- A Trip to Lewis
and Clark Caverns
- by George Everett
Despite the name, neither Lewis nor Clark ever found
these caverns, although they did pass by on the Jefferson River
in the valley below.
The caverns with their fantastic calcite formations created by
mineral water seeping through cracks in the wall and dripping
from the ceiling were given their name in honor of the expedition
of the Corps of Discovery when the caverns became Montana's first
state park in 1937.
Guided tours take about two hours to descend the hundreds of
steps through the cave and open into rooms like the Cathedral
Room and the Paradise Room where columns have formed of calcite
dripstone from stalagmites meeting stalactites.
In places where water
has flowed more freely, formations have been left behind in the
form of ribbons or sheets. In other spots, cave popcorn have
clustered on the walls where water has slowly seeped through
At times you might want to blow raspberries at the stale Disneyish
tales told to provoke the imagination to see something in the
shapes. The formations are enough in themselves to fascinate
the dullest tourist. You can almost forgive the silliness when
you hear the real life adventures of Dan Morrison, the man who
developed the cave for tours. He built a wooden staircase down
into the cave and took candlelight tours down for 30 years even
after the Northern Pacific Railroad claimed the property and
deeded it to the federal government. The cave still bears the
mark of Morrison's tours as he would allow his guests to pull
off stalactites from the ceiling to take home as souvenirs.
In the late 1930s, the CCC built the 3.5 mile road to the cave
and poured concrete steps, installed handrails, explored to find
new rooms, and essentially developed the cave to accommodate
visitors today. The tour is not for the handicapped or the physically
impaired. There is a gift shop and an information center and
picnic areas all the way up the mountain for those who would
It's a healthy hike up to the mouth of the cave and hundreds
of steps, some steep and wet, can bring out the klutz in the
best of us. Small children might find the tour a little long,
too, and the low overhead in some rooms makes it difficult to
carry a small child and maintain your balance at the same time.
A small comfort as
you descend on narrow steps is that no person has ever died on
a tour inside the cave. When the temperature soars to 90 and
above, the caverns become even more attractive.
With a constant temperature of about 50 degrees, visitors are
encouraged to bring a sweater to stay warm inside even on the
hottest August afternoon.
Part of any visit, too, is the incredible drive that winds through
the LaHood Canyon along the Jefferson River from Cardwell or
Admission is $10 for each adult, $5 for children age 6 to 11,
and children under that are free. For more information, contact
Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, Box 489, Whitehall, MT 59759;