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   ILLINOIS CAVERNS STATE NATURAL AREA   

10981 Conservation Rd.
Baldwin, IL 62217
(618) 458-6699 or (618) 785-2555

Cave Virtual Tour

Illinois Caverns is open to visitors with valid permits from Thursday through Saturday. The hours of operation are 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. No one is allowed to enter the cave after 2:30 p.m. Group size: Minimum of 4 persons. A group of 25 or more must preregister for permits prior to arrival. Youth groups require 1 adult leader for each 5 minors.

There is no admission charge, but guests are required to complete an application permit at the site office before entering the cave. Visitors are required to be in groups of four or more, have sturdy boots, a hard hat and three sources of light per person.

Illinois Caverns State Natural Area is a 120-acre preserve owned by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The main attraction of the site is an uninmproved wild cave with nearly three miles of walking-height passage. Located in karst-rich Monroe County, the area contains fields, woodlands, native grasses and a half-mile long prairie trail.

FACILITIES

Illinois Caverns

The cave itself is "wild," with no lights and few improvements. It contains nearly three miles of walking-height passage, some of it through a knee-deep stream. Visitors must have proper caving equipment and be prepared for a physically-demanding experience.

Illinois Caverns has several beautiful formation areas to see and plenty of opportunities for crawling and up-close investigation. The cave is home to gammerus acherondytes, the Illinois Cave Amphipod, listed as a federal endangered species. A variety of other animals may be seen, including bats, salamanders, blind cave fish, cave crickets and other insects.

Visitors who fulfill the permit requirements are "on their own" to navigate their way through the cave. A basic map of the passages may be found inside the cave brochure.

Illinois Caverns provides site-specific interpretive programs, pertaining to cave formation, cave fauna and cave safety. Other on-site programs also are offered by prearrangement to schools, scouts, church and 4-H groups and others. Off-site programs must be scheduled in advance.

Prairie Trail

Illinois Caverns State Natural Area offers a half-mile long prairie trail through fields and woodlands at the site. The trail is a fine example of the flora of an Illinois prairie in its natural state.

Picnic Shelter, Restrooms, Changing Area

The site offers a picnic shelter with several picnic tables for visitor use. Primitive restrooms and a changing area are available, but there is no running water or electricity at the site.

VISITING THE CAVE

Why visit a cave, in the first place?

Like the rest of our natural resources, caves have a unique beauty all their own. Visiting Illinois Caverns will further the understanding and appreciation of the underground wilderness, and provide an exciting recreational activity.

Illinois Caverns offers many different types of formations, wildlife and cave characteristics in one cave. Some of the passages are lofty canyonways with a stream meandering along the bottom, like the Mushroom Passage. Others, like Marvin’s Misery, are twisting, 3-foot-high crawlways through muddy mush. Massive stalagmites and stalactites, dripping with water, can be found--like the Capitol Dome. Stream passage tributaries like Cascade Canyon and Rimstone River feed the main cave stream. Wildlife abounds, including several species of bats, salamanders, cave fish and insects.

Notably, an endangered species of amphipod exists in the Illinois Caverns streams. The Illinois Cave Amphipod, gammerus acherondytes, is the subject of an ongoing three-year study to research its existence and survival. The animal resembles a tiny white shrimp, just a couple millimeters long.

Permit Requirements
Download Permit Form

To obtain a permit to enter Illinois Caverns, each individual must have proper caving equipment, including at the least, three sources of light, hard hats and sturdy footwear. More equipment recommendations can be found below.

The minimum group size is four persons, for proper safety. Individuals age 17 and younger must have a parent or guardian also sign the permit application. Youth groups must include one adult for every five youths.

Signature of the permit application also releases all landowners and employees from liability in the event of accident, injury or damage. The permit application in its entirety can be found below.

Large Group Limitations

Groups of 25 or more must pre-register before visiting Illinois Caverns. There are limitations as to the number of large groups the cave is able to accommodate. Leaders of large groups should make arrangements with the Site Interpreter as soon as possible when planning a trip.

Planning your visit

When preparing for a trip to wild cave such as Illinois Caverns, participants must be ready for much more than a vigorous hike. Cave exploring can be hazardous to those who don’t take the proper equipment, wear the right clothing or manage time correctly.

What to wear

Expect to get muddy and wet, and remember that caving involves walking, crawling and climbing. Ideal apparel would be a one-piece coverall made of a nylon blend rather than cotton. Coveralls make for only one garment to clean after the trip, and nylon won’t retain water as easily as cotton fabric or denim. A one-piece shell will retain heat better, be easier to clean and won’t get snagged in crawlways like a two-piece outfit. If coveralls are not available, old clothing may be substituted.

The temperature of Illinois Caverns is that of typical caves, 55°- 60° F. Two or three layers of clothing should be adequate for warmth while moving around on a cave trip to Illinois Caverns.

Footwear is the second-most critical item to consider for a fun cave trip. Choose boots with good ankle support, lug soles (metal eyelets) and good traction. Remember that there may be times when the cave passage requires walking THROUGH knee-deep water. An old pair of hiking boots, with good traction, could be used as caving boots.

Some cavers choose to wear neoprene socks or scuba-diving booties to keep the feet warm, even though walking in water.

Gloves are necessary for protecting hands as well as the cave. Canvas work gloves will make crawling easier and also protect cave formations from the oils on human hands.

What to bring

The most important element for having a fun trip to Illinois Caverns is adequate lighting. In the darkness of the underground, a reliable primary light is essential, as well as TWO backup lights (a candle does not count as a light source). The ideal light is a waterproof light mounted to a helmet, allowing both hands free for crawling, climbing, etc. A good waterproof D-cell or C-cell flashlight will work for a primary light, with AA-cell flashlights as backups.

For underground cave exploring at Illinois Caverns, a hard hat or helmet is a REQUIREMENT to be issued an exploration permit. Ideal helmets are "fall-rated" and used by climbers and cavers, with four-point chinstraps. An adequate hard hat with a two-point chinstrap can be found at most home improvement stores.

A canteen of water, a candy bar, extra batteries and a small garbage bag would be items to place in a small backpack for caving. Disposable cameras could be placed in baggies inside the backpack. (see the Cave Photography section, below)

A good caver is a self-contained unit, with all his own backups and items necessary to enjoy a fun trip to Illinois Caverns.

Managing your time

Illinois Caverns has specific operating hours which visitors must adhere to as a condition of being issued an exploration permit. The most important consideration is for cavers to exit Illinois Caverns at least one half-hour before closing time of the site. Visitors must be out of the cave by 2:30 P.M. and off the site by 3:30 P.M.

Whether a cave trip to Illinois Caverns begins at 8:30 A.M. or later in the afternoon, responsible visitors must always be aware of the time. Wherever your exploring takes you in the cave, and no matter at what pace, make sure that you allow adequate time to be back at the cave entrance steps by at least 30 minutes before closing time.

Wildlife

Illinois Caverns, like all caves, is a delicate ecosystem with many different forms of life thriving within. Some spend all their lives inside a cave. These animals, like cavefish, are called troglodytes. Some spend most of their lives in a cave, but venture outside at times. Bats are the most common example of troglophyles. A third group of animals lives mainly outside, but ventures into a cave for periods of time. Snakes, which might use a cave as a hibernaculum, would be an example of troglytes.

In addition to the many species of bats which inhabit Illinois Caverns, other animals like raccoons, possums and snakes use the cave at times. Several salamander species exist in Illinois Caverns, as well as sculpins and blind cavefish. The endangered Illinois Cave Amphipod, gammerus acherondytes, is one of several species of amphipod in the cave, and there are numerous kinds of insects.

Cave Etiquette

There aren’t many WRITTEN rules about caving etiquette. Although there are several UNwritten reminders, they all boil down to safety, common sense and politeness.

When on a cave trip, participants must remember that although each caver is a self-contained unit, they are still a team. As such, each must be cognizant of the others in case of hypothermia or overexertion. Each also must accept the help of the team if he is the one having trouble.

As self-contained units, it’s good caving etiquette to not ask other cavers for supplies (or food) which you should remembered ahead of time. Think ahead!

When moving through the cave, try to have as minimal an impact on the cave as possible and remember that others will be using the resource.

Try to not shine your light source in the eye’s of other cavers, even by accident. Another person could be momentarily blinded, fall and injure himself.

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