Best List of Caves in North Dakota
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Caves are cool. They’re dark and they offer a place to explore nature that you don’t usually get to see. The best list of caves in North Dakota is here for your viewing pleasure!
The well-known cave system in the US had formed millions of years ago when groundwater flowed and dissolved carbonate rock. North Dakota, it is to be noted, does not have deposits of thick carbonate rocks at or near the surface except the Killdeer Mountains.
The Best List of Caves in North Dakota
So, are there any caves in North Dakota? The state does not have a sizeable near-surface cave system, which you usually find in other states like New Mexico. There are a handful of caves in the carbonate rocks of Killdeer Mountains, but they were formed not due to dissolution as in other states but because of slope failure.
The Top Caves to Visit in North Dakota
Webster defines a cave as a “hollow place inside the earth,” and going strictly by this definition; North Dakota has a couple of caves worth mentioning. Both these caves were formed because of slope failure or erosion.
The caves of North Dakota are –
- Medicine Hole
- Ice Caves
- Keller Cave Hole
- Washburn Cave
- Bear Den Cave
- Bismarck Cave
- Hideout Cave
- Lions Cave
- Bear Cave
- Snow Cave
The caves are not so famous, and you may find spelunkers giving North Dakota a miss when it comes to cave exploration. Let’s break this down a bit into different categories to understand the cave system in the state better.
Best Caves in North Dakota
We will now do a quick overview of some of the best caves in North Dakota.
The SE edge of the Killdeer Mountains has the Medicine Hole plateau, which overlooks Oakdale’s small but now abandoned town. It has always been special for the locals and visitors because of the mysterious appearance of the hole and the scenic views that this plateau offers of the surrounding region.
At one point in time, rocks were placed on the entrance of the Medicine Hole to discourage the cavers. However, spelunkers have said that the rocks have been removed now.
Located in Billings County, the ice caves are formed along the drainage of Magpie Creek. The cave-like formations come into existence when large sandstone blocks get detached and slide down the slope.
The blocks rest against other large blocks at various angles, thereby creating chambers of different sizes. The water from the melting snow drips into these chambers, freezes, and remains frozen till summer. The largest ice chamber is approximately 30 ft long, and this cave is the space between 4 to 5 blocks of sandstone.
Snow Cave was located on the south side of Black Butte. At one time, it may have been a void space or chamber formed when several sandstone blocks in the Sentinel Butte Formation calved off of the caprock but erosion has since obliterated most evidence that used to be there.
Etha Lawson, a long-time resident of the Black Butte area has recounted her memories from when she was young. She remembers that back in the 1930s there would be picnics beside what is now known as “the cave.” The people who lived nearby came to this place every day for ice cream and fun times with friends during these hot summers like they did at O’Brien Ice Caves near Sacramento.
Doug Pope, a local rancher who has lived in the area for decades, witnessed first-hand how the erosion of Snow Cave gradually destroyed it with cracks and falling rocks. The same processes that formed these caves will continue to destroy them until there is nothing left but sandstone blocks.
In the windy and rainy northeast corner of East Rainy Butte, Bear Cave is carved into a sandstone caprock. The cave extends 12 feet deep with an entrance five feet high and two-foot-wide at its base narrowing to one or less in height as it moves deeper inside.
There is a larger cave just a few hundred yards away that should probably be called Bear cave. It is harder to get to and seems less stable.
Lions Cave is named for a pair of mountain lions that once made their den there and harassed cattle during the late 1890s. It is hard to find because many caves are located along the northeast edge of Bullion Butte in Billings County.
As you can tell, the state of North Dakota has a lot of wild caves to explore. Make certain to always be safe and prepared before entering any cave so you can make your cave experience a good one!
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