sandstone cliff. Artifacts and paintings were first discovered and recorded in 1936.

Lookout Cave

Lookout Cave contains north-central Montana’s largest collection of pictographs. Thousands of artifacts have been recovered in the cave, including stone tools, sewing materials, pieces of feathers, and bones. The composition of artifacts combined with the remote setting of the cave outlines that the cave represented a ceremonial complex predominantly dating to the Late Prehistoric Period.

Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park

Lewis and Clark Caverns is one of Montana’s most decorated limestone caverns. The caverns feature a plethora of unique rock formations, speleothems, and cascading crystals.

It’s believed that limestone was formed by layers of calcium-rich that died in a sea that was present about 325 and 365 million years ago. The somewhat acidic groundwater dissolved the caverns. The Laramide Orogeny, which occurred around 70 million years ago, uplifted the reddish stone to its current size, creating caves such as the Lewis and Clark.

Tears of the Turtle

Nestled in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in western Montana, Tears of the Turtle Cave is only accessible to the most experienced spelunkers. It’s one of the deepest known wild caves in the United States.

The cave is approximately 1.488 miles (2,395 m) long and 1863.8 feet (568.1 m) deep. With a 39-degree temperature, the cave is quite muddy and poorly decorated.

Lick Creek Cave

Lick Creek Cave is among the most popular wild caves in Montana. It consists of two genetically distinct cave systems separated by a fractured zone: the anastomosing conduits, parallel to the Madison Group bedding, and the dome-shaped cavern of a Carboniferous paleocave.

The conduits are variably decorated in several combinations of calcite spar cement and vadose speleothems, such as flowstone, moon milk, corallite, and stalactite-stalagmite pairs.

  • Address: Montana 59480, United States
  • Google Maps link: Lick Creek

Bighorn Cave

Bighorn Cave is Montana’s largest underground cave network within Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. It’s also among the state’s largest caves, spanning Montana and Wyoming. Although it’s evident that the cave was formed millions of years ago and has undergone a series of erosions and evolutions, it wasn’t brought into the public’s eye until 1961.

You should visit the place with an experienced guide if you want to explore the inside. You must also obtain a permit from the Bighorn Canyon Visitor Center in Lovell, Wyoming, and have all the necessary equipment.

Devil’s Chute Cave

The Devil’s Chute Cave is a perfect destination for fairly experienced spelunkers and hikers. It’s an awe-inspiring ice cave located in the Snowy Mountains. Depending on which way you are emerging from, you may hike the West Peak Trail or take the Grandview trailhead at Crystal Lake. Both trails offer incredible views of the landscapes and lead you to Devil’s Chute Cave. Ensure you have proper gear if you plan on entering the cave.

Final Thoughts

Montana is a real treasure trove of caves. Most of them are open for public exploration, while others are closed to protect bat populations that live inside. Visitors can explore geological formations formed millions of years ago, such as cave bacon, flowstones, aragonite crystals, stalactites, and stalagmites. Underground temperatures remain fairly constant, but the cave environments may change a little with the seasons.

Top image: Michael B. via Flickr / Creative Commons.

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