Can You Actually Go Spelunking in West Michigan?
Before moving back to Michigan I spent the last four years living in southwest Missouri. Known as the "Cave State", Missouri is home to over 6,400 caves with many open to the public for guided tours. Going "caving" or "spelunking" was always one of my favorite pastimes when I lived down south!
Upon my return to Michigan I was curious to know if I could continue pursuing that passion while in the Mitten. Of course I know about the ice caves that form in the Upper Peninsula every winter, but are there actually any true caves (not man-made mines) in west Michigan that are open to explore?
Bear Cave - Buchanan, MI
As it turns out, there is only one public cave you can explore in southwest Michigan. Bear Cave is a historic cave located just west of Niles in Buchanan. According to the Pure Michigan website, Bear Cave is the only cavern in the Great Lakes area.
Formed over 25,000 years ago in a bed of secondary limestone called "tufa", the cave is resting on a "glacial drift deposited during the last ice age approximately 50,000 years ago." Relatively small in size, the cave measures 15 feet deep, 4-6 feet wide, and between 10-15 feet high. However, Bear Cave is jam-packed with history!
Bear Cave's Role in History
Bear Cave was famously used as a stop in the Underground Railroad. As there are several rooms throughout the cave, the one referred to as "Slave Room" was where escaping slaves were hidden as they made their way to freedom.
The cave was also used by thieves in 1875 to hide loot from an Ohio bank robbery, which then became the inspiration for the 1903 silent film classic The Great Train Robbery, a film that is now on the Library of Congress' National Film Registry. I had no idea such a significant part of American history was right in our own backyard!
Bear Cave Today
Today the site is home to Bear Cave & Resort RV and campground. Host to 135 sites, the resort is open from mid-April to the end of October and provides a number of family-friendly activities during your stay like kayaking in Lake Chapin, hiking trails, and shuffleboard. The cave is accessed through the gift shop and you might even see some bats along the way!