Ultimate Guide to Cave of the Mounds, Wisconsin (Tours, Pricing, History, Map)
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Looking for something unique to do in Wisconsin? Cave of the Mounds is definitely worth a visit! This natural attraction has drawn visitors from all over the world for years, and it’s easy to see why. Cave of the Mounds offers tours, exhibits, and plenty of history waiting to be explored. Keep reading for more information on Cave of the Mounds tours, pricing, and map!
Cave of the Mounds, a naturally formed limestone cave near the Blue Mounds in Wisconsin, is named after the two hills in the vicinity known as the Blue Mounds. Located on the southern slope of the Eastern hill, the cave’s beauty lies in the many mineral formations called speleothems.
Cave of the Mounds is so beautiful that it has been often promoted as the ‘jewel box’ of American Caves. In 1987 the cave was designated as a National Natural Landmark.
With nature as the classroom, it is no surprise that this modest-sized show cave sees everything from school field trips to Scout groups.
Cave of the Mounds, Wisconsin
The cave opened its doors in 1940, and since then, it has welcomed millions of tourists. The cave remains open throughout the year, and even during the busy summer months, the tourists need not wait long for the cave tours as the tours are brilliantly managed.
History of Cave of the Mounds
The limestone from which the cave got carved was formed approximately 488 million years ago during the Ordovician Period. North America, during these times, was covered in warm and shallow seas. The cave began forming around a million and a half years ago, precisely like some of the other caves are formed. Rainwater seeped into stone through a large crack on the rock’s surface, known as the cave’s lifeline. It is a gradual process and continues even today.
The Europeans settled the area around the Blue Mounds in 1828 by Brigham, a lead miner from Massachusetts. He came to Wisconsin to join the lead rush of 1820. He had set up operations to the North of where the cave lies today. He died after a long life but never knew that a beautiful cave had existed beneath the Brigham Farm.
On 4th August 1939, the Cave of Mounds was accidentally discovered when the workers of a limestone quarry blasted a section of the quarry and exposed an opening to the cave. As soon as the discovery was made, the work at the quarry was stopped, and it was never continued.
After this, the cave was closed to prevent damage from the souvenir seekers who would remove pieces of stalactites and stalagmites from the cave and take them home. The foot-sized holes in the flowstones left by the early explorers can still be seen today.
In May 1940, the cave was reopened with lights and wooden walkways fully installed. Over the years, the wooden walkways have been replaced by concrete ones as they accommodate more visitors. Theatrical lighting has also been installed to highlight the colors and shapes inside the cave fully. In 1987, the cave was designated as a National Natural Landmark.
That means they have not only a responsibility to protect but chose to help educate others on how to preserve the geological gem for future generations.
They hire local kids
This part cracks me up as we have not one, but two family members who actually worked here as teens.
This was the perfect job for teens at Mt Horeb High and still is today. If they were too young to actually lead tours or guide in the caves, they were on “bumper sticker duty”. It was common back then for tourist attractions to place bumper stickers on your car when you were visiting them.
Keep in mind that the bumper stickers weren’t what they are today. Back then, instead of the vinyl-type adhesive sticker we know now, they were cardboard rectangles that had holes in all four corners. There were metal brackets, or clips, that went in the hole and then were fastened around the metal bumper to hold it in place.
These were beyond easy to remove and actually expected. My husband’s Uncle Bob regaled us with all the fine details and Cousin Hazel could still recite the pre-cave tour spiel perfectly at 86.
During our tour, we asked one of the teens in the cave if he wanted to be a Geologist. “Oh heck no, but this is a great job right now” was the enthusiastic reply.
Cave of the Mounds Fun Facts
- The cave was found below the homestead of the first European settler in Southern Wisconsin, Ebenezer Brigham.
- It takes 100 years for the cave formations to grow just one centimeter.
- The Cave of the Mounds is known as the jewel box in the hills.
- Cave of the Mound is one of 28 caves that are part of the Iowa-Grant aquifer system.
Geological Cave Formations in Cave of the Mounds
The geology of the Cave of the Mounds is stunningly beautiful, and the cave tours allow the visitors to appreciate the different geological formations from close quarters. The cave is home to different varieties of speleothems, and like many other caves, stalactites and stalagmites are very common.
Some of the formations found inside the cave include soda straws, flowstones, lily pads, curtains, oolites, and helictites. The oolites are a rare speleothem, and they are also known as ‘cave pearls .’The formations come in various colors blues, browns, grays, and reds.
The red and brown color is caused by the presence of iron oxide in the formation, and the manganese oxide causes the blue and gray color. Some of the speleothems present here are even partially luminescent.
Wildlife in Cave of the Mounds
Many insects like bees and moths have made Cave of the Mounds their home. Large and small mammals use the grounds near the cave as their home. One may spot the white-tailed deer among the tall grasses early morning. Visitors have also spotted various wildlife species like coyotes, foxes, raccoons, rabbits, and skunks. However, there are no bats inside the Cave of the Mounds, but the sky above comes alive in the evening with the flutter of these mammals.
Is Cave of the Mounds Haunted?
There are strong rumors that the cave is haunted, but, till today, nobody has been able to give a correct reply as to why the cave is haunted. Some say that the spirits are of the Native Americans, while others say they are of the original owner, Ebenezer Brigham.
There have been reports of shadowy figures inside the caves and an intense feeling that you are being watched all the time inside the cave and on the park grounds.
How Big is Cave of the Mounds?
The total length of the cave is 1692 ft.
Cave of the Mounds Tours
Cave of the Mounds is a uniquely beautiful cave open to self-guided tours only. The crowds are limited here, and masks are currently optional. The tours are conducted on a first-come, first-served basis, so it is best to get to the caves early to ensure no tickets sell out.
When you buy a ticket, you will see that it is color-coded for your entry time. That gives you a chance to explore all the other fun things they have to offer while you wait.
The self-paced guided tour has regular departures, and the guides will point out a stunning range of colorful crystal formations on the lighted walkways that are fully paved for the benefit of the visitors. Some signage will explain the science and history of the cave, and the staff members are stationed at various points in the cave to ensure that you have a fulfilling experience inside the caves.
If you opt for the black-light experience (you can rent one for a nominal fee), they will even turn off the lights for you to see the amazing reactions to the natural elements in the rock formations. It really reacts to the Calcite in the rock formations.
It takes around 45 to 60 min to walk through the caves. The caves are well lit, but if the kids are afraid of the dark, you may carry a flashlight.
Cave of the Mounds Tour Prices and Discounts
The admission charges for the tour of the Cave of the Mounds are:
- Adults (13 years and above) – USD 18.95
- Child (4 to 12 years) – USD 10.95
- Child (Ages 3 and under) – Free
If you spend a few dollars more before you leave, you can turn your one-visit tickets into a year-long pass that lets you visit the caves over and over again with their Keys to the Cave Program. It is only $5.99. Just think about that – for roughly six bucks more, less than half the price of another adult ticket, you get to come back unlimited times.
When we visited? The grounds weren’t really even spring-ready. Just think how nice it would be to see it each different season!
Is Cave of the Mounds Cold?
The cave enjoys an ambient temperature of 50 degrees F even during the intense summer heat. The cool temperature is a welcome relief for all on the hot summer days, and a great way to warm up a bit on cold Wisconsin winter days.
What to Wear?
Since the cave has a temperature of 50 degrees F throughout the year, a light jacket is recommended in the summer. It is advisable to wear closed-toed shoes for footwear, like tennis shoes.
Keep in mind that water drips in a lot of areas and it can cause walkways and stairs to both be slick in spots. Shoes with good tread are advisable.
Cave of the Mounds Hours
The caves remain open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. On weekdays, the tours leave every hour starting at 10 am, and on weekends, the tours leave frequently starting at 9:30 am. The last entry time to the caves is 4 pm daily.
What to Do at Cave of the Mounds (Beside Tours)
After you have finished exploring the caves, it is time to indulge in some exciting above-ground activities. There is a “gem mining” area attached to the Visitor’s Center, which the kids would love. They would enjoy using the running water to pull fossils or gems out of their bag of sand in kitschy screened mining trays.
The Visitor’s Center is always a bit crowded as you can buy the tickets for the tour, search for the right T-shirt, get a pressed penny, or use the restroom as there is none in the cave.
The Gift Shop is another area where you can spend some time with the kids. The kids will love selecting a geode, and then one of the staff members can crack it open to reveal an explosion of colors inside.
They have a good collection of souvenirs, T-shirts for all, and a wide range of collectibles you can pick up for your friends and family members back home. Our teen found a cute owl that was carved out of stone.
There is also the option to get a souvenir photo of your group – they take it as you enter the cave, just as you get down the first flight of stairs.
Apart from these, you can explore the Rock, Rain & Butterfly Gardens, the Interpretive Trails, and the picnic areas that offer the visitors an exceptional experience.
Best Time to Visit Cave of the Mounds
Cave of the Mounds is open round the year except on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. So, the Cave of the Mounds can be visited any time of the year.
How to Get to Cave of the Mounds
If you are coming from Madison, you need to take the Beltline, Highway 12/18, to exit 258 and onto Verona Road. Continue this road for 25 miles, and you will be 5 miles West of Mount Horeb. Now exit on the Cave of the Mounds Road. You can also reach here from other cities like Milwaukee, Chicago, Rockford, Wisconsin Dells, Dodgeville, and Dubuque. For detailed directions, you can click here.
Hotels near Cave of the Mounds
For those wanting to stay close to the Cave of the Mounds, we can suggest a few places for your camping or lodging – Blue Mounds State Park, Brigham County Park, Yellowstone Lake State Park, House on the Rock Inn, and Deer Valley Lodge.
Cave of the Mounds Details
- Length: 1692 ft
- Time Recommended: 3 to 4 hours
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Kid-friendly: Yes
- Dog-friendly: No
- Fees: USD 18.95 for adults
- Hours: 9 am to 5 pm
Sorry, there are a lot of stairs, and a few narrow passageways. the cave itself is not experienceable if you are wheelchair-bound. You will be able to enjoy a lot of the above-ground trails and the picnic area.
Visiting Cave of the Mounds
Do you need more information before visiting Cave of the Mounds? Call (608) 437 – 3038 or email them for an information packet.
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