Minnetonka Cave literally a cool
way to spend a hot summer day
Formations took thousands of years to form. /
Photo by Jason Givens
By Jason Givens
July 31, 2006 | Just minutes from Bear Lake at the
head of St. Charles Canyon in Idaho is Minnetonka Cave,
an underground wonderland of stalactites and stalagmites.
Minnetonka Cave is Idaho's largest commercially developed
cave. The temperature inside the cave is 40 degrees
Fahrenheit, which felt really good on a day that was
over 100 outside. It's also somewhat damp inside and
there is a strange smell in the entrance. According
to our tour guide the smell comes from a group of packrats
that call the cave home. The cave is also a hibernaculum,
place where animals hibernate in winter, for five species
Bonnie Lewis, a resource assistant at the Montpelier
Ranger District, said one of the species of bats that
hibernates in the cave is the Townsend's big-eared bat
and it is a Forest Service Sensitive Species and a state
of Idaho species of concern. Lewis said that is the
reason the cave is only open to visitors for about three
months out of the year. "The lighting disturbs
them," she said. In order not to disturb the bats,
the cave is closed before they begin hibernating.
Lewis said she was supervisor for the Forest Service
over the operation of the cave until it was turned over
to a concessionaire on a special use permit in 1996.
She said in the short season the cave is open it averages
around 23,000 to 24,000 visitors.
There are 448 stairs within the cave, making for a
round trip journey of 896 stairs. It can be a little
strenuous. On the longest stretch of stairs, a 71-step
giant called the "Stairway to Heaven," the
tour guide appeared to be showing off by running up
the stairs. When the rest of the group reached the top
she was holding the back of her knee and limping around.
She said something about pulling a muscle or tendon
in her leg.
When the tour reaches one of the more popular stalagmites
known as, the bride, the tour guide turns off the lights
so you can experience total darkness. If you hold your
hand directly in front of your face you cannot see it,
you cannot see anything. Above the bride is a stalactite
known as the groom, with water dripping from the groom
is responsible for forming the bride. Thousands of years
from now the bride and groom will join to form a column.
According to a brochure available at the cave, Minnetonka
was discovered accidentally by Edward Arnell sometime
in the summer of 1906 or 1907 while hunting. He returned
the next day with others to explore the cave.
The brochure said Roy Welker, an educator from Bear
Lake County, was the first to call the cave Minnetonka.
Inside the cave water drips from the ceiling, and "Minnetonka,"
according to the brochure, is a Native American word
meaning falling waters. Prior to being named Minnetonka
it was known as Porcupine Cave.
To get to Minnetonka from Logan, drive to Bear Lake,
and when you get to the intersection in Garden City,
Utah that requires you to go left or right, make a left
and drive to St. Charles, Idaho. In St. Charles there
is a sign on the left side of the road directing you
to Minnetonka Cave. Take the left and about 10 miles
up the road there is a parking lot for the cave. The
cave is open from June to Labor Day with daily tours
that cost $5 and last about 90 minutes. Tours begin
at 10 a.m. with the last tour leaving at 5:30 p.m.