Lewis & Clark Caverns

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Originally printed in the pages of Simply Family Magazine’s August 2017 issue. Never miss an issue, check out SFM’s digital editions, here

article & feature photos by Katie Backer

Turn up the ‘80s pop and hit the road to explore our beautiful, Montana backyard. This summer, you may be trying to cram in one last adventure before the kids go back to school and The Lewis and Clark Caverns are a fantastic, affordable way to spend a day. Take your visiting relatives on an adventure they’ll never forget!

The Caverns are located in Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park near Whitehall, MT. As the Corps of Discovery passed through Montana in 1805-1806, they left an indelible mark on our state history. Although Meriwether Lewis and William Clark never actually saw the caverns, President Theodore Roosevelt credited their time here with the naming of the Lewis and Clark Caverns as a National Monument in 1911. They had passed by the area and the President felt their incredible expedition should be remembered with the naming of a monument. The Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park became Montana’s first state park under another Roosevelt, President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937.

It took quite a team to discover and promote tourism within the remarkable caverns. In 1892, Tom Williams and Burt Pannell noticed the steam coming up from a cave and eventually explored it. Finding Dan Morrison, a local prospector/investor, they worked toward providing tours of the caves. Various peoples before these men may have seen the steam from the caves but the excavation and tours could not have taken place without these inquisitive men. Upon discovery and early tours, railroad men then grabbed the land up and it was not until FDR’s presidency that Montana saw real movement in the Caverns. President Roosevelt countered the Great Depression with his New Deal plan creating jobs all over the nation. Many Montanans were employed working toward improving the Caverns for more accessible tours. By 1941, once further excavation and safety measures were taken and lighting was installed, the park was opened to the public!

photos by Rebecca Stewart
photos by Rebecca Stewart

Since then, Montana tourism has continued to rise as people around the world come to see our spectacular landscape, mountain ranges, hiking trails, and historic sites including the Lewis and Clark Caverns. The Caverns are full of interesting geological treasures such as Limestone, Stalactites, and much, much, more! The bats are a sight to behold as well! Beyond the Caverns, the state park offers nearby camping, miles of beautiful hiking trails, and other interesting flora and fauna.

Guided tours are available of the Caverns (see information below) for various fitness and interest levels. Make sure to bring a jacket because even though you might be experiencing the scorching August heat from above, down in the caves temperatures are much cooler. Jeans and/or leggings, and durable walking shoes with a grip may make your time below ground more enjoyable. Areas within the caverns can get slippery and you may need to squeeze through a tight space. Dress with adventure in mind! A pair of binoculars might not be a bad idea especially if you want to keep the kids occupied on the drive over. There are many types of wildlife right outside the window. Don’t forget your camera! You will definitely want to remember this trip and all of Montana’s wonders for years to come. There are a gift shop and small café so bring a little spending money too.

Get out and explore these last weeks of summer, and don’t forget that ‘80s pop….

For more information regarding the Caverns and Park visit the Official Website. The site contains tour schedules, pricing, and any other special event information which may assist you in planning your visit. Give yourself at least 3-4 hours to spend at the Caverns (most tours take at least two hours) and check the dates before your visit. The Caverns are only open a few months out of the year so you want to make sure you can see everything during your trip there.

Additional Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park Information can be found at:

about the author…Katie Jones Backer is a former History teacher with a passion for travel, history, writing, music, and helping others. She is happiest, though, when spending time with her husband, daughter, and two adorable Pomeranians!

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